Ryan Whittington arrived at work three weeks ago to a surprise. A litter of kittens was placed in front of Club K9, his dog day care, grooming and boarding business.
It’s not an isolated incident, and Whittington expects to see more animals dropped off at his South Charleston business, after the Kanawha/Charleston Humane Association switched to a “no-kill” policy at the county’s animal shelter.
“It’s nothing against the shelter, because I love the fact that they want to make it a no-kill shelter, but the reality is there are too many animals in this area that you just cannot say it’s going to be a no-kill,” Whittington said. “There is going to be a small amount of animals that you are going to have to understand had to be euthanized.”
Other animal care businesses similar to Whittington’s said they’ve also seen an increase in dropped-off animals, but they would not speak publicly about the issue.
Chelsea Staley, executive director of the animal shelter, said the goal was set in November to become a life-saving shelter after the shelter came under new ownership.
“We’re trying to build this whole operation around life-saving centered sheltering,” Staley said. “I don’t know that we are totally ready to say that we are a life-saving shelter.”
Since November, Staley said the on-site incinerator previously used to dispose of euthanized animals has been demolished, and 18 new positions have been added to the staff.
“Our administration has made enough changes to save more than 90 percent of its animal intake every month since they have been in charge,” Staley said. “That’s something we are really proud of.”
Now that the shelter is transitioning to life-saving, Staley said only a “fraction” of the number of animals that used to be killed there will be moving forward. Because of that, the shelter is full beyond capacity, and there is now a waiting list for owner-owned animals at the shelter.
Whittington said that’s a shame, but there are not enough people in this area to foster and adopt the animals.
“It’s hard for a business trying to take care of adoption programs and at the same time try and run a business,” Whittington said. “They’ve got to comprehend they cannot hold animals up in that shelter for three, six and eight months at a time and think they are going to get adopted out.”
Staley said the shelter is contractually obligated with Kanawha County and various municipalities within it to serve as animal control and therefore must pick up stray animals.
“We are just trying to experiment with different programs that help our shelter serve this community best,” Staley said.
She added 40 percent of the shelter’s animal intake used to be owners’ animals, and education is the key moving forward.
“We’ve always been a dumping ground. People just think they can drop their animals off, no questions asked, and that doesn’t guarantee the best solution for those pets,” Staley said. “We are asking people to be patient with us. Bring your animals in as we have room.”
The shelter is considering creating a position to help connect animal owners on the shelter’s waiting list with other resources and options.
“Some people, once they get here, are just hell bent on getting rid of their animal,” Staley said. “We always act in the animals’ best interest if we think they are endangered at all. We try to err with caution in that regard.”
Teresa Chargin, a spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said shelters changing to no-kill is becoming common across the country because there’s a trend to stop euthanization without getting a grasp on the local animal population.
“There’s not another answer until people prevent birth,” Chargin said. “We are not going to adopt our way out of this crisis.”
She added, “It doesn’t do the animals any favors at all to turn them away.”
The shelter takes in owners’ animals as space allows and situations are prioritized. The shelter will also try to figure out why people are giving up animals, Staley said.
If there is a way to help keep the animal in its home through either providing the owner with temporary food assistance or health care for the animal, the shelter will try that first.
“I think once we have weathered this storm, and once we hit the one-year mark, we will determine our success or failure,” Staley said.
Whittington would like to see the shelter work with area veterinarians to reduce the cost of spay and neutering for the public.
“I have been in the kennel business all of my life, predominantly here in West Virginia, and I have never seen the influx of animals running loose in the neighborhood. I have never seen people standing on the side of the road holding signs up saying, ‘the animal shelter is full, please help,’” he said. “I don’t want to see them put to sleep, either, but I also know the reality is some of them have to be.”
Reach Caitlin Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5113.