SPENCER, WV (WOWK)—Right now, shelters across the country are being inundated with animals needing help. National groups are attributing it to many factors including the high price of pet food and the increase in daily household expenses. 

Small rural shelters like the one in Roane County are at capacity. 

To get to the facility you have to drive just over 5 miles past the City of Spencer. The facility is over 50 miles from Charleston. It is nestled between mountains along a road that is lightly traveled. 

But inside the shelter things are far from laid back. With a staff of just 3 employees, they care for as many as 125 animals 7 days a week. 

“So we lay the kennels every day with fresh newspaper and then we shred it up, so they have something to basically play in or lay,” explained Humane Officer Tanya Hicks, while explaining what it takes to clean up after the numerous animals in their care.  

But they aren’t just cleaning kennels and cages. 

The small team takes shelter animals to vet appointments that are sometimes 30 minutes away.

The phones ring often throughout the day with people asking about everything from adoption to spay and neuter options. 

Tuesday morning the shelter received a phone call from someone planning to adopt a dog named Oddie who had been at the shelter for months. The announcement brought a sense of joy to the room. 

“He likes to run and jump and play with all of us and he likes his friends that we put in with him,” Hicks explained. “Anyway, he is getting adopted today and it is really good to see him going where he is going.” 

Oddie’s adoption will open up one space for the long line of animals needing to come to the shelter. 

“Space is not infinite. We have a waiting list and you will have to wait. We have so many animals. We have no room for them. And that is not our fault that is the community’s fault not spaying and neutering,” Hicks explained. 

Right now the shelter is caring for multiple animals including several feral or semi-feral cats. 

“Most of the cats in here are friendly. