Why The Charleston Shelter Is Euthanizing Fewer Dogs and Cats
Summertime is always the high season at animal shelters, and many homeless pets end up being put to sleep. The Kanawha Charleston Humane Association is trying to buck this trend. In the last 5 years the shelter has cut the number of animals it’s euthanized by almost 95%.
Two years ago, a group called Dog Bless began working to help foster dogs from the Kanawha Charleston Humane Association shelter. Some animals find permanent homes nearby. But each month about 50 others are transported to rescue groups in Philadelphia, Jersey City and New York City, where rescue groups have offered to help.
"If people don't adopt and foster, they will just continue to stack up here, and we would be forced to return to euthanizing for space."- Chelsea Staley, director Kanawha Charleston Humane Association Shelter
On Fridays, the trip up north begins here, at the edge of the parking lot of the shelter around 6:30 in the misty early morning. There are some tears today, as 22 dogs are loaded into the transport van, including Luke Skywalker, a black and tan shepherd who is saying goodbye to his foster mom, Debra Null.
"I just want to help with the mission of keeping the dogs alive--the new mission of the shelter and not euthanizing them."
That new mission began last September, when the Kanawha Charleston Humane Association changed its policies and started trying to save all adoptable animals. The KCHA could do that, in part, because of Dog Bless. Cathy McClung co-founded the volunteer-run organization.
"We started rescuing from the shelter when it was a high-kill shelter, and they allowed us to start pulling dogs for rescue. And now that the shelter has changed a lot of its practices, Dog Bless’s mission is still to reduce euthanasia at the shelter. And rescue is a part of that equation."
In 2009 the KCHA euthanized 4,160 animals between January and June. This year the shelter has only euthanized 211. Dog Bless is part of the reason, but the shelter also made a difficult decision when it changed its policy. It reduced the number of animals it takes in--by half. All strays are automatically accepted, but owners wanting to surrender their pet are often put on a waiting list.
The KCHA shelter isn’t exactly a nice place, but for about 278 animals it’s home. It’s loud with the cacophony of dogs barking, and even with the constant cleaning of the cages, it smells.
Even the director of the KCHA helps with the chores. Chelsea Staley is mopping the floor just before the shelter opens for the day.
“Our intentions are good. We want to save every animal that comes through our door. But we can’t do it. We can’t continue to hoard animals. So moving them out of here is absolutely key.”
Also, the KCHA now wants to be the last resort for people that need to surrender their pets--not the first option. Last month, the shelter adopted just over two-thirds of all the animals it did accept.
The shelter also still depends on Dog Bless to help get many dogs as possible to rescue groups across the country. Before they leave West Virginia, the dogs are placed into foster homes temporarily.
Chad and Angela are some of the most active of the foster families with Dog Bless. In addition to the three rescue dogs they already own, this month they are hosting 6 dogs from the shelter, including one mamma dog and her 1-week-old puppies.
Chad and Angela both work day jobs, but they spend their evenings, weekends and even their vacations with the dogs. They spend more money on dog food than on their own grocery bills.
Angela and Chad’s own dogs have served as role models to help socialize the fosters and get them ready for their new home.
"Yeah they help each other. And I think that’s what we’ve learned the most about having dogs is they help each other. And they help us. They fill a hole…that sometimes you don’t even know you have."
The Kanawha Charleston Humane Association hopes more people like Angela will be willing to open their hearts and their homes to these animals and increase their adoption rate. Shelter director Chelsea Staley says that increasing its local adoption rate is key to its success of shelter’s mission of reducing euthanasia.
"If people don’t adopt and foster, they will just continue to stack up here, and we would be forced to return to euthanizing for space. And we just certainly do not want to do that.”
To see more photos from one of the rescue shelters in New Jersey that regularly finds homes for West Virginia dogs, visit See Spot Rescued's facebook page.