Middle ground was found Thursday between advocates for a spay/neuter law for the county and opponents of such a law, when a plan for a free, voluntary spay/neuter event was proposed.
The plan, presented by Claren Ricker at the invitation of County Commissioner Bill Brown, got a warm reception, both from animal rescue workers and from hunters who filled the conference room at the county office annex for a meeting of the Animal Control Committee.
No real opposition to Ricker's plan was expressed, though many persons made comments and asked questions.
Ricker said she began working on a solution when it became obvious to her that the county commission would not pass a mandatory spay/neuter law, though she also said she was "not on either side" of the controversy.
"I'd rather see the county fix dogs for people at the poverty level," Ricker said.
Instead of discussing a spay/neuter law, she proposed that the animal control committee, or the county animal control facility, or the Animal Adoption Center of the Greeneville-Greene County Humane Society, consider sponsoring a free voluntary spay/neuter clinic.
From that point on, there was almost no discussion of the law.
"I really like your idea," Commissioner Clark Justis, a member of the committee, told Ricker soon after she spoke. Justis said he does not believe a spay/neuther law would have the effect its backers hope, but would instead result in "a lot more dogs dropped off at the county line."
Robin Quillen, president of Ferral Friends, an animal rescue group, said she would be "all for" Ricker's proposal. She and others said, however, that to be effective, such an event would need to be held on an ongoing basis.
Later, Quillen said that a free spay/neuter event twice a year would probably work.
Commissioner Jan Kiker, the committee's chairman, agreed to work with Eddie Key, director of the county's animal control facility, and County Attorney Roger Woolsey to find out all they can about sponsoring such an event and to report back to the committee next month.
Several people wanted to start raising money immediately, but Commissioner Brown said fund-raising should wait until more is known.
Ricker said a clinic of the type she was proposing recently spayed or neutered 186 dogs and cats in two days, at a community center in Newport.
Kiker said she would ask a veterinarian who was involved in that effort to come to the April meeting.
Ricker also said she had talked to the veterinary wing of Rural Area Medicine (RAM), based in Knoxville. She said RAM agreed to bring a mobile veterinary clinic to Greeneville "if we provide the necessary environment for them to work in," and raise the necessary money, estimated at between $2,000 to $5,000.
Cathy Cannon, a Greene Countian who identified herself as a RAM volunteer, said she would be willing to serve as liaison.
Cheryl Horton, of Voice For Pets, said a group brought veterinary students to Greene County for a free spay/neuter clinic a few years ago, and did not charge local supporters, who put workers up in their homes and fed them.
However, because a low-cost spay/neuter clinic is now in operation here, Horton said it had been her understanding that Greene County no longer qualifies for help from that group.
Veterinarian Barbara Hodges, who works for the low-cost spay/neuter clinic at the Humane Society's animal shelter, said that, at one time, a sum of money was set aside to make some spay/neuter services available free to people who cannot afford them. She said, however, that money has been used up.
Hodges also said the clinic also has received state funding for free pet surgery from money generated by "Animal Friendly" vehicle tags, but that funding, which began in July, also has been used up for this year.
She said the clinic will apply again for the state funding, but that money will not be available again until July.
C.H. Honeycutt, a hunter, also said Ricker's proposal for free, voluntary spay/neuter services sounded like "a good idea."
Another man who identified himself as a hunter said he believes the free, voluntary clinic would work better than a spay/neuter law. "More people would be willing to do it," he said. "They would feel like it was their choice."
That same speaker predicted that by summer, which would be the earliest that Ricker indicated such a clinic can be set up, the need will most likely be greater, as the effects of "more (job) layoffs" make themselves evident.
Related to that, Quillen, of Ferral Friends, noted that there is already a need for pet food for low-income people. She said her group is strapped for cash, but is trying to provide pet food to the Community Ministries Food Bank, because the need is likely to increase.
Commissioner Fred Malone Jr. asked about the possibility of providing the authority to make to animal control officers, and also asked whether the county government can assess a fine for people who dump animals along a road.
Key said animal control officers can already write citations for animal-related offenses, but said he does not think animal control officers should be making arrests.
County Attorney Woolsey said that counties do not have the authority to assess a new criminal penalty.
Several persons asked if the county can more strictly enforce existing leash laws. Key said that enforcing leash laws "the way people want" those laws enforced would require about 20 animal control officers, and the county has only two.
Key began the meeting by proposing that the county temporarily suspend the "relinquish fee" that is charged when pet owners bring a dog or cat to the animal control facility because they can no longer keep the animal, or no longer wish to keep it.
Key said that, probably because of the distressed state of the local economy, fewer people are paying the relinquish fee, and more people are dumping unwanted pets.
Without the fee, which is $15 for dogs and $10 for cats, Key said he is hopeful that more people will bring their pets in if they can no longer care for them.
Approval of that proposal was unanimous with minimal discussion, on a motion by Commissioner Brown.