The team at Caldwell County KY Animal Shelter has too big a job and too few resources, yet they are getting it done. The shelter is located in a small metal building tucked away in the woods behind a county park. When we visited, they had about 40 dogs, but the shelter is meant to hold about half as many (no cats are sheltered by the county).
A team of four women handle all the work at the shelter (all are ‘part-time’ employees, paid for 25 hours a week but work many more). Jamie, the director, and Barbara, her mother-in-law and the adoption coordinator began work at the shelter a year ago. They’ve been joined by kennel techs Sarah and Jess.
The small staff have worked hard to clean up the aging facility comprised of two rows of nine small kennels facing each other with a drain running down between them. This is the set up of a traditional dog pound and creates a stressful environment for the dogs. Add to that the metal building and you can imagine the noise level.
The shelter was so full when we visited that some of the dogs were doubled up, three dogs were living in crates along the walls and several dogs were housed in outside kennels behind the building. It wasn’t pretty, but it was safe and dry. The women are committed to not euthanizing dogs, so in addition to using every available space in the shelter, all have fosters at home (there are a few other fosters).
In the past, the dogs have left the shelter in equal numbers to rescue and local adoptions, but with rescues unable to pull dogs, they are having to get creative with housing as owner surrenders tick up mostly due to the economy.
There is no internet access at the kennel, so any networking of dogs or marketing of adoptable animals or sharing lost dog posts has to happen after work when they are at home. Until Barbara began working at the shelter, all the records were kept on paper, but she purchased a computer of her own to do the work.
In fact, most everything the dogs have is purchased out of the pockets of the employees, their friends who donate, or any fundraising they can do (right now they are selling t-shirts). The county pays their salaries and building utilities but gives them no money for food or supplies.
The shelter is allotted two thousand dollars a year for medical and also has a two thousand dollar grant for spay/neuter (which doesn’t begin to cover the 287 dogs and puppies they adopted out so far this year). The county pays their utilities but everything else—food, treats, bedding, cleaning supplies, dewormers, flea meds, and vaccines has to come out of what they can get donated or their own pockets.
There is a small play yard and Jamie would love to have another play yard or two so that they could get the dogs outside more. When they took over the building there was a coin-operated washer and dryer (not kidding!), but they have since gotten a washer and dryer donated that is ‘free’ to use.
For all their rough accommodations and meager supplies, the women take great care of the dogs who all looked good (a few were even pretty chunky!). They were very happy to see us and take the treats I offered. They brought out two dogs to the play yard for Nancy to take pictures. We met Jimmy, a 4-month-old puppy left from a litter named after rockstars (he is officially Jimi Hendrix) and Bell, a beautiful gray and white mama dog who had her puppies in foster care (only one survived).
We met the shelter mascot, Buddy, a beautiful collie/shepherd mix who has been at the shelter for almost a year. He was adopted out locally once, but got loose and ran back to the shelter. They still let Buddy loose most days and he runs around the property and then comes back inside to his kennel.
Considering the challenge these women face and how hard their work is, they are remarkably optimistic. They laugh easily and seem to enjoy each other’s company. They certainly love their dogs. And the dogs (and residents) of Caldwell County are lucky to have them.
Even after visiting over 80 shelters, I’m still shocked at situations like this. As we drove out of the county, I couldn’t help but notice that it does not look impoverished. In fact, most houses were pretty nice and well-kept. It looked nothing like the towns in West Virginia we drove through the day before. I find it hard to believe the county residents are aware of just how little their tax dollars support their shelter. I imagine if they walked through these kennels and met Jamie and Barbara and Jess and Sarah, they would want to help.
Once again, I’m reminded of one of the reasons we started this organization – the problem of so many unwanted dogs who suffer and sometimes die in our nation’s shelters and pounds, does not exist because people don’t care, but because they don’t know.
Please help us spread the word. If you know someone in Kentucky, share this post with them. Or share it anyway, because you never know who might see it. If you have a few dollars to share, support the work of these women and help these dogs by shopping their Amazon wishlist or donating to their veterinary fund (Lunas Veterinary Services, 51 Old Fredonia Road, Princeton, KY, 42445, 270-365-9822 and donate to the Caldwell County Animal Shelter ‘donation account’).
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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