An East Tennessee stray, pregnant dog has sparked controversy across East Tennessee, the nation, and even other parts of the world.
The dog, now named Kasidy, was dropped off at Young-Williams Animal Center on Saturday.
Soon after, rumors began swirling in Internet discussion groups and e-mails about the possible fate of the dog.
One circulating message said the puppies "will be taken by C-section and euthanized on day 5 in spite of the fact that they are fully developed."
The word quickly spread, and hundreds of e-mails and phone calls poured in to the shelter.
"We wish we could always have this kind of attention paid to the plight of animals that are wandering our streets that don't have homes," said Dr. Michael Blackwell, the shelter's administrator.
Dr. Blackwell said that most of the information that has been passed around is false.
"All of those stories about puppies already trying to be born or that we want to find a way to harm the puppies as a reason to just be mean are not correct," he said.
But the reality is, around 50 new animals arrive at the shelter every day, but there is only enough space to house around 500. That means between 15 and 25 animals are euthanized every day.
"While the public has rallied around Kasidy, and we understand that compassion, I want the public to know that their compassion probably doesn't rise to the level of the compassion of the people at Young-Williams Animal Center," Dr. Blackwell said. "We're here every day addressing what is a large social issue. We didn't create Kasidy, we don't create the conditions that lead to a Kasidy. We're left to deal with whatever led to a Kasidy being on the streets and then showing up at our doors."
By law, every shelter in the state must hold an animal for three days in order for the owners to have time to reclaim the animal. After that, the shelter takes ownership of the animal, and at Young-Williams, that means putting them on the track toward spaying and neutering.
Dr. Blackwell says, no shelter animal can be placed in an adoptive home without that operation, but the timeline for doing so can vary.
"Our charge is to assist the community in reducing the population of homeless dogs and cats, so the drivers that we operate under are just that, and spay and neuter operations are the most effective way to reduce the number of unwanted or homeless pets," he said.
In the case of Kasidy, she was headed for the adoptive track, meaning she would eventually be spayed. There was a chance that could have happened before she gave birth to her eight puppies.
"These are harsh realities that our society must also embrace as we express our compassion in trying to help animals. There's a not-so-pretty side to our reality where the animals are concerned," Dr. Blackwell said. "I guarantee you we cry more tears here than most people would ever imagine 'cause it's a daily event here at Young-Williams Animal Center."
Dr. Blackwell points out that the ultimate goal of the shelter is to manage the pet overpopulation in the community, adding that Young-Williams is not designed to house new moms and new puppies.
"When we go into the maternity business, if we were to do that, and, frankly, give these pups a chance because we isolate them and so forth, I can guarantee you we will have killed way more animals as a result of that because they were not allowed to get in, because there is no space at the inn," he said.
In the end, Young-Williams reached out to an area rescue group, Adopt a Golden Knoxville.
Within hours, the organization's leader had agreed to take custody of Kasidy and help her and her puppies find new homes.
"She's going to be very well taken care of in a foster home," said Amy Johnston, president of Adopt a Golden Knoxville. "We like to keep them all together until they're eight weeks old, and then we will find them wonderful, wonderful homes."
While Kasidy's story will likely have a happy ending, Dr. Blackwell said it should serve as an eye-opener for the community about the difficult job with which the shelter is tasked.
"When everybody goes to bed tonight and feels comfortable that maybe something good will happen for Kasidy, I hope that they will also place in their minds the hundreds of Kasidys, there are hundreds," he said.