County shelters come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and models, but most boil down to two basic options. A county shelter run by county employees or a county shelter that contracts a nonprofit to run their shelter.
And here a little sidebar: Not all counties have public shelters. Until they do (or join together with multiple municipalities to operate one – a great model imho), we can’t truly solve the crisis for America’s homeless dogs. Why? Because even in a perfect world where dog owners spay/neuter and care humanely for their dogs and commit to them for a lifetime, there will be dogs left behind by death, crime, mental/physical illness. And in this imperfect world there is plenty of apathy, neglect, and downright cruelty. Who is responsible for the dogs left behind by these factors? The public, or their elected officials, but most directly- Animal Control Officers (who are usually police officers). ACO’s cannot take every neglected, abused, or stray animal home, so they need a place to take them—the shelter.
New River Humane Society has run the Fayetteville County Animal Control shelter in West Virginia for at least the last two decades. That era came to an end three days ago. At that point, the shelter’s management was handed over to a new nonprofit (Fayetteville County Humane Society) that established itself for the purpose of bidding (and winning) the right to run the shelter. NRHS had not accepted the terms of a new contract because they did not feel it would cover the cost of salaries and running the shelter properly.
The county owns the land and building, but NRHS owns much of the equipment and supplies, plus legally owns the animals in their care. Over the last month a transition team has been sorting out who gets what and who will take charge of the animals.
We visited New River Humane Society at the Fayetteville shelter just two weeks ago as they prepared for this transition. New River plans to open a shelter of their own in the county and has already secured a location. This should double the dog-saving capacity for Fayette County.
We were glad to have the opportunity to meet Brooke, the executive director of the NRHS shelter operations. Brooke’s background is actually child welfare, but her skill set transferred easily to dog welfare. She enjoys her work (and says animals are much easier to work with than children!).
The shelter handles about 2400 animals a year, almost evenly split between dogs and cats, with cats nosing out the dogs only by a few dozen animals. Thanks to the hard work of the shelter employees, a few fosters and volunteers, Brooke, and the NRHS rescue coordinator. they have been able to save every adoptable animal, euthanizing only for severe medical or behavioral reasons. Brooke says the faces of each animal she’s had to ‘take to the vet’ still haunt her.
We toured the concrete block building and its forty dog kennels and met the current residents. The building is older and set up in the traditional dog pound model of kennels facing each other across a concrete aisle with guillotine doors opening to a small outdoor cement area for each dog. The dogs are fed their breakfast and spend their days in the small outside’ section of their kennel with their guillotine doors closed, while workers clean the inside. The noise, stress, and energy level was high, and the outside space was extremely tight for many of the larger dogs.
The inside accommodations were a little bit roomier (and many dogs had a karunda bed), but it’s still a tough setup, especially for dogs that stay in the shelter for months.
With only a handful of hard-core volunteers, the dogs do not get out of their kennels often, but we had the chance to meet four dogs in the play yard so that Nancy could get pictures. It was clear the staff knew and loved the dogs.
Emily, a kennel tech/administrative assistant with a loving touch and obvious affection for her charges, introduced us to Max, an exuberant shepherd mix who impressed us with his tricks. Emily tries to teach all the dogs a few manners and a sit command, knowing it will increase their chances of being adopted or pulled by rescues.
Max hopped up on a stump to show off his beautiful sit. Max was only a year old and had spent a quarter of his life at the shelter, having been confiscated by Animal Control due to a cruelty charge (involving other dogs at his residence). Until the case was settled, he had to remain at the shelter, but he’d been recently released and Emily was sure he would make a great family dog.
We also met Reese, an adorable, uber-loving chocolate pup who had been at the shelter for two and a half months waiting for rescue or a family. He was great with kids, puppies, and female dogs (they expected that once he’s neutered, he will be better with other male dogs).
Capone, a champagne-colored, musclebound beauty had been at the shelter six months waiting for his freedom ride. He’s not great with other dogs but is wonderful with people (and cats!) and enjoyed a good car ride, according to another employee. Dogs Capone’s size with any hint of dog-aggression are hard to place and can often linger much too long in any shelter.
The last dog we met was a beagle named Poe who was a new resident still serving his stray hold. He was sweet, shy, and submissive, but we guessed he wouldn’t be at the shelter long, most dogs his size are quick to find a rescue ride.
Before we left, we unloaded donations for the shelter, and I asked Brooke and Emily why they thought there were so many unwanted animals in Fayette County. The numbers are high for such a small, rural county.
They spoke of the lack of access to spay/neuter (they currently have to wait two months for a spay appointment locally), but also a lack of education, a hurdle for many poor counties. Too often, people don’t know how to properly care for an animal or understand the lifetime commitment you make or the reasons it is critical to spay/neuter their pets.
After so many years at the Fayette County shelter, New River Humane Society will start over in a new place in 2023, but clearly, their commitment to saving lives and supporting their community will continue.
We will continue to follow this story – sharing the news when Brooke and the New River Humane Society open their new shelter, and hopefully come back to see it in person. I checked in with Brooke to hear how the move went and she said they are incredibly grateful for all the help and support they have gotten from their community. They were able to get nearly all the animals out through rescue (except stray holds), and successfully moved everything to their new building. Now they are busy unpacking, making repairs, and for now, they are operating as a foster-based rescue. They continue to offer low-cost spay/neuter vouchers for the public, and make small rescue runs to move their foster animals.
If you’d like to support New River Humane Society in this next chapter of their work, consider following them on Facebook, making a donation through their website to help them with their new building, or shopping their Amazon Wishlist.
Until each one has a home,
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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.
Watch our Emmy-nominated, award-winning short documentary about rescue in western Tennessee here.
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