Highland County has two facilities for stray and surrendered animals, and both are alternating between full and near-full capacity. Between them, the Highland County Dog Pound and the Highland County Humane Society Animal Shelter are currently housing about 40 dogs and over 20 cats. Animal surrenders, typically related to relocation, owner aging and changes in owner employment, have increased dramatically for both locations in the last month.
Finding homes for all these animals can be an overwhelming, never-ending challenge for the animal-loving staff and volunteers at both places.
The Humane Society has 16 dog kennels dog, a cat room that accommodates 16 felines and an alcove for up to seven kittens. All are currently occupied with a waiting list for cats. Incoming animals are vaccinated, spayed or neutered, de-wormed, treated for medical conditions and micro-chipped. Temperaments and behaviors are assessed and addressed to encourage a better match with adopters. The $200 dog adoption fee helps cover these costs, which can exceed the fee. Feline adoption is $75. Some animals stay months, hoping for a good adoptive match.
Established in 1969, the non-profit organization is funded by donations and fundraising events. All staff at the Humane Society is part-time.
“We’re currently looking for a new shelter manager to work 30 to 32 hours a week, and one more kennel technician, for a full complement of four employees,” Humane Society board member Sarah Roe said.
Celena Carter, former volunteer and now senior kennel technician, works in the office, with the community and in the kennels. She even recently adopted a Humane Society dog others had passed by. Caleb Gilreath, along with his kennel technician responsibilities, now works with the dogs on their behavior, helping them modify their manners and resolve trust and fear issues.
In addition to providing sanctuary and treatment, the Humane Society promotes spay/neuter programs locally with its monthly Rascal Clinic to reduce the overpopulation of cats and dogs in Highland County. The 501(C)3, tax-exempt, non-profit organization receives donations from individuals as well as support and products from local businesses.
The Highland County Dog Pound is a county-operated facility staffed by dog warden Lanny Brown and assistant dog warden Jim Cluff. They respond to calls and complaints about dogs across the 550 square miles of Highland County; work with law enforcement on cases of neglect, abuse or owner incarceration; and maintain the dogs housed in 15 inside kennels and five outside ones. Last weekend, there were 23 dogs and seven newborn puppies at the pound. The influx and turnover can be discouraging and new dogs arrive daily. The adoption fee is $64.
The wardens’ efforts are supported by a small, but fierce group of dog lovers — the Friends of the Highland County Dog Pound — a non-profit, 501(C)3 organization whose volunteers walk dogs and clean cages on alternate Saturdays, and raise money year round to help pay for urgent medical treatment, beds, blankets and transport of dogs. Every week, they work closely with an extensive network of state and interstate rescue organizations that arrange permanent adoptions.
Ted McReynolds, president of the Friends and a Pound volunteer since 2016 said, “Moving dogs on is a big part of our mission. The dedicated volunteers at the rescue groups help us move out over half of the dogs from the Pound. They provide foster homes and medical care plus screen and fully vet adopters. We sent requests to them for 11 dogs just this week. Our transport volunteer has nearly run her van into the ground!”
Despite the intense effort and diligence it takes, both Highland County facilities remain committed to saving lost, stray and surrendered animals, even if it requires two dogs sharing a cage or finding local fosters. Euthanasia is performed by local veterinarians only if medically necessary, or, in the rare circumstance of a totally unresponsive aggressive animal.
One issue both groups battle constantly is size. Staff and volunteers lament that big dogs are the norm in animal recovery. Small dogs like Chihuahua’s, poodles, Yorkie’s and terriers of all kinds show up both places, and they are quickly adopted, but it is pit bulls, hounds, labs, shepherds, pointers, huskies, great Pyrenees, St. Bernards and all their possible mixes that mostly populate the shelters.
Yet, as Carter points out daily, “All the traits you love in a little dog are there in a big dog, but big dogs are even more grateful, and more loyal, than the little ones.”
Both the Humane Society and the Friends of the Dog Pound welcome donations anytime, but what they need now is responsible pet owners for the animals in their care.
As Jim Cluff noted on the Dog Pound Facebook page, “This is a really good time for anyone who wants a dog.”
And, as all the shelter folks say, “Think big!”
Pat Lawrence is a contributor to The Times-Gazette.