Lewis Upshur Animal Control Shelter is located in Buckhannon, WV, about 1.5 hours northeast of Charleston.
The shelter is in a traditional ‘dog pound’ style building (small, cement block, indoor/outdoor kennels separated by guillotine doors) nestled into the side of a hill. Just above the shelter is a fenced area for livestock, but since they don’t have any, they use it as a playyard for the dogs.
We were greeted by Robin, a regular volunteer who was walking an adorable little black and white dog who had just arrived at the shelter the day before. In addition to being a volunteer, Robin is part of a nonprofit group called Luv 4 Animals, which raises money to support the shelter and pay for medical needs that fall outside the budget. The week we visited they were funding the cherry eye surgery for a dog who had a local adopter.
Inside, we met Christy who has worked at the shelter for fifteen years (the last five full time). Christy is also a vet tech who worked for the local vet simultaneously until recently, so she brings important experience and skills to the job.
Two other volunteers were busy working – Karen, who comes to the shelter five days a week, was walking dogs, and Daisy, who came to the shelter originally for required community service hours, but then stayed. Daisy is a critical volunteer the staff can trust with pretty much anything at the shelter.
It’s an upbeat story here – technically a kill shelter, they rarely euthanize for space thanks to the dedicated work of Christy and two other employees and the regular volunteers like the ones we met. Christy says they probably have 700 volunteers on the books, but only about five come regularly. And to be fair, a lot of those volunteers are from the local university (West Virginia Wesleyan) and have probably graduated and moved away.
The shelter serves both Lewis and Upshur Counties. Last year they handled over 900 dogs and 1100 cats. They get their animals out primarily through rescues, but like all the shelters we’ve visited this year, that is getting harder and harder as rescues fill up and burn out.
Because they are a municipal animal control facility, they are technically open-intake. But when they are full (which they are today), they ask residents who come in to surrender their dogs, to hold on to them for a week or two to give the staff time to make room. And then they put out an SOS to their supporters, rescue partners, and pretty much anywhere. Thankfully, most of the time people come through or they find a way to juggle animals to foster care or doubled up in kennels and are not forced to euthanize.
Christy is currently fostering 42 kittens at her house. “When the choice is foster or euthanize, it’s not really a choice,” she explained.
According to a law passed in 2005, all animals adopted from a municipal shelter in West Virginia must be spayed or neutered. This past year the shelter received a West Virginia spay/neuter grant which has enabled them to get more animals spayed and neutered before they leave, but it’s always a challenge. It always involves arranging transports, lobbying for surgery spots at local vets, and sending cats to Morgantown or Charleston.
That should all change soon. The shelter raised money to build an onsite surgery suite! Thanks to a grant from Home Depot for the materials, Petco for equipment, and the funds they raised through their gun raffle and dinner fundraiser, they will soon have a surgery space in the shelter.
What this shelter has going for it is a resourceful and dedicated staff, a committed community supporting them with volunteers and donations (and working with the staff on owner surrender situations), and soon they’ll have the other critical piece – access to spay/neuter and medical care. Those are the three pieces we’ve seen in shelters that succeed no matter their zip code.
It was refreshing to meet the staff and volunteers at this little regional shelter where they are demonstrating how it is possible to save their animals and engage their community. Hopefully, their efforts will slow the intake side of the equation, but meanwhile, they are blessed with incredible people taking care of the animals in their community.
If you’d like to support the work of Lewis-Upshur, consider shopping their Amazon wishlist: https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/18O4BESRAULEZ/
Another way to help would be to support LUV 4 Animals.
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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