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Rural Missouri Magazine

A home for homeless pets
Strays find refuge with Dent County’s Animal Welfare Society

by Jim McCarty
Animal Control Officer Rick Raw, left, brings another stray to the Dent County Animal Shelter where it is welcomed by Tonya Lundy and George Laughlin. The shelter population averages 115 animals, mostly cats and dogs.

It’s a quiet, sunny day in Salem, and Charlotte White sits on a picnic table outside the Dent County Animal Welfare Society, an animal shelter located in the city’s industrial park. A truck pulls up and the uniformed figure of Salem’s Animal Control Officer Rick Raw steps out, holding a small dog in his arms.

“That may be another one right there,” Charlotte sighs. She raises her voice to reach inside above the ever-present cacophony of barking dogs. “We’ve got more,” she yells.
Then she addresses the big man with the little dog: “That’s got to be somebody’s. I bet he belongs somewhere.”

If Charlotte, a member of Intercounty Electric Co-op, seems a little desperate at the sight of yet another boarder at the animal shelter, it’s understandable. The day has just started, but already she has brought in four new puppies to the shelter.

The population is close to the limit. “It’s up now,” she says. “Those that just came in are going to make it 110 dogs and 17 cats. That’s about as many as we can handle.”

Charlotte White, left, and Tonya Lundy examine a puppy brought to the shelter. Before they leave, all the animals housed here will be microchipped for future identification, vaccinated and spayed or neutered.

Dent County’s shelter, like most in Missouri, are seeing the numbers of unwanted, stray and abused animals increase at an alarming rate for a variety of reasons, including the sagging economy. In response, they are redoubling their efforts to find homes for these homeless pets.

“We try to ask people if they can wait a week or two until we get some out for adoption,” Charlotte says. “Some will wait and some won’t.”

This shelter had its beginnings in 1993 when Charlotte and a group of friends banded together to help care for the growing population of lost and abandoned animals. At the time, Dent County had no shelter and the one in Salem was woefully inadequate. Charlotte applied for a grant from the Marguerite Doe Foundation in California and received $25,000 to get the shelter started.

The Dent County shelter typically sees cat numbers go up in the summer months. This friendly cat named Margaret was caught in a trap and was brought to the shelter by animal control.

Over the years, the small staff of four to six mostly part-time workers, assisted by people working off their court-mandated community service, has provided a home for thousands of animals awaiting adoption. In 2008, the shelter took in 773 animals, including a duck and a ferret. Their efforts have paid off with 80 percent of the animals being reunited with their owners or placed in new homes.

Hardest to place are the big dogs, says Charlotte, who has adopted 15 dogs and nine cats herself. “The biggest problem is so many people are wanting little tiny dogs. People with kids, they never want a big dog. They want a Yorkie, or a Jack Russell or a Pomeranian. Well, those are the worst kinds of dogs to have with kids. Even the best of kids are going to get excited and pretend they are a horse. And these little dogs don’t like that.”

Thanks to the Internet and the help of businesses such as PetSmart, animal shelters are matching pets with new owners. Twice the Dent County shelter has sent dogs to Canada after the animals were spotted on the petfinder.com Web site.

These dogs await adoption at the shelter. In 2008, 80 percent of the strays were placed.

The first one Charlotte put on an airplane where it flew to its new owners. The second time the new owners drove from British Columbia to Salem to pick up a Border Collie mix they fell in love with on line.

Twice a month volunteers from the shelter bathe and groom some of their residents and take them to the PetSmart store in Brentwood, a St. Louis suburb. Many pets find new homes here, and the pet store gives $15 from every adoption made at the stores to participating shelters.

The Dent County shelter also benefits from the Pet of the Week column in the Salem News and the Weekly Trader newspapers.

Besides the growing population, finding the money to keep the shelter open remains an issue. “We have an average of $100 in every dog or cat that’s adopted,” Charlotte says. “I’m not even counting the food. I’m counting the vaccine, the wormer, the microchip, the surgery, heartworm test, feline leukemia, other tests. They have all that before they go out.”

Visitors, sucha as Leroy Ishum, often get mobbed by the shelter’s residents as they enjoy some free time during the morning cage cleaning. Those who work and visit the shelter find it hard to say no to the friendly animals that wait for adoption.

MFA, Wal-Mart and St. Charles-based pet food maker Royal Canin donate food to the shelter, and the local Country Mart grocery store encourages shoppers to make donations. Individual donations, sales of a shelter calendar, memorials and additional grants have helped.

Those who adopt in Salem pay $60 for dogs and $40 for cats. The adoption fee is higher in Brentwood, typically $150-$175 for dogs and $125 for cats.

Those who work at the shelter have seen a lot of hard cases come in, including a Great Dane who died when fishing line he swallowed wrapped around his intestines.

“We’ve had things like full-blooded dachshunds and schnauzers,” Charlotte says. “They took them from puppy mills. They had never been outside a cage before.”

They’ve been encouraged by adoption of hard-to-place pets, like a cat that had its mangled leg amputated. “She is beautiful now,” says Charlotte, who recently received a photo from the cat’s new owner.

They’ve housed a tiger that escaped from its truck-driving owner, goats and potbellied pigs. And they’ve worked long days with little pay, other than the satisfaction of helping animals in need.

“It wasn’t something I meant to do, stay in it this long and be this involved,” Charlotte says. “I guess we do it because it needs to be done.”

You can contact the Dent County shelter at 573-729-3556 or info@dcaws.org. The Web address is www.dcaws.org. Most Missouri animal shelters have information about pets available for adoption on www.petfinder.com.

Rural Missouri magazine - November 2014
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