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HUNTINGTON - The Huntington Cabell Wayne Animal Shelter now has a medical director thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Petco Foundation.

The foundation announced the grant last week, which will help fund the medical director's full-time salary and also purchase vaccines and medicines for animals when they enter the shelter.

The shelter has hired veterinarian technician Emily Sowards to be the first-ever medical director, said Courtney Proctor Cross, executive director.

Sowards has her own room at the shelter where she treats each animal that comes there. It previously was the "cat room."

"She weighs the animals, treats them for fleas and intestinal parasites on intake, and then she monitors all of the animals in the facility as a well-pet check every morning when she gets here," Cross said.

Cross said it's been a goal to hire a medical director for the past nine months. A previous fundraising drive helped purchase a laboratory centrifuge, a stethoscope, flea medicines and dewormer medicines. Sowards' role is important because she will focus primarily on the animals' well-being, Cross said.

"Even though we didn't want it to be that way, it tended to be very hit or miss, like with all the things I have on my plate and with the girls at the front desk dealing with people coming in and out and adoptions," Cross said. "This is Emily's focus with the health and well-being of the animals that are here. She is fabulous."

In a news release, the Petco Foundation said it awarded the grant to the shelter "to support its lifesaving work." Sowards' hiring comes as Cross said the shelter is making "great strides" toward a goal of becoming no kill.

The shelter provides euthanasia services to the community by law and only euthanizes severely sick or aggressive animals. Animals euthanized in those cases are rare, Cross said.

Cross said she intends to apply for the Petco Foundation grant again next year to retain Sowards' services.

The shelter also employs two animal control officers, two administrative assistants and four kennel techs. Cross' salary is completely funded through donations made to the Western West Virginia Animal Rescue Alliance.

Cross said donations to the shelter are vital to help its no-kill goals. The shelter is currently raising money to build a caged-in area specifically for puppies to better keep them away from the general dog population, cutting down their risk of getting sick.

Monetary donations can be made to the shelter through the Western West Virginia Animal Rescue Alliance on PayPal at wwvara@gmail.com. Donations can also be mailed to 216 11th Ave. West, Huntington, WV 25701.

Anyone interested in volunteering or fostering should contact the shelter at 304-696-5551 or message it on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/HuntingtonCabellWayneAnimalShelter. The shelter is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

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