Animal Care Center workers committed to finding homes for dogs, cats

February 02, 2004|EMILY BURTON

STANFORD - Canine smiles and puppy-brown eyes abruptly pop up above the gray cement walls as two shelter assistants walk through the back door, touching off an instant storm of Morse code-like barking. Several years and hundreds of dogs past their first days at the Animal Care Center, Melissa McWhorter and Bonnie Berry are accustomed to the exuberant greetings of pound dogs and the quiet stares of the cats.

At the moment their conversation was competing with the chatter of more than 30 dogs housed at the shelter on Lancaster Road.

With careful attention from Berry, McWhorter and shelter manager Lois Oliver, a little charm and lots of luck, some of the animals might find a new home outside the gray room. But it is the dedication and determination of the women that plays a big role in sending many animals home.

Much of what the women do is not a requirement of the job, but rather a calling, a labor of love for the animals they temporarily house. McWhorter and Berry place pictures of the animals on the walls of Fort Logan Hospital and Wal-Mart, advertise them on the radio and in local newspapers, any place a prospective pet owner might be.


And if that is not enough, they take their work home with them.

"Every animal that we have at home came from here," McWhorter said.

Between the two assistants, their homes have become habitats for close to 10 pets. Pictures of many more hang on Berry's refrigerator doors in tandem with her daughter's artwork.

"I look at them and wonder how they're doing. I have a whole stack of them," said Berry. "It tickles me to death when they get adopted."

They are reminders of success stories, even if the women try not to get emotionally involved.

"It's hard when you get attached to them and they get adopted. It's even harder when you get attached to them and they get euthanased," said McWhorter.

Euthanasia is a decisive part of the shelter's function, helping to weed out dogs that are ill or violent.

"We screen the dogs, we don't adopt out mean animals or dogs that we know have problems," said Oliver.

"Some (animals) are just not adaptable at all. We would feel responsible if we put them in a home and they bit a child, so we go ahead and put them down," said McWhorter.

Even then, the remaining adoptable animals are in a race with the women against space and time.

"If we've got room, we hold them as long as we can," said McWhorter. Though only required by law to house an animal for five days, the women keep some guests five months, if necessary, to find them a home.

But sometimes, a decision has to be made.

"It's really hard. A lot of times, we're the only ones that are back there, so we know who has been here the longest. It's kind of like, we're the ones who make the (euthanasia) list," said McWhorter.

"The hardest part is putting them to sleep," agreed Oliver. "If the animal is unadoptable ... those aren't really difficult to put to sleep. But if it is a real friendly dog that somebody just abandons that has to be put to sleep because there's no room for it, that's the difficult part."

1,045 animals were euthanized last year

Each month more than 100 animals are put down. Last year, a total of 1,045 were euthanized and 199 were adopted, or only about 20 percent of those in the shelter. The women like to focus on the adoption numbers and encourage others to help them save more lives through adoption, rather than buying puppies in a shop window.

"You're going to be saving a life, because if they don't get adopted, there's only one way out," Berry said.

Oliver said some puppies come from breeders in the business not for quality, but quantity. Dogs can be inbred, leading to diseases or bad temperaments. Some puppy mills don't handle young animals, who then grow up afraid of humans. Shelter dogs are also much less expensive at $60, including their first shots and sterilization surgery.

If people are looking for pure-bred animals, the shelter is a good place to start, said McWhorter. "We have more purebred dogs than a lot of people think."

Even if a dog is not in the future, people can help the shelter in other ways. The shelter is funded through the county but is struggling to keep the books balanced on a meager budget. Wal-Mart donates torn bags of dog and cat food, but citizens' donations of old towels, kitten and puppy food, cleaning supplies and bleach would still make Valentine's Day a happier occasion for the animals and volunteers.

"We go through a lot of bleach," said Berry.

In the face of mounting numbers of strays, homeless puppies and starving cats, the women say focusing on the positives keeps their jobs rewarding. That, and "I just love animals," said Berry.

At the Animal Care Center, the women have answered a calling to help the homeless and destitute pets of Lincoln County, and they take that job seriously.

"I feel it's needed," said Oliver, "and I don't know anybody else in Lincoln County who will do it."

Donations may be made at the Animal Care Center, 850 Lancaster Road or by calling (606) 365-7660 or 1-800-894-7661.

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