It Keeps Getting Better in Tennessee

December 3, 2009

by Eric Davis, DVM

The wooded valleys—or "hollers"—of the mountains in eastern Tennessee are famous for their fall colors, bluegrass music, independent mountain folks, and many other traditional aspects of heartland American culture. The views of the Great Smokey Mountains and the hospitality of the people who live there are legendary. However, it is not necessarily the best place to be a dog.

The remote rural communities are plagued by poverty, unemployment, and a general lack of services that those in urban areas often take for granted. Veterinarians are few and far between; shelters and humane societies are usually non-existent.

Given the other socioeconomic problems, animal protection often has a very low priority. Stray and feral dogs are common. This problem is compounded by the hunting culture, which often turns beagles loose at the end of the season to fend for themselves.

If it were not for a few strong and devoted animal activists, like HSVMA's Tammy Rouse, this would be a bleak picture. But for years, Tammy has organized spay/neuter clinics, solicited rural planning commissions to develop shelters, argued for enforcement of anti-abuse laws with local sheriffs, and pushed her neighbors to take better care of their animals.

From the ground up

Dr. Carson Hutchison performs surgery on one of many dogs in Appalachian Tennessee.

In 1997, Tammy was in on the ground floor of the program that developed into HSVMA Rural Area Veterinary Services (HSVMA-RAVS). From 2000 to 2008, as the program's Appalachian coordinator, she organized community spay/neuter clinics all across southern Appalachia.

From Stockport, Ohio, to Jackson, Georgia, Tammy hauled the trailer of equipment twice a month to the tiny rural communities and set up veterinary clinics in elementary school class rooms, volunteer fire departments, or auction houses.

In 2008, the program transitioned into the Sneedeville project. Tammy was to facilitate the development of a permanent humane movement, shelter, and spay/neuter program in Sneedeville, a small town in Hancock County, Tennessee.

Over the next 2 years, with a boost from Tammy and equipment from HSVMA-RAVS, the program gradually moved forward until the community had a local humane society, a building to shelter unwanted animals, and a spay/neuter program. Dr. Carson Hutchison, an HSVMA-RAVS veterinarian, became responsible for the surgeries.

It keeps getting better

The program has now become even better, thanks to an agreement with the Baltimore Humane Society. Now, Hancock County, Tennessee is sending stray and unwanted dogs to good adoptive homes in urban Maryland, where good pets seem to be in short supply.

Tim Roberts loads a dog on the trailer to Baltimore, where she will likely be adopted into a good home.

Dr. Elizabeth Berliner, another HSVMA-RAVS veterinarian, and Tammy Rouse have worked out at plan to provide the Baltimore shelter, which has more aspiring adopters than animals, with dogs from Appalachian Tennessee, which has many more dogs than can be placed in good homes.

In the last 2 months, this program has resulted in 150 unwanted dogs from Hancock, Union, and Claiborne counties in Tennessee being placed in guaranteed adoptive homes.

This would be hard to beat, but recently HSVMA—with $20,000 from The HSUS's Spay Day Fund—has increased its effort in Appalachia to include spaying and neutering of all unwanted dogs destined for the trip to Baltimore, making them even more adoptable.

Just like the mountain roads of Appalachia, this has been a long 'un, as they say in Tennessee. But with HSVMA's help things are definitely getting better.

Dr. Eric Davis developed the HSVMA Rural Area Veterinary Services (HSVMA-RAVS) program in 1995 and has served as mentor and inspiration to hundreds of young veterinary professionals over the years. He continues his hard work in the field and is currently a consultant for the program.