Pets show positive side of pandemic

Anyone can give an endless list of ways the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the U.S.  Besides the tragedy of millions of people infected and hundreds of thousands dead, the virus has stolen our old lives. 

But even the biggest upheavals can offer unexpected benefits.

Due to the pandemic, dogs, cats, feathered friends and perhaps a few other species, are reaping the benefits of humans who are stuck at home.

Nationwide, animal shelters and rescue organizations have empty kennels because people are turning to pets to fill the gaps that were previously filled with work, school, and comfortable routines. 

Pet adoptions are skyrocketing these days.  Some people are offering animals a permanent place in their families, while others have become foster parents to adoptable pets to help shelters shift to appointment-only adoptions, contact-free interactions, and operating models that are better for the animals.

Sarah Duchesneau, a foster volunteer for Williamson County Animal Center, has fostered five litters of kittens this year.  A tremendous help to the facility, it also provided a much-needed mental distraction from the pandemic.

“Certainly, pets offer a tremendous amount of fun. But not only that, they help with your mood,” says Duchesneau.  “It’s proven that petting an animal releases serotonin and dopamine.  And they’re just good company.”

Deborah Bohn, an AP Literature teacher at Independence High School in Thompson’s Station, has adopted a dog and fostered two litters of kittens since the pandemic began. Given the gravity of COVID-19, she says the animals were a necessary bright spot. 

“Everyone was just kind of mourning, you know, what was going on, so it was just fun to carry a kitten around,” she says. 

 

Metro Animal Care and Control in Nashville has its own foster roster.  In October 2019, there were 220 names on it.  In October 2020, the list grew to 1,146 names.

Online communities helping local communities

Not only has MACC seen its foster rates soar, but its animal intakes have plummeted, primarily because people have more available time now and are using social media for more than just keeping close with friends and family from a safe distance. 

Maria Bascetta, Volunteer and Events Coordinator for MACC, says that people are working together on social media and in their communities on everything from reuniting lost pets with their owners to assisting neighbors who have been financially impacted by the pandemic and might need temporary help with food or supplies.

“The lost and found groups in Davidson County have really stepped up,” she says. 

Hip Donelson, a community group with a huge social media presence, owns four pet microchip scanners and has a network of fosters that will hold pets temporarily while the group posts on social media to get pets back to their rightful homes. 

Efforts like this not only help keep animals out of the shelter, but it provides much-needed relief for MACC staff.

“That is kind of the future of community animal sheltering. It can’t all fall on the shoulders of one organization that has 36 employees for all of Davidson County,” says Bascetta.

No better time to adopt

Franklin nurse practitioner Jessica Rousseau found pets of the feathered kind that needed a home.

An Instagram post from Williamson County Animal Center about two parakeets piqued her interest.  The morning after Rousseau applied, she got a call asking if she was still interested in the birds.

“They were given up because they were too loud for Zoom school,” she says.  One of the parakeets died about two weeks after bringing them home, most likely from stress at the shelter.  Jessica bought a new companion parakeet for the remaining one (they’re happiest in pairs), then expanded her flock with a young cockatiel.  She now has a full house with three young sons, three dogs, and three birds.   

Arrington, Tennessee resident Shelly Bleistein tried to adopt a dog for two and a half months before finding the family’s newest member. The surprising uptick in pet adoptions caused backlogs and waiting lists for people wanting to adopt.

“Once everything shut down, I’m like, well this would be a perfect time to adopt another dog,” she says.  “I had the hardest time!  I called Williamson County and applied three times and was never contacted.  I talked to some terrier rescue out of Columbia…and they just ghosted me.”   

Bleistein and her family finally adopted Bodhi from a shelter over an hour away in Stewart County. The lucky pup is a new companion for their dog Axel, who was lonely after their other dog passed at the end of 2019.  Bodhi is a great fit for the Bleistein family, but still has a few things to learn. 

“He’ll sit on command, and we’re working on ‘shake.’ And he still wants to get in bed with us every night,” she says. “Underneath the covers, which we’re trying to not let that happen.”

Forced reactions to the pandemic result in permanent changes

Bascetta says that animal shelters and welfare organizations across the U.S. had to quickly react to the pandemic shutdown and change policies and procedures.

Because of the pandemic, shelters could no longer accept walk-in visitors who were interested in adopting pets.  MACC had to scramble to make changes to protect the facility staff from COVID-19 but still offer a way to adopt animals.

“We didn’t have anything online,” she says. “People were still going to our shelter to fill out paper forms.”

In late March and early April, MACC transitioned their foster and adoption processes online to virtually handle requests without contact. These changes, coupled with a stronger reliance on foster homes for adoptable animals, will be permanent for the facility.  In animal welfare circles, this known as a Community Sheltering Model.

“We’re not going back.  We’re not going back to what we were.  We’re still going to operate with appointments.  We’re still going to have managed intakes, we’re still going to try to get people resources to keep their pets,” says Bascetta.

