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W.Va. animal shelter playing the numbers game

February 26, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The sometimes tough plight of animals in the Tri-State area has been played out in headlines in recent months.

Late last year, the Humane Society of Washington County took about 70 horses from a Sharpsburg farm and some of the animals were thin, injured and infested by parasites.

In mid-January, the dog population at the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, Pa., swelled after dozens of dogs were seized from an alleged illegal kennel.

The dogs were found to be underweight, suffering from a variety of illnesses and living in feces-contaminated runs, according to citations.

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In Jefferson County, staff and volunteers at the Animal Welfare Society of Jefferson County are trying to stay ahead of a growing number of unwanted cats and dogs.

As Jefferson County's population grows, the number of unwanted animals increases, according to officials with the society that operates a shelter at the intersection of Old Leetown Pike and Poor House Road west of Charles Town.

Last year, the shelter took in 354 cats and dogs, which was an increase of 70 animals over the previous year, shelter officials said.

A walk through the shelter results in a cacophony of barking from dogs desperate for attention. Cats are in cages stacked on top of each other in various rooms.

People bring animals to the shelter for various reasons, such as realizing that the animals don't get along with children, said Jane Tarner, vice president of the society's board of directors. Or animals are brought to the shelter because families ended up with a litter of kittens or puppies because their pets were not sterilized, Tarner said.

Other animals are strays which people find, Tarner said.

It's not unusual for shelter workers to arrive at the building in the morning and find a dog chained to a rail in front of the shelter or realizing that someone tossed an unwanted dog over a fence in the back, said Bill Dunn, president of the society's board of directors.

"Things like that make it hard to manage our resources," Dunn said. "We're always full. The minute an animal goes out, one comes in."

The shelter's space and finances were further stressed recently when nine dogs were taken to the facility from a shelter in Berkeley County. The shelter in Berkeley County was shut down and the nine dogs were taken to the Jefferson County shelter in July, although two have been adopted, shelter officials said.

To help reduce the number of unwanted animals and the rate of disease that can threaten them, shelter officials vaccinate all animals offered for adoption and sterilize them to keep them from reproducing.

Finances to do the work have been a challenge at the shelter in the past.

Costs for wages for staff have outstripped revenue at times, leaving the shelter with a deficit at one point.

Shelter officials have worked on ways to increase revenue, such as having an annual Paws and Claws Ball. The event, which includes a dinner, dancing and silent auction, is at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center. Last year's inaugural event raised $15,000 for the shelter, according to Dunn.

The Animal Welfare Society of Jefferson County spent $130,000 to provide its services last year, and one third of the money was donated through the United Way, shelter officials said.

The Jefferson County Commission gave $5,000 to the shelter last year and other money for operational expenses was raised through donations.

This year, shelter officials are asking $16,000 from the county commission, saying the money is needed to help cover $31,000 in veterinary fees the shelter racked up last year.

Shelter supporter Tom Trumble recently emphasized to the county commission the need for greater funding for the shelter, saying the facility does not have any wealthy benefactors.

"The problem is growing and they need every bit of our help," Commissioner Greg Corliss said.

New ways of adopting animals have helped the shelter find homes for its pets, Tarner said.

PETCO in the Potomac Marketplace shopping center in Ranson, W.Va., has allowed the shelter to set up six cat cages in its store so customers can see cats up for adoption, Tarner said.

The shelter has found homes for about 30 cats since PETCO began offering space to the shelter in mid-November and PETCO customers also can get on a computer at the pet store and see other animals up for adoption through a "Pet Finder" search, Tarner said.




Help needed



Items the Animal Welfare Society of Jefferson County always needs:

· dry puppy food
· chlorine bleach
· kitten and puppy toys
· dryer fabric sheets and fabric softener
· blankets
· stainless steel dog and cat bowls
· dry kitten food
· liquid laundry soap
· cat litter
· towels

The shelter also needs volunteers to help clean kennels, the yard and to walk and play with dogs. Citizens can help support the center by sending donations to Animal Welfare Society of Jefferson County, P.O. Box 147, Charles Town, WV 25414.

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