In a small, nondescript building on Volunteer Drive, the Humane Society of Sumner County (HSSC) has quietly worked behind the scenes helping animals find their forever homes. The dedicated board, staff and volunteers have saved thousands of dog and cat lives for over 46 years.
Founded in Hendersonville in 1974, HSSC is a private, non-profit group that offers care and adoption services for abandoned, lost and displaced animals. Services include temporary housing, veterinary care, vaccinations and the spaying/neutering of all incoming animals. Funding for the shelter is provided by adoption fees, private donations, proceeds from fundraisers and occasional grants. HSSC receives no governmental support.
“At HSSC, we are committed to providing safe shelter and compassionate treatment for all of the animals in our care,” says Sandra Cherry, long-time board member and current president of the organization’s board of directors. “Ultimately, our goal is to match each dog and cat with loving, qualified and responsible families who can provide them with their forever homes.”
Unlike many other shelters around the country, HSSC is a “no kill” facility. As a result, this policy places a firm limit on how many dogs and cats can be taken in at any given time.
“Our maximum capacity is less than 75 dogs and cats. We take in new animals as we adopt older ones out,” explains Sandra. “Along with our no kill commitment, we are also dedicated to keeping only one animal per cage (except for siblings), and that further limits how many animals we can safely and humanely handle at a time.”
Animals arrive at the HSSC through a variety of means, including private donations and overflow pickups from the county animal control center. Along with its welcoming nature, the shelter maintains high standards over which animals it will accept.
“We don’t take in every animal off the street,” says Sandra. “For example, we don’t take in dogs that have a history of biting or cats that are known to scratch people. We also don’t take them in if they have obvious disease or health issues.”
The intake scrutiny is particularly stringent with regard to animals coming from private donors.
“Before we take in a donated animal, the donor must be interviewed and approved by our Adoption Center Manager, Aaron Hudanish,” adds Sandra. “Aaron asks a lot of questions, and he turns down a lot of animals that don’t meet our standards.”
Once they have been accepted, all incoming dogs and cats go through an extensive intake process, including medical quarantines in special isolation wings lasting from one to two weeks, depending upon the condition of the animal upon its arrival.
“We keep individual medical records for each animal, including its vaccination schedule, deworming status, bloodwork results and medication history,” says Sandra. “We want to adopt out the healthiest animals possible.”
The typical span between an animal’s arrival and its placement with an adopting family is about six weeks, which is less than at many other shelters. Despite the reduced timeframe, the adoption process still requires considerable due diligence by shelter staff.
“We have a detailed 4-page adoption application that must be completed and reviewed before any adoptions are approved,” says Sandra. “At HSSC, our dogs and cats come first; people come second.”
No adoptions occur without an onsite visit to check the prospective adopter’s compatibility with an individual animal. If they already have an animal at home, they are encouraged to bring that animal in to test its compatibility, too.
While adoption fees are charged, they are very reasonable given that most of the amount charged goes toward ensuring the adoption of a safe and healthy animal companion. Typically, the fees vary depending upon the age and condition of the animals.
Like most animal shelters, the HSSC is accustomed to overcoming daily hurdles in pursuit of animal care and adoption. However, the advent of the coronavirus has brought a new level of challenges never seen before.
“When Covid-19 appeared, it had a major impact on us,” says Sandra. “We had to learn to manage the twin priorities of maintaining the health and safety of our staff along with continuing to care for our animals.”
Prior to the pandemic, the shelter was packed with guests every week, particularly on the weekends. However, that came to a halt on Mar. 5, when HSSC eliminated its regular daily business hours. Since that time, visitors are admitted on an appointment-only basis, and they are required to wear masks and to use sanitizing wipes while in the facility.
“We are also limiting the occupancy of our shelter to only 10 people at a time in order to maintain safe social distancing,” says Sandra. “Fortunately, all of the steps that we have taken to date have worked, and no one has become ill.”
Thanks to the foresight and financial stewardship of Sandra and her board, the HSSC was fortunate to have enough cash in reserve at the beginning of the pandemic that enabled them to continue operating at minimal levels.
“Over the last several years, we worked hard to save as much of our funding as possible in order to establish a rainy-day fund,” says Sandra. “That reserve has made it possible for us to continue to pay our employees and to purchase food, medicine and supplies for our animals.”
While the reserve has helped, the shelter is still in dire need of donations from animal lovers.
“The coronavirus has really impacted us financially,” emphasizes Sandra. “Prior to the pandemic, we would have lots of regular visitors who would come by each week to visit the animals and leave donations. Since Covid-19 arrived, these visits have stopped, along with the accompanying donations.”
Although Sandra and her team have cared for and adopted out thousands of dogs and cats since the founding of the HSSC, she has never favored one animal over another.
“All animals are special; I love them all,” says Sandra, with a smile. “All dogs and cats deserve to be loved and cared for by a nurturing pet parent.”
Humane Society of Sumner County
16 Volunteer Drive,
Hendersonville, TN 37075