No question that pet owners dote on their pets. Go to any area farmers’ market and watch the informal canine parade. Often, a pat on the puppy’s head will prompt the owner to tell how the pet was found. More and more often, the response starts with “he was a shelter dog”… or “she’s a rescue”… or “I was at the pet store on adoption day”…and just that quickly, another homeless animal got a new definition of life.
That the people and their animals come together is not entirely coincidence. While it’s true that certain matchups seem predestined simply because the animal chose the right back yard for a hiding place, for many others, it’s a different story. A lot of determined people have worked carefully to achieve a good match, each one another success story for a group of volunteers who are devoted to the health and welfare of homeless animals.
On the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula, a number of independent nonprofit organizations provide these services. Whether or not the word humane is part of their name, each group aims to provide humane treatment to homeless animals, with all the aspects that mission covers. They arrange temporary foster homes for animals until a permanent one is found. They ensure the health of the animals through vaccinations and medical care when needed. They match the age, the temperament, and perhaps the type of animal with the potential adopter for the best-possible outcome. They network with each other as well as with government agencies, and all count on volunteers to achieve their goals.
CONTROL THE NUMBERS
All groups emphasize the need to control the numbers of unwanted animals by advocating or sponsoring spay and neuter programs. An organization may offer complete or partial payment for the procedure and will often provide transportation to the veterinarian.
At Gloucester-Mathews Humane Society (GMHS) “We basically provide care and shelter for homeless animals,” says executive director Nichola Redmond. “We have a monthly spay/neuter clinic which is free for low-income owners. We also have a pet-food pantry, stocked by the organization and supplemented by individual donations. We provide all adoption services.”
The spay/neuter program for pets extends to feral cat colonies as well. The animals are trapped, taken to the vet for the procedure, then returned to the area where they were trapped.
“Kilmarnock’s Animal Welfare League (AWL) will loan a trap to any individual who is willing to trap a feral cat,” says Judith Harvells, president. “We ask for a deposit, but it’s returned when the trap is returned. And, AWL will pay to have the cat spayed or neutered.”
Indian Rivers Humane Society in King William County networks with local shelters to find homes for unwanted animals. “Our primary focus now is on our spay and neuter program,” says Anne Mason, president of the society. “We’ve seen the results, with fewer animals coming through the shelters. Our feral cat program started about ten years ago, when West Point was having a problem with too many of these colonies. We will help any other group that wants to do the same thing: trap the cats, spay or neuter them, give them rabies shots, and ear-tag each animal to show they’ve been through the program.”
When pets are adopted through a humane society, the new owner is assured that the animals are up-to-date on all vaccinations, and any health issues have been addressed. As one common example, dogs have been checked for heartworm and if necessary, treated for it. Since this is a mosquito-borne disease, owners are advised to continue preventive action, just as they would do to protect a pet against the diseases transmitted by ticks. For heartworms, it’s veterinarian-prescribed preventive medication. For the ticks and fleas, a special collar, a once-monthly external “spot” application, or monthly pills can be used for dogs.
Many methods are used to deliver the messages about animal welfare. The GMHS has educational programs for preK through grade 12. The group also arranges to speak to Scouts and other community and youth organizations, all to explain the importance of responsible pet ownership. A booth at a farmers’ market or other community event reaches even more people of all ages. Social networks and blogs add their exposure.
Kristen Solady heads the education program. “We can tailor a curriculum to whatever the school teacher or group leader wants to focus on. We also try to dispel the many misconceptions about some shelter animals.”
Newsletters and blogs provide good reminders to readers. The current newsletter of the Northern Neck Humane Society (NNHS) in Reedville contains a clear warning about leaving a pet in a closed car on a hot day. It’s a caution that needs repeating. Regina Griggs, the adoption officer at NNHS, adds a related problem—leaving a dog in the back of a pickup in a place where there’s no shade can also result in overheating.
Taking the animals to neighborhood events and networking with area pet stores can help make adoption easier. Websites and email are more recent tools. Out-of-area adoption is handled this way, with the result that a number of animals are adopted in states as far away as the northeastern part of the country. AWL sends animals north for adoption to shelters in Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. And even though it’s nicknamed the “puppy train,” it can carry cats too. “Through the Internet, we have a number of good contacts,” says Judith Harvells.“We first send emails with photos, so the shelters can choose. We do all the vetting and take care of all the shots.”
Regina Griggs uses the Internet too, which has been especially helpful when placing older or special-needs animals. “Puppies are easier to adopt,” she says. “It’s the adult or special-needs dogs who often get overlooked. We get the required medications, put the animal on a good diet, and then start emailing.”
All groups are looking for more people able to provide foster care, but even if a person is unable to take an animal into their home, there are other ways to help. Pet-sitting or dog-walking are possibilities, whether for foster dogs or shelter dogs. Taking dogs and cats to community events (like the farmers’ markets) lets them be seen and helps to socialize them. Taking a foster animal to the veterinarian or a groomer may help a person who has difficulty doing so.
PetFriends for Life provides a support system for the care of homeless animals housed at Middlesex County Animal Control. Volunteers work with the animals for both exercise and socializing, to help ready them for adoption. A major addition in the county is the Dog Park, where volunteers take shelter animals and area residents take their pets. Funds are raised for medical care. PetFriends has also arranged transport to northern rescue groups.
OTHER VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES
A resale shop like Kilmarnock’s AWL store has lots of jobs for volunteers. The store on Main Street provides the funding for veterinarian fees, which last year covered some 1400 animals. The October Dog Gone Dog Show is another big fund-raiser. “We were organized in 1965,” says Judith Harvells, “and we serve the four Northern Neck counties of Lancaster, Richmond, Northumberland, and Westmoreland. We have no paid staff. Volunteers work inside the shop, they pick up and transport donated items, and they run errands.”
A similar facility in West Point, the Four Paws Thrift Shop, helps with funding for Indian Rivers Humane Society, and needs the same volunteer commitment to operate it.
All nonprofits can use help with the same kinds of services needed by any organization: accounting, promotion, a newsletter, perhaps grant-writing. All nonprofits depend on donations to fund all their programs.
IT’S THE LAW
Even though it should be common sense, Virginia law spells out what’s expected of pet owners. In a brief summary, it specifies that owners shall provide adequate food, water, clean shelter, space in an exercise enclosure, and exercise. In addition, they shall provide care, treatment, and transportation to a veterinarian when needed.
Animal Welfare League of the Northern Neck, Kilmarnock
Gloucester Mathews Humane Society, Gloucester
Indian Rivers Humane Society, Aylett
Northern Neck Humane Society, Reedville
Pet Friends for Life, Saluda