published Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Cleveland leaders blamed for 'house of horrors' animal shelter incident

  • photo
    Animal Rescue Corps and Hamblen County officials rescue more than 60 animals from an alleged cruelty situation in Northeast Tennessee.
    Photo by Amiee Stubb/Aminal Rescue Corps

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Dixie Day Spay, which has admitted to placing nearly two dozen Cleveland Animal Shelter dogs in a "house of horrors" shelter in Morristown, Tenn., that was raided recently, alleges most of the blame falls on city government.

"If more people were involved, more rescue groups pulled from Animal Control, if the people so motivated to tear us down would use their time and their energy to save the animals at Cleveland Animal Control, the Puppy Patch ordeal would never have happened," said Betti Gravelle, director of Dixie Day Spay.

The mid-February raid of the feces-covered home that served as the Puppy Patch resulted in 63 charges of animal cruelty against the facility's operators, according to WATE-TV in Knoxville.

Dixie Day Spay alleges that the city has refused to acknowledge or process applications submitted by the "copious rescues" that have applied to pull animals from Cleveland's animal shelter. Because of that, underfunded and overworked volunteers -- instead of animal control personnel -- have had to determine the suitability of third-party rescues, according to the group.

Assistant City Manager Melinda Carroll said she is researching the group's allegations.

No one from Dixie Day Spay or Cleveland For a No-Kill City, a rescue group closely associated with Dixie Day Spay, visited the Puppy Patch site before sending seven adult dogs and 15 puppies to the Morristown rescue between December and February, according to media coordinator Beth Foster, who is affiliated with both groups.

The Dixie Day Spay statement was issued as part of a response to a request by the Cleveland City Council for the group to provide tracking data for animals it rescued from the Cleveland Animal Shelter over the last 12 months.

According to city records, the group pulled more than 1,200 animals from the shelter last year.

The City Council's request was issued after members learned that Cleveland animals were involved in a police raid on the Puppy Patch in mid-February.

"It was embarrassing to learn that Cleveland animals were part of that," Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said.

Foster said Dixie Day Spay likely will not be able to supply the requested records by the City Council's March 10 deadline.

Such data compilation will be a burden on the organization, as it only has a paper filing system and records are kept according to guardians' names, she said.

Records for animals rescued from the Cleveland Animal Shelter are not kept separate from more than 50,000 client files kept by Dixie Day Spay, Foster said.

Gravelle and Foster also serve as president and media coordinator, respectively, for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Bradley County.

The SPCA will handle animal control operations for Bradley County residents living outside Cleveland city limits beginning this month.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Contact him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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