United States Animal Protection

Times Free Press Chattanooga TN

Dawn Bechtold works for Walker shelter changes

by Chloé Morrison

Recommendations for Humane Sheltering Standards

Dawn Bechtold said her love for animals is innate, and she began rescuing animals at age 8.

Now she is the president and founder of a national animal protection group she said has about 1,200 members.

After meeting with Walker Commissioner Bebe Heiskell, Mrs. Bechtold recently worked with the county’s animal shelter to implement improvements at the facility.

Mrs. Bechtold said her organization doesn’t want animals to suffer if they must be euthanized, and it works to change practices at many shelters nationally.

Q: Can you start by talking about what changes you’ve seen at the Walker County Animal Shelter?

A: What I’ve seen is — and I can say I’ve seen because I’ve pulled the open records — they have switched mainly from intraperitoneal injections (into the abdomen) with no sedation, to intravenous injections. That was our main goal.

Q: Who worked on the changes? Did you work with Guy Bilyeu, with the Hamilton County Humane Educational Society?

A: We didn’t work with Guy Bilyeu. We are our own entity. We are United States Animal Protection. It has been Marjorie (Banks, director of USAP) and I, as well as our group members from Animal Shelter reform, which is just part of United States Animal Protection. And it was Bebe Heiskell who agreed to work with United States Animal Protection. We prefer to work with our own organization.

Q: How did the changes occur?

A: Well, once the meeting was held and Bebe agreed to work with us, things just started changing. Mr. (David) Ashburn was more willing to work with us. We wrote something called Humane Shelter Standards and that really explained some of the changes we wanted to see implemented at that shelter. David Ashburn said, ‘Dawn, we have read that and we are following that.’

But … we really hope to see intraperitoneal used only if they must sedate an animal that way. We understand, but we believe there is no reason they shouldn’t at least try to find a vein. If they are going to use intraperitoneal or any type of injection that the animal is weighed. We’d like to see sedation, always.

They did go to a higher dose (of euthanasia solution, which helps animals not suffer).

Q: You mentioned a woman who said she had seen a change in the shelter. What did she say?

A: She says, ‘I haven’t been to Walker in a long time, but when I arrived I couldn’t believe I was in Walker County. First, it smelled like a hospital, and only one half of the shelter was full. Every dog had a card listing its number, info, if it was an owner surrender, and vaccine, deworming info and all the dogs were flea free and all being fed twice a day,’ which is something we asked for.

Q: How does that feel to hear that?

A: We are elated. We are absolutely elated. This is all we’ve been asking for. We are not advocating killing by any means, but if they must die, we ask that they are killed humanely.

Q: How did you get into animal rescue?

A: I’ve always been a rescuer since I was a child. I’ve always brought strays home. The way I became an activist to stop animal cruelty was what I saw when I was 8 years old. I was missing my kitty cat. I was hysterical. I loved my kitty cat. She went everywhere I went. I called my mom at work, and we set out to find her. And I did find her along with about 50 other cats that had been burned, bleached and hung. And I was a child and it was very traumatic for me. I was very angry, and I think it has been instilled in my mind since then.

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