KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Mary Jane Sill noticed a problem with stray animals in Morgan County when she moved there 30 years ago.
"I was just shocked and appalled when I saw all the starving animals that would come out of the woods into the back of our farm and the animals that were eating outside the dumpster at Hardee's," she said.
Sill has rescued dogs in the past, including her newest pup, Tiny Dancer.
Tiny showed up on Sill's porch in Wartburg in bad shape, so she took her in.
"She was just a spunky little thing who needed help and there wasn't an easy place to send her," said Sill.
Not all dogs are as lucky as Tiny Dancer.
If an animal gets lost or gets dumped in Morgan County, there's no animal control or animal shelter to take them in.
It's one of only a handful of counties in Tennessee with no animal shelter.
"It's very rural and you know it's a depressed area. And we just have never had the resources," said Sill.
She started volunteering with the Morgan County Animal Shelter group about two years ago and now serves as the chair of the Land and Building Committee.
Sill said there are plenty of people willing to help the animals, but without a building, they can't get grants, donations or a lot of other things necessary to care for these future pets.
To get that physical shelter, they need cheap or donated land.
"We're trying to get our state officials to sit down with us and look at the land that we're interested in and see if there's a way that the state can lease us a few acres," said Sill.
Sill said there have been some offers from people around the county, but they really want their shelter to be in a centralized location so as many people and animals as possible can benefit.
She said the location they're eyeing fits that bill, but it's owned by the state.
It's off Highway 62 and Flat Fork Road.
Sill said that location is ideal because it's near Morgan County's only animal hospital, it's close to the local vocational school and Roane State Community College and the Morgan County Correctional Complex.
She's hoping they could have students and inmates volunteer.
"Until the pandemic, we were meeting with the county executive and the sheriff, the school system and a lot of nonprofits on animal welfare to try to figure out how to go about getting the land," said Sill.
While they work this out, they're asking for volunteers, and for help getting a good location.
It's all so more dogs like Tiny Dancer have a chance.
"Many, many animals are not as lucky as Tiny Dancer," said Sill.