The residents made signs and protested outside prior to the meeting, and several expressed their displeasure with the decision during the Mt. Juliet City Commission meeting.
Rachel Ray said the shelter was shoved by the wayside in recent years and made less of a priority in the growing city.
“If the city is growing, and we’re able to afford all these wonderful things, why can we not afford to properly fund our animal control facility?” she said. Ray said the move could turn into a health concern for the city.
“Not allowing cats is going to cause a spread of disease in the city. I read in the newspaper that someone said that we need to focus on dogs if we want to worry about the welfare of the citizens,” she said. “That’s absolutely not true. Cats spread disease just like rats, squirrels and raccoons.”
Will Sellars with the shelter suggested the city and animal control workers and volunteers designate an acceptable number of cats that could be housed in the shelter at any particular time.
Allison Dunne said the shelter has about 30 volunteers, and half of those work with cats. She also voiced concern that changes were made without discussion from all parties.
“Within two days of the announcement, more than seven people called or showed up wanting to surrender their cat while they still could, although the ordinance took place immediately,” said Dunne, who said cats shouldn’t be the scapegoat in a battle over manpower. “What are we supposed to think about major changes being made to the shelter without consulting the director, the president of the shelter board or the volunteer coordinator?”
The city’s police department is in charge of animal control and Mt. Juliet Police Chief James Hambrick said complaints about appointment-only visits to the shelter, strain on some animal control staff and slow times on animal control calls prompted the changes.
“I had to make a decision, along with my staff, to sit down and see what’s best not just for the cats, not just for the dogs, but for the city of Mt. Juliet,” said Hambrick, who said a lot of time was spent on cats. “Cats could be brought in on a case-by-case basis when a certain need is there,” he said.
Hambrick said the move allows the shelter to be open to the public from 11:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. on Monday, Thursday and Sunday, rather than by appointment only. He said the move also allows the department to move on employees at the animal shelter full-time, giving the shelter two full-time and two part-time workers.
Hambrick said he understood the move would not be popular, but it allows the city to be more efficient in animal control services. At the monthly Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday, Hambrick again addressed the topic.
“I’m not a cat hater,” he said. “I just have to look at our resources and see what is best for the citizens of Mt. Juliet. [People have said] If we have a senior citizen and they are moving to a nursing home and have a dog and a cat, then you’re going to take the dog and not the cat. No, we are going to take both. It’s not a total elimination of cats. It’s just minimizing.”
He said the move was an effort by the department to “do what’s best for the citizens of Mt. Juliet as a whole.”
Democrat writer Kim Jordan contributed to this report.