In the spring of 1972, an unusually high number of rabies cases in wild animals in East Tennessee prompted the city of Morristown to pass an ordinance quarantining all dogs and cats for three months. In anticipation of an increase in abandoned animals that would likely occur as many pet owners would not or could not comply with the quarantine ordinance, the city doubled the number of double-deck indoor cages at the city pound by adding 32 double-deck concrete block cages under a tin shed roof to the west side of the pound. Using a pick-up truck, one employee of the city street department served as the dogcatcher. At the time, Hamblen County did not have an adequate facility for housing abandoned animals, no employee designated to pick them up, and no proper vehicle for transporting them.
Concerned with the inadequate facilities for the care of the area’s unwanted animals and in effort to prevent the neglect and abuse of domestic pets, a group of citizens organized a humane society. They publicized by radio and the local newspaper about the best ways to confine and care for pets, the appropriate way to act around wild animals acting in an uncharacteristic manner, and to offer hands-on assistance as volunteers at the city pound. An organizational meeting was held with good public response. A volunteer Board of Directors was recruited, and officers were elected. A phone solicitation for memberships was successful. A lawyer serving on the Board volunteered to draw up a charter for the proposed Morristown-Hamblen Humane Society, Inc. with the main goals of the society being to prevent suffering and to promote humane education.
In 1972, the MHHS received its charter as a non-profit agency from the State of Tennessee. The City of Morristown and the Hamblen County Government entered into an agreement with the MHHS beginning March 1, 1973. The MHHS was to provide county-wide enforcement of animal control ordinances, operate the city pound as the Morristown-Hamblen Animal Shelter, conduct cruelty investigations, present animal budget requests to the city and county, and employ a humane officer and other necessary shelter personnel with volunteers assisting in the day-to-day operations. Donations to the MHHS would supplement city and county funds.
Upon organization, the MHHS immediately began a fundraising drive to improve the existing pound by adding 16 runs, a restroom, an office, a telephone line with a 24-hour service, and enclosing the cages that were located under the tin shed roof. Sanitary cleaning procedures were initiated. A newsletter, “Paw-Pads and Doo-Dads,” came into existence. Through the last forty years, shelter staff has continued to increase as the community’s needs have grown. The facility has been greatly enlarged with funds provided by legacies, memorials, a variety of donations, and memberships. Currently, the animal shelter houses an average of 75-80 animals a day in appropriate cages and runs.
Volunteers continue to be closely involved in shelter operations. MHHS volunteers are available to present programs to school classes, church groups, civic clubs, scout meetings, and meetings of citizens in nearby counties trying to organize a humane society or operate animal shelters. Volunteers also take shelter animals to nursing homes and local retirement centers, when requested.
Shelter tours are available for any group or organization. Community support has always been an important part of the operation of MHHS, and the support of the Lakeway area residents and businesses continues to be essential as the shelter works to meet and adapt to the growing and ever-changing needs of the area’s many furry residents.