Making a paws-itive impact: Local animal shelter volunteers discover a sense of fulfillment in their service

BUCKHANNON – The volunteers at the Lewis-Upshur Animal Control Facility find a sense of fulfillment when they help one of their animals find a forever home or simply keep them company for a couple of hours.

Volunteers at LUAC recently recounted how they began working with the animals at LUAC and why they keep coming back. LUAC volunteer Karen Sanford said she began volunteering at the facility in 2018 and has continued going to the shelter and walking the dog inhabitants about five days a week.

“I started out walking down at the Riverwalk just for exercise, and I thought if I’m walking already, I should be walking dogs,” Sanford said. “Seeing how much it means to the dogs, to have someone be with them for a little while, is everything. Dogs have no judgment; however long you spend with them, that’s a joy to them, and to get them out of their kennel to have some fresh air with the grass under their feet is just wonderful.”

Walking the dogs has become Sanford’s primary service at the facility, but volunteers are given a plethora of options if they want to donate their time.

“You do what you want, how much you want, whenever you want. Some people feel they will have to be on a certain schedule, at a certain time, but it’s whatever time they can give,” Sanford said. “They can do whatever they’re comfortable doing, and I think that’s probably why some people don’t volunteer – because they think they’re going to have to do something they don’t want to do.”

Other tasks include transporting animals to vet appointments or rescues, cleaning kennels, helping in the office or simply visiting the animals and getting them more accustomed to people.

“I see how much work is put into getting them rescued and adopted, how much work goes into making the contacts to get the dogs’ information out to the community,” Sanford said. “I didn’t know how much information was collected on the dogs – the descriptive information and then a little narrative so when people see the dog, they get to know a little bit about them and decide if that’s the right dog for them.”

LUAC employee Mariah Goldsmith started out as a volunteer. She now works part-time at the facility but also continues to offer her personal time to help the residents at LUAC.

“I have always loved working with animals — that was my thing — but we didn’t have the funds to send me to college, so I never got the vet tech degree or anything like I’d wanted to,” Goldsmith said. “This was the next, greatest thing. I get to hang out with these guys, socialize them, take all the fun pictures and go home.”

Goldsmith started out transporting animals to vet appointments and taking them to different rescues, and now she is among the three employees at LUAC, but she still donates her own time as well.  

“I clean, make sure everything is safe, and then after all that’s done, I go through, and I hang out with them, play with them and talk to them,” Goldsmith said. “I foster animals, too. I have a foster right now, I network constantly, I answer people’s messages, and I have been trapping and releasing cats from different colonies.”

Goldsmith has been trapping and releasing cats in Lewis and Upshur counties for the last five or six years.

“I’ve been catching what I can for a while,” she said. “I was raising money to do it, but when COVID hit, things slowed down, but when I can get a low-cost estimate for the vet work, I try to catch as many as I can,” Goldsmith said. “We had 22 removed from the Riverwalk the last three times I was down there, and we managed to rehome 11 of them this time.”

Goldsmith and Sanford said the kennels have been particularly full for the last few months, mostly because of owner surrenders.

“Strays always come in, and there’s always a season where people get a puppy, and then they don’t want it, so they let it go, but people are surrendering their dogs and cats, and I’ve never seen it this bad,” Sanford said. “If a stray comes in, they have to take it, so people who surrender dogs are told those animals are at the front of the line to get put down.”

Sanford said LUAC was able to adopt several animals last Saturday, but by Tuesday, all the kennels were full again due to animal surrenders.

“It just comes down to the community, their willingness to come to pick up their stray dog, willingness to keep that hard-to-contain dog contained,” Goldsmith said. “You must be committed to that baby — committed to it for the next 15 years. If you are having trouble with behavior, we’re going to have trouble finding a home.”

LUAC volunteer Jen Kesling also wrote a letter about her experiences volunteering at LUAC, detailing how she was initially apprehensive about working with the animals because she thought it would be too sad.

“Pushing myself to become a volunteer at our local animal control facility has been one of the best and most instrumental experiences of my life,” Kesling said. “I have always had a deep love for animals and concern for their welfare, but I was fearful of seeing them in the pound and worried that it would be too sad for me to handle.”

Those fears were soon assuaged, she said.

“I was so wrong; I didn’t find sadness,” Kesling’s letter continues. “What I found was love. The unique love and inspired hope of shelter pets. But these pets need help to get them to their forever homes.”

Kesling said she could see the animals undergo a transformation after working with them on a regular basis.

“As a volunteer, I have seen amazing transformations; dogs and cats that went from being sick, neglected, abused, or thrown away to being loved, cherished and spoiled,” Kesling wrote. “Animals that appear aggressive or unfriendly becoming lovable pets wanting belly rubs, giving kisses and adoring their companions. None of this is possible without people who are willing to step up and get involved. Volunteers who transport pets to and from vet appointments, to be spayed or neutered, make a tremendous impact.”

LUAC is also currently running a fundraiser, asking people to donate their spare change to the facility’s spay-and-neuter fund. All the change goes in a small swimming pool, which can be found at LUAC on Mud Lick Road. These funds will allow LUAC to utilize veterinary services in other states and help them find the best options.

“We received a grant this year, the West Virginia Spay and Neuter Assistance Program, but the money has to be spent in the state of West Virginia, so we have almost $15,000 from that, and we’ve been getting a lot of these animals fixed, but we can’t take the cats we’re catching and releasing across state lines,” LUAC director Jan Cochran said.

LUAC is always looking for clinics offering special programs and discounts so the organization can get as many animals spayed and neutered as possible. This fundraiser will help expand that search across state lines.

Below are a few kitties who could use some company. However, if you’re interested in adopting, be sure to call LUAC at 304-472-3865 or check out its website for a current list of available cats and dogs.

News Feed

Subscribe to remove popups, or just enjoy this free story and support our local businesses!