A tearful young woman with an infant approached the counter with a small pet carrier, saying she had to give up her cat, which a friend had rescued and she had agreed to care for. She explained the landlord would not let her have the young cat in her apartment.
The woman behind the counter sympathetically asked where the young woman lived and asked about the friend who had rescued the cat. She knew the building and the landlord and began making phone calls. This shelter knows the community it serves and when a situation like this arises they don’t just take the animal and turn the person away, they do their best to help the person keep it.
In 2006, when the board and committee of the Beaver County Humane Society found they needed to move their shelter, dating to 1968, they made bigger plans than just finding another building. They wanted more space where they could serve more animals, and house them more humanely, give them better medical care, and invite the public to a welcoming place where they could interact with the animals face to face before choosing to adopt. They also wanted to provide more resources for pet owners in this rural county north of Pittsburgh.
They planned, raised money over years and offered all this and more when they opened their new shelter in Center Township in February 2013, and already they’ve made a difference for animals and people who love them. The new shelter can house around 250 cats, dogs and small pets where the old shelter could only hold about 75, the cages for cats and small dogs are modern and convertible, for large dogs open and bright, and there is staff and volunteers to give individual attention to each animal each day. Fenced runs behind the shelter offer a large exercise area for the dogs to burn off some steam along with walks from staff and volunteers. The animals are all socialized and friendly and obviously know the shelter workers well. The shelter accepts about 4,000 animals a year.
“We have a veterinary clinic where we offer low-cost spay and neuter and a TNR (trap-neuter-return) program, and quarterly rabies clinics, and we hope to offer a need-based full wellness program next year,” said Executive Director Susan Salyards. “We currently have offsite adoption locations for cats in three PetSmarts, in New Castle, Monaca and Robinson.” She mentioned they were planning a foster program for young kittens and cats needing medical care which they launched in May 2014.
Behind the front desk and adoption floor are areas for pet food and laundry, isolation for dogs and cats who need medical care, bathing and grooming onsite, and an intake room that is set up like a veterinary exam room for animals to be treated on arrival. The animal handling areas are set up to baffle the sounds of dogs barking and everyday shelter activities to help keep animals calm and relaxed.
And because the shelter accepts animals brought in from the 19 boroughs in the county and employs two certified humane officers to investigate humane complaints, there is a separate entrance and holding area for animals brought in by animal control, police and humane officers.
The public is welcome to post lost pet flyers on a wall-sized bulletin board in the lobby so that when a pet is brought in or surrendered as a stray staff can look through the flyers to see if the pet is there, and residents who’ve found a pet can stop in to see if a pet they’ve taken in actually belongs to someone.
Shelter veterinarian Dr. Debra M. Moon, DVM brings 25 years of experience in shelter medicine and innovative ideas for care from the moment pets enter the door until they leave.
“Every animal receives a distemper vaccine when it comes through the door to reduce the chances of an outbreak,” said Dr. Moon who suggested this policy, “and before adoption it is spayed or neutered when it is of age and weight, and microchipped, and of course they receive all their other age-appropriate vaccines.”
And for cats in particular, every cat gets a combo test for FeLV and FIV to help eliminate the possibility of spreading these two diseases through the shelter or into an adopter’s home.
Dr. Moon was also integral in working out the agreement and application for the shelter board committee devising the fostering program. “People will need to apply for the program and follow a protocol for the animal’s health,” she explained. The foster program works with healthy kittens and puppies with or without a mom who need a quiet place to grow up as well as “bottle babies” or orphaned kittens and puppies who need to be bottle fed until they can be weaned. All the little ones need to reach the age and weight requirement to be spayed and neutered and put up for adoption, and the moms are spayed as well.
“When they are ready they come in from the foster home to be spayed and neutered and stay overnight, then they go right out to PetSmart the next day,” she said. Cats and dogs are quickly adopted who’ve been in foster.
The foster program also serves animals with medical needs such as upper respiratory infections or other conditions who need medication given to recover, and cats and dogs at the end of their lives who need hospice care whose needs are better served in a loving home.
Foster homes can also give a cat or dog a much-needed break from living in the shelter, or help to socialize a shy pet or provide training for behavioral issues, or even simply allow an animal to stay with a family for a while to free up cage space when the shelter is at capacity.
Small dogs tend to move quickly and there are breed rescues who help with purebred dogs, but anyone in animal sheltering and rescue is familiar with “kitten season”. The numbers of cats led to the decision to begin the in-house clinic with affordable spay and neuter and a TNR program to help reduce the community’s populations of homeless cats and cats in the shelter.
“I looked at the numbers and there were just about exactly 1,000 more cats than dogs,” Dr. Moon said, “and when we asked, the majority of people didn’t want stray or feral cats living in colonies to be killed, many people were feeding and caring for them and they’d continue. Setting up a TNR program for the outdoor cats was the best way to start reducing those populations right away.” Truly feral cats have to be in a trap and the shelter has a dozen traps to lend, plus resources in the community who will also lend a trap. May 8, just about a year after Dr. Moon joined the shelter, she performed her 101st TNR surgery, preventing the births of hundreds of kittens who would likely fill the shelter this summer.
And Veteran’s Kitchen, the pet pantry, is open for donations from individuals and the community, to help feed the animals in the shelter and distribution to those who demonstrate need.
“Veteran was a drug house guard dog, emaciated and scared, who had to be tasered to bring him in on Veteran’s Day 2012,” Salyards explained. “He’s now in a foster home with a local dog trainer, much healthier and happier.”
These innovative programs to do much more than warehouse homeless pets did not come quickly or easily, Salyards said. “There was a fair amount of resistance and people who said it just wouldn’t work, who just wanted to do business as usual even though it wasn’t working for the animals. But we said that this is what shelters are doing now and the change happened.”
Visit their website, www.beavercountyhumanesociety.org, for shelter information and their Facebook page to follow adoptions and shelter events.
And read more articles and press releases here from the Beaver County Humane Society.
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