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Volunteer Rebecca Tomasik brings dogs out to the play yard at the Huntington Cabell Wayne Animal Shelter for an enrichment play group in August. Conditions at the shelter have improved greatly in the past five years.

Five years ago, the Huntington Cabell Wayne Animal Shelter had serious problems. More than half the dogs brought to the shelter were being euthanized — a polite way of saying being put to death for the crime of being homeless. More than 75 percent of cats were euthanized, also. Animal lovers raised concerns about the condition of the shelter and how animals were treated.

In the time since, the community has responded to improve what had been the final stop for too many animals. Volunteers raised money and donated time to improve living conditions for animals at the shelter. Within a year, euthanasia rates had dropped to 14 percent for dogs and 43 percent for cats. No animals were killed for lack of space to keep them.

Earlier this year, the Petco Foundation donated $50,000 to the shelter, which used it to hire a vet to be its first full-time medical director and to help cover the cost of vaccines and medications.

According to a recent article by The Herald-Dispatch reporter Taylor Stuck, the shelter now can be considered a no-kill shelter. A year ago, the shelter had a 46 percent live outcome rate. Today, 98 percent of the animals that enter the shelter leave the shelter, said shelter director Courtney Proctor Cross. The only animals being euthanized are those that come to the shelter too ill or too injured to recover or too aggressive to be adopted. The shelter also will continue to provide euthanasia services to those in need, such as if a sick dog’s family can’t afford to put the dog down at a vet.

“Teamwork has been wonderful and the outcomes have been what we all dreamed of,” Cross said.

All animals are spayed or neutered before they are permitted to leave with adopters.

“It’s not something we’ve been able to do in the past, but now that we have a medical director we can,” Cross said. “We are using donations to treat for fleas, ticks and internal parasites, and we vaccinate everyone on intake. All of that is really expensive.”

This year, the shelter also got Dogs Playing For Life training, which teaches how to use playgroups to assess dogs’ behaviors and reduce things like kennel stress.

Cross said most dogs get to play in play groups every day, and the ones who don’t get along with others get one-on-one exercise time with volunteers.

“It helps them socialize and gives us an opportunity to get videos of the dogs interacting with other dogs, which is good for potential adopters and for rescues,” Cross said. “It’s helping us get more dogs into rescues and getting them adopted.”

Cross, who left teaching to run the shelter, is also doing outreach in the community, currently working her way through the elementary schools to teach students about pet care and the importance of spaying/neutering. She is going to work with high schools to bring students into the shelter and is working to develop a plan for the middle schools.

The progress could not have been made without the help of volunteers and donations, and the shelter is in the middle of a donation drive to keep the shelter moving forward. A raffle is underway to raise money to pay a salary to the operator of the cat room, along with supporting the continued vaccination and medical care of all animals that enter the shelter.

People at the shelter and the people in the community who helped bring about these improvements can be proud of their work.

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