Jessamine County Animal Control & Care revamped, stronger after scandal

Published 11:24 am Thursday, March 30, 2023

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Over the past several months, Jessamine County Animal Care and Control (JCAC) has had a makeover done by its very own team.

Since the previous director of the JCAC, Timothy Brown, was relieved from his duties and charged with abuse of public trust, Animal Control Officer Rachel Hamm said communication among the team and with the public has been essential in healing and growth from the incident.

“Everybody is in a wagon together now, and they’re trying to pull the wagon in the same direction instead of everyone having their own agenda and their own self-ladder that they want to climb,” Hamm said.

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In the JCAC’s transition from the previous director to a brand new team, Hamm said the public’s support hasn’t wavered.

“We were waiting for the blowback from everything and truly, the community who truly knew us and knew what we were doing knew and still felt safe.” Hamm said, “In fact, when we had 30 dogs at once, we put a call out for food because 30 dogs go through food quickly and (the community) steps up every time we ask for that kind of stuff. They’ve been great.”

Hamm said that of course, the JCAC still gets complaints from people that they do not get to the public fast enough or they do not do enough, but the support overshadows those comments.

“People in the community were jumping in and chiming in for us and speaking up so it was reassuring to feel like they knew who we truly were,” Hamm said.

Unless someone has worked with animal control before, it is unlikely they know what the job wholly consists of. Hamm said it’s not at all just playing and cuddling with their dogs. Although most other occupations are tiring and laborious, Hamm said this job is not for the weak or the apathetic. Its challenges are unique.

Hamm said, partially, it is like being the animals’ grandparents. You give them what they want, even though they are not really supposed to have it, but when you find a new home for them, you have got to turn around and tell the parents they’re not allowed to do that same thing.

But- that’s a light challenge, considering the emotional toll that this job takes on its workers. Hamm and the rest of the officers are constantly on call, whether they’re out at dinner with family, in the middle of cooking dinner or sleeping.

“A lot of people think that animals are disposable and they are there when they want them, and they don’t really have characters or feelings,” Hamm said that she’ll never forget one nine-year-old female dog, who was taken in to be surrendered by its owner. “You could see in her face she didn’t know what was going on. She was confused, sad, ready to give up on life.”

It is Hamm and the rest of the JCAC’s responsibility to “reactivate that little seed you see when they start to wag a tail” so that they can heal the animal and bring them to the next home.

When the shelter is overcrowded, the job gets even harder. When there is not enough food or space for their animals, they have to euthanize the animals they already have.

“You have people on the phone saying, ‘Oh you’re killing them!’ and we’re like ‘What option are you giving me,’” Hamm said. “You have to hold the people and the community accountable, too. This is not a dumping ground. The county is not a dumping ground. You brought this, we have to teach you how to be responsible for it, so that’s big and education is part of our job.”

Hamm said the team has to make hard decisions every day, “and we go home, and we cry, and we cry while we lay with them.”

The team also often receives calls from locals going through one of the worst days of their life. Not only does the JCAC have to show utmost care to the animals that they receive, but they also must show care and empathy for the people they work with.

In COVID, severe bites were happening a lot more often. Hamm was on the road often during this time and said she and fellow officers do “whatever we can do and however we can help. I mean, we’ve taken coloring books to people. This is way out of the spectrum but I’ve sat and just prayed with a lady who lost her home and her dog. That’s what she needed for a second. We have to not lose the ground of ‘We are servants to our public.’”

The JCAC staff is nearly all-new, with just Officer Hamm, Officer Nick Davenport, Interim Director Marcie Pendleberry and Jessica Doolin being the only seasoned staff.

The addition of all the new staff has helped Hamm and Pendleberry get through “on days where we were like, ‘We just don’t want to do this anymore. This is just too much to ask, It’s too hard.”

Kennel Technician and Rescue Coordinator Tara Grace started last July and is one of the staff members who help the veteran workers get through. She said she helps Hamm with anything she needs and that although everyone has specific titles, “Everybody almost does a little bit of everything.”

Grace shows that to be true, having helped organize some exciting events for the spring and planning some public engagement opportunities to be announced at a later date. She thanks the public, who is still donating to the ACAC, for brand new cat cage separators: Allowing the shelter cats’ sleeping space in their cages to be quite distant from their litter box.

Other than physical additions to the shelter, In the spring, the team plans on holding several events and even some future opportunities for locals to get involved.

Upcoming community events

One of the events is a community Easter event called the “Bark EGGstravaganza in the Park” held on Saturday, April 2 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Jessamine County Dog Park located at 120 Fairground Way. The Eggstravaganza is free of charge and attendees must bring their own baskets.

For the children, grades five and under, the egg hunt will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Other activities offered for kids include face painting, a pick-a-duck game, an easter bunny photo op (with your own camera) and other activities.

Dogs are welcome! The canine egg hunt is divided into three breed sizes, the egg hunt for small breeds will take place from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. for medium-sized breeds, and 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. for large breeds.

Another event to look out for is the Jessamine Family Dentistry Open House & Block Party on Saturday, April 15 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 996 North Main St. All proceeds will be donated to the Jessamine County Animal Care & Control.

Attendees can enjoy free food & drinks, door prizes, giveaways and dental coupons, a kids’ bounce house and dogs available to adopt. There will also be an opportunity to dunk your dentist for only $5.