Pets Without Parents in Sevierville is responding after dozens of social media posts made rounds online claiming the shelter would be euthanizing dozens of dogs and cats.
The shelter said its board of directors decided the shelter would need to euthanize a group of sick cats that had populated the shelter's intake area for months, but said claims that multitudes of cats and dogs were being euthanized indiscriminately were false.
The shelter said a veterinarian took away 50 cats to be evaluated on Monday.
Directors at Pets Without Parents said 42 were put down due to illness. The other 8 cats are being treated and have already been adopted.
The shelter also said it would need to euthanize some overly aggressive dogs soon.
"We've had many dogs here for three, four or five years," shelter president Lory Souders said. "If we were going to be a shelter that just euthanized for space and was going to do what everybody thinks we're doing today, they would have been gone a long time ago."
The shelter originally said that no dogs were going to be euthanized Tuesday despite claims to the contrary that had been posted on social media.
The shelter said it had taken on too many cats to meet county and city contracts, and had created an overcrowding problem with cats and dogs in its intake area which was never meant to handle its current volume as the sole intake shelter for the area.
"Yes, we had too many cats due to taking in as many as we could to meet the county and city contracts; not ever realizing 100s of cats would enter our facility," the shelter said in a Facebook post.
Pets Without Parents said the current facility is a renovated house, and 'not what it should be' given its current role.
Souders said it was never meant to hold as many animals as it has now.
She said the facility is in need of updates because it currently does not have proper ways to clean or keep sick animals away from healthy ones.
For now, the shelter is asking for help from the community to find the numerous pets in its facility a home.
"We will post in the near future a community event And yes there are many shelters helping us out due to the overpopulation. WE NEED YOUR HELP!"
PWP said 28 animals were adopted by the end of Tuesday.
Companion Animal Rescue and Education (CARE) from Jefferson County also arrived Tuesday to help the shelter by taking in six cats.
Young-Williams Animal Center in Knoxville said it sent someone to pick up some dogs for the emergency shelter list. Pets without Parents works with several other rescue organizations in- and out-of-state.
A handful of people arrived at the shelter Tuesday morning to protest the euthanasia claims and demand answers. A couple of Sevier County officers were also present, saying protesters were peaceful all morning.
"This isn't about attacking the employees or the shelter," said protest organizer Jessica Mayhorn. "We just need to be adults and figure this situation out."
Another woman at the protest said they just wanted to make sure the animals were in good condition and getting good care after reading the shelter's statement Tuesday.
On April 15, the shelter said it would need to be closed until April 22, saying there was "a lot of staff training and maintenance work" that needed to be completed.
Pets Without Parents formerly claimed for years it was Sevierville's and Sevier County's only no-kill shelter, based on previous posts it made on Facebook in past years. It's current company overview and mission statement no longer makes that claim after its role in the community changed in 2017.
At the heart of this is an evident lack of intake shelters in Sevier County in recent years compounded with increased stray animal intake.
On July 1, 2017 -- Pets Without Parents assumed the role of being the sole local animal control drop-off after policy changes were made to the local Humane Society, which voted to no longer accept stray or surrendered pets.
"It was a big shock," Pets Without Parents president Lory Souders said at the time. "We're working hard around the clock just to get this facility ready to do."
Pets Without Parents said at the time it learned it would be taking care of all animals surrendered in the county and city as an intake shelter after the Sevier County Humane Society, city and county leaders failed to work out finances.
Following the finance dispute, the Humane Society's board of directors unanimously voted in June 2017 to assume the role of a more "traditional" Humane Society instead, saying financial hurdles that arose after their facility was damaged by the 2016 Sevier County wildfires and a 200 - 300 percent increase in animal intake left them "stretched thin."
In June 2017, Pets Without Parents cared for 125 to 130 animals, but the number of strays the Humane Society cared for when it was still an intake shelter was significantly larger -- about 600 from the city and county in a single year. These numbers didn't include the number of animals the Humane Society was also receiving individually from the community.
The Sevier County Humane Society said Tuesday Pets Without Parents has not allowed their shelter to take in animals since the 2017 county and city contracts were changed. The shelter's director said she was invited to Paws Without Parents Tuesday alongside agencies like Young-Williams, but says she's unsure why PWP did not reportedly respond to their requests since last July.