A return to normal life

Some have wondered what could happen to some of these “pandemic pets” once life for everyone returns to the normal that we’re all used to: work commutes, hectic schedules, and freedom to leave home without fear of illness.  Bascetta remains hopeful.

“If anything has happened with people being home, the bonds with their animals are stronger, so they may not want to surrender them unless it’s an economic thing,” she says.

Suzie Kamp, a Williamson County resident whose family adopted one puppy in February and another puppy in June, has her hands full for now but considers what might happen once the world is back on its axis and life returns to what it was before COVID-19.

“While I feel we’re good with pets now, I also kind of think about that for the future if we’re open to maybe taking one in when those things start happening in a year,” she says.

For now, everyone is thrilled and encouraged about the future of animal welfare that has evolved because of COVID-19.

“The pets made out the best in this, hands down. We’ve just really enjoyed seeing all of the animals leave the shelter,” says Duchesneau.  “There are silver linings everywhere.”

 

 

Hear Deborah Bohn explain why so many people have fostered or adopted pets during the pandemic.  Jessica Rousseau and her son introduce us to their family's trio of birds, Shelly Bleistein praises her new dog, Bodhi, and Maria Bascetta from MACC tells us about less common pets up for adoption at the Nashville facility.

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Early last summer before the Andrew Delke trial was scheduled to begin in July, I was given permission to attend the trial as a special reporter for Sidelines, the MTSU campus newspaper.  Unfortunately, the trial was delayed again and I will graduate before it ever gets started.  My deep interest in the 2018 incident, as well as Delke's trial and eventual verdict, caused me to wonder how the pandemic and its related delays could impact this trial's outcome.  I then wondered about strategies for trial delays in general and which side of our court system benefits most from them. This article is the result.

Pandemic takes toll on 6th Amendment guarantee, but delays could prove beneficial

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, court systems nationwide have suspended operations, including grand jury presentations, jury trials and sentencing hearings, until the gravity and impact of the pandemic lessens for everyone. 

Davidson County courts are no exception, including the trial of Andrew Delke, the Metro Nashville Police Department officer who was charged with criminal homicide in the 2018 death of Daniel Hambrick. Jury selection for the trial was originally set to begin earlier this year on March 11, with the trial slated to begin March 16. 

 

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Delke’s trial was delayed for three months.  This summer, when it was evident that the pandemic wasn’t ending any time soon, the trial was delayed once again.

 

The most recent reports indicate that Delke’s trial has now been delayed until at least February 2021, close to three years after Daniel Hambrick’s death.

 

A fair and speedy trial

Some argue that pandemic-related court delays and closings are infringing upon rights included in the 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to a fair and speedy trial.  But the argument can be made that delays could be beneficial for both sides, even in Andrew Delke’s upcoming trial.

“Trial delays generally benefit the defense, in that witnesses die, evidence gets lost, memories fade,” says Dr. Larry Burriss, a journalism and media law professor at Middle Tennessee State University.  “The Constitution guarantees a swift & speedy trial.  At the same time, though, the attorney is obligated to offer the best possible defense, and if that means spending more time gathering evidence, then you spend more time gathering evidence.”

Kerry Haymaker, a Nashville defense attorney who was appointed by the court in 2009 to represent Jerome Barrett in his trial for the notorious 1975 murder of 9-year-old Marcia Trimble, explains that the definition of a speedy trial is vague at best.

“A defendant has a right to a speedy trial, but the definition of a speedy trial is relative.  Generally, if it takes over 2 years, then the assumption is that their rights have been violated.  But if the defense asks for a continuance, then the assumption is that they are waiving their rights to a speedy trial,” he says.

The domino effect of mistaken identity

On a hot and humid night in July 2018, baby-faced MNPD officer Andrew Delke, 26, was on duty.  Newly assigned to the Juvenile Crimes Task Force, Delke was on patrol looking for stolen vehicles and juvenile offenders. 

At some point during his shift, Delke became suspicious of a white Chevrolet Impala he encountered at a four-way stop in North Nashville.  Delke followed the vehicle and ran the license plate.  The vehicle wasn’t stolen. 

Delke chose to follow it anyway. 

What happened next remains murky.  Officer Delke claims he thought he saw the Impala sitting in the parking lot of the John Henry Hale Apartments, located on Jo Johnston Avenue between 14th and 16th Avenues.  

Delke pulled his patrol car into the apartment parking lot.  That’s when he says that Daniel Hambrick, 25, started running across the parking lot and onto Jo Johnston, heading west towards 17th Avenue.  Officer Delke gave chase and yelled for Hambrick to stop.  Delke claims he saw that Hambrick had a gun.

Hambrick didn’t follow Officer Delke’s order to stop.

Footage from the video surveillance camera mounted on the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Magnet High School, located at 17th and Jo Johnston Avenues, shows what happened next.

