Animal Services Are Essential Services
Avery County is the only county in North Carolina that has absolutely no animal services – no animal control officers, no shelter, and no private rescue shelter contracted to take animals.
Here is what happens when a county has no animal services:
Despite good anti-cruelty laws, with nowhere to place animals, police officers cannot enforce those laws.
If a citizen (or a tourist as the area is a tourist destination) is arrested for drunk driving or involved in a car accident, and there is an animal in the car, there is nowhere to take that animal.
If someone dies or is incarcerated, and has no family able or willing to take their pets, what then?
If a stray animal is threatening people or animals, getting into the trash, or just plain loitering, with no animal services, there are few options.
These are just a few of the situations that require some kind of county animal control. There are countless others, and I’m sure Avery County has experienced all of them.
Enter Ellie. Ellie grew up in the area but left to go to school and work. While living in other states, she became involved in the world of rescue. In January 2021, she moved home with her daughter, to live with her parents. Three days later, she rescued a Great Pyrenees with sarcoptic mange and other health issues. A month later, she started Avery County Animal Support.
Ellie realized she didn’t need to go anywhere to rescue animals, she could put her rescue knowledge to work right in her hometown where the need was great. That first year, ACAS rescued 170 animals and in 2022, they rescued over 250 animals, working out of her parent’s garage and foster homes.
Despite her claims that she is better with animals than people, Ellie is a natural, humble leader whose passion and mission have drawn out her community.
With two other women, Brandy and Angie, they have created a rescue and, more than that, a rescue community, who are coming together to care for the animals in need within their county. They are off to a great start, assisting law enforcement and working to educate the community on the need for animal services in their county.
The town of Elk Park offered the group the old town hall, a 600 square-foot building built in 1885, renting it to ACAS for just a dollar a month. When we arrived to meet Ellis and learn more about their organization, a crew was at work installing new windows. The mayor of Elk Park donated and installed a new HVAC system and a large bathing sink. Another local construction crew came and leveled the tiny backyard, created a swale to divert water from the area, and brought in gravel. New nonporous floors were donated and installed. Donations continue to come in from the community in support of the work the rescue is doing.
The ACAS team raised funds to purchase a bank of kennels and the town added a small storage shed next to the building (there are no closets in the tiny, historic building). Ellie dreams of being able to use the large, empty yard next door for a small parking pad and a play yard for the dogs.
We didn’t get to meet any of the animals because all of the 25 animals that were currently in their care had been moved to foster care while the windows were installed and the kennels put in.
Most of the animals handled by ACAS leave through transfers to other rescues, but the group has also done local adoptions. They struggle to find low cost spay and neuter for their animals, especially any vet willing to spay or neuter anything under six months. Ellie’s committed to doing this right and so tries to adopt the younger animals out locally so she can follow up and be sure the animal is spayed/neutered.
ACAS is inundated with requests for help. Ellie does all she can. She is a smart, single mom who gave up a good job in finance so that she could focus on rescue. She’s looking for another job, one that will allow her to respond to rescue calls and run the rescue. While the town is truly stepping up in support of what she is doing, they are still essentially getting animal services for free, and taking advantage of the experience and enormous heart of this young woman and the other volunteers.
The group’s mission includes more than just sheltering and re-homing animals. Their work includes educating the community, offering free dog houses and bedding for dogs living outside and spay/neuter assistance, and even delivering dog food when needed.
Once again, I’m amazed by what can happen when one person in a community steps up and says, “I want to help. Let’s do this better.”
Everyone can be a hero. All you have to do is lead with your heart. Clearly, Ellie is doing just that, and her community is following. Hopefully, county leadership appreciates and recognizes the work they are doing and gives them the financial support they will need to continue to provide animal services that are essential for the health and safety of their community.
If you’d like to support the work of Avery County Animal Support, shop their Amazon wishlist.
For more information, visit their website: www.AveryCountyAnimals.org.
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.
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Love the way these people come together for the animals.