As soon as we turned into the driveway of the Humane Society of Blue Ridge, we spotted the community dog park. Further up the drive, we found a beautifully landscaped garden area where a couple was walking a shelter dog. Walking trails and dog parks are two ways that shelters are inviting the public to join them in their mission to save animals. Often, creating spaces that showcase a welcoming energy can be the key to changing the narrative in places where shelter work has not always been so positive.
We unloaded just as a new deluge of rain descended and were greeted on the porch of the shelter by Rick, one of the executive directors, and Brandy, the new shelter manager. HSBR began twelve years ago and moved into its new building in 2015. It’s a large metal pole building, but inside it is welcoming and bright with intentionally designed spaces to make animals comfortable.
Brandy is certified in Fear Free training techniques and applies them to her work with the animals, creating an atmosphere that is comforting and comfortable, two qualities often missing in a typical shelter, but HSBR is anything but a typical shelter.
For instance, in Katrina’s kennel (a long-termer who has been at the shelter for a year), there were quilts hung along the metal walls because she has such short fur and gets cold easily.
Another dog, Opie, was reactive to some people, so the front of his kennel was covered with a board (with a picture of him) so that he could decide whether he wanted to see you.
“Shelter animals don’t have control of anything in their lives, I try to let them make some of the decisions,” Brandy explained.
Another example is that when they bring an animal out to meet a potential adopter, they don’t force the dog to do the perp walk out the front of its kennel and down the row of dogs. Instead, they open the guillotine door at the back of the dog’s kennel that opens into a fenced area and let the dog decide when it wants to come out and is ready for the leash that will take lead the dog to meet the adopters in a makeshift outdoor living room set up in a protected area outside.
The dog we’d seen out in the garden on our way in and the dog we saw in one of the multiple playyards out back, were both outside with volunteers during our visit because they were stressed by the presence of new people walking through the kennels. They do better meeting people outside where they feel more safe.
That same consideration of the dogs’ emotional needs is why there is a regular schedule that included ‘nap time’ each day. Following their morning play time, the dogs are happy to go back into their kennels because they know a stuffed Kong will be waiting for them. The staff dims the lights and closes the doors and gives the dogs two hours of peace and quiet.
The Humane Society makes very intentional and strategic decisions about what it does and doesn’t do. Until recently, they had only two intake kennels, which meant they had to say no to a lot of dogs and couldn’t pull many from Fannin County Animal Control (just a few miles away).
Looking for ways to help more dogs, they decided to change their protocol. They eliminated their mandatory 10-day hold for all new intakes, and instead handle each dog case by case. If a dog is up to date on vaccines, spayed/neutered and owner surrendered, there is no reason to hold it for ten days.
Any shelter stay, even at a place like this, is too long, so moving animals out the door into homes should be the priority. The shelter is also adding additional intake kennels so they can help more dogs at a time.
This is great news for Animal Control, just down the road, who can use their help. In fact, HSBR hopes to continue to build their relationship with Animal Control, merging as much of their work as possible to save more dogs and change the narrative in Fannin County.
The most exciting way they will be changing that narrative is by building an in-house spay/neuter and wellness clinic. They’ve already raised 400K to build it and will break ground soon. True to form, they have partnered with a local veterinary service that is closed on Mondays. The staff will come to work at the shelter on Mondays in what will be a brand-new state-of-the-art medical clinic on the shelter property. Eventually, they hope to contract veterinary services and be open more days, but they will start small (and smart) and figure out the best way to serve the county and save more lives.
We were so impressed by this small but mighty shelter. We didn’t dawdle in the cat areas (we’re dog people!), but clearly they are having a huge impact with cats in the county. They public shelter doesn’t handle cats (unless they bite someone), but HSBR began as a cat rescue and is tackling the cat problem with a vigorous TNR program.
The shelter funds some of their work with a first-class thrift shop in town, in addition to seeking out grant money under the leadership of Diane, their other Executive Director.
HSBR’s intentional effort to help the community can also be seen in Brandy’s plans to go into schools to speak with children about the animals and the work of the shelter –helping to plant seeds for the future welfare of animals in Blue Ridge. They have also just begun doing transports to help more animals move out of the county to other rescues and shelters who can help place them in forever homes.
As we headed south on our tour, it was inspiring to see such a great example of a community that is serious about solving their homeless animal problems. And a shelter that takes incredible, intentional, compassionate care of their animals.
If you’d like to learn more about HSBR, visit their website or Facebook page (where they go live every Saturday and Sunday to introduce the animals!). And if you’d like to help them directly, consider shopping their Amazon Wishlist.
Until each one has a home,
The mission of Who Will Let the Dogs Out (we call it Waldo for short) is to raise awareness and resources for homeless dogs and the heroes who fight for them.
You can learn more about what is happening in our southern shelters and rescues in the book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, 2020). It’s the story of a challenging foster dog who inspired me to travel south to find out where all the dogs were coming from. It tells the story of how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. Find it anywhere books are sold. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold go to help unwanted animals in the south.
Amber’s Halfway Homeis our short documentary film we produced in partnership with Farnival Films. It follows the work of a remarkable woman and one day of rescue in western Tennessee. Selected for fifteen film festivals (to date), it’s won eight awards (including Best Short Doc, Best Soundtrack, Best of Fest, and Audience Choice), and was nominated for an Emmy! It is a beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring story we hope will compel viewers to work for change. Please watch it and share it far and wide.