When Hambrick failed to stop, Officer Delke stopped on the sidewalk and fired four shots from his service weapon.  Two hit Hambrick in the back.  One went through the back of his skull.  The last bullet hit a building.

Hambrick died at the scene. 

It was later revealed that white vehicle in the parking lot was not the Impala that Delke had begun following, even after he learned that it wasn’t stolen. 

Two months later, Andrew Delke was charged with criminal homicide. The same day he was charged, Delke was decommissioned by the MNPD.

The bigger the case, the bigger the jury pool

Because of the local and national spotlights on the case, especially in light of more recent events surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, the jury pool for Andrew Delke’s trial is expected to be made up of at least 300 people due to the anticipated difficulty of selecting impartial jurors.  Pandemic-related restrictions in Davidson County courts make it impossible to house such a large jury pool at the Metro Courthouse while maintaining the required social distancing. 

But aside from the limitations of accommodating such a large jury pool while still maintaining the guidelines for COVID-19, the prolonged delay could have other effects on a potential jury. 

An Atlanta-area ADA who has also served on the other side of the aisle as a criminal defense attorney and a public defender for juvenile offenders, explains that juries can sometimes blame the prosecution for trial delays, regardless the reason. 

“When they start hearing that a trial has been delayed for an extended period of time, I think they usually blame the state for that, unless there’s some compelling reason otherwise.  And then the state would have to explain, as best as they legally could, why there was a delay,” he says. 

Treading lightly in a call for justice

Dr. Burriss explains that the prosecution needs to proceed cautiously with the Delke trial not only for jury selection, but for timing of the trial itself.  Although the pandemic-related delays may appear to have worked in the state’s favor as far as conveniently preventing the trial from starting this summer during the height of the public outcry and response to George Floyd’s murder, no one can predict the future, especially nowadays.

“We could argue that the delay is going to inflame the jury even more.  As we delay this trial, public sentiment is going to get worse.  The prosecution has to balance this out: do I want to go to trial now, while tensions are high, but what will tensions be later on? They want to get this thing to trial and be done with it before another event happens and brings this to the forefront again.  Unfortunately, there seem to be more and more incidents going on,” he says.   

Public outrage over recent police-related events may initially seem to be a boon for the prosecution in Andrew Delke’s trial.  However, the state must also consider that a verdict in their favor could be construed by some as biased and unfair down the road.  The balance between justice for a young man’s murder versus a public witch hunt to hold law enforcement accountable must be flawless.  Otherwise, a guilty verdict could face years of appeals and perhaps be eventually overturned.

Whether these ongoing delays for Andrew Delke’s trial yield advantages for either side of the court is debatable and as yet unknown.  What we do know, however, is that Nashville and the nation are all anticipating this trial with a collective bated breath.

2019 & prior

MTSU:  Making Legen-dairy Milk

About 15 minutes northeast of MTSU's campus is a lesser-known part of the university:  the MTSU Farm.  Here, students from the School of Agriculture spend time on 435 acres of pastoral farmland and experience hands-on learning in areas like crop science, livestock management, and modern-day dairy production.  Go behind the scenes at the state-of-the-art dairy barn to meet some of the MTSU dairy herd and see what it takes to produce the university's popular milk.

Cat Cafes:  The Growth to Meowfreesboro

Cat cafes started in Japan over 20 years ago as a way to allow people who couldn't otherwise have pets to interact with cats in a relaxing environment.  As the trend made its way to the U.S., the purpose of cat cafes transitioned into one that focused on cat rescue and adoption.  Take a look inside a local cat cafe to learn why their popularity is booming nationwide for people seeking furry companions and how they help local cats seeking forever homes.

Down & Dirty in Nashville

Families, friends, and pets gathered to take part in the 2019 Tough Mudder Nashville 5K Mud Run on Saturday, October 5. This year’s race featured 25 obstacles for the Mudders plus 13 obstacles for runners of the 5K. Competitors and spectators all gathered in the Mudder Village to wait for their assigned start times and cheer for the other participants. The Mudder Village featured local businesses, vendors and sponsors showcasing everything from merchandise to food and beverages and everything in between. Following the race, each competitor had the opportunity to wash off the mud in the showers and wash down any pain with a complimentary ice-cold beer.

Tough Mudder Nashville Oct 2019.mp3
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The Friendship of a Lifetime

For a therapy dog, getting showered with love and affection wherever they go is a normal part of their day. This is certainly the case for Shaylie, a two-year-old Great Pyrenees-Lab mix. Shaylie is a recently certified therapy dog who lives with her owner and handler, Jean Baird. Every week, Jean takes Shaylie to visit her best friend of 45 years, Jess Arney, who lives at the Elmcroft Senior Living Community in Lebanon, Tennessee.  Jean and Shaylie’s visits are welcomed by everyone at the facility, including both residents and staff.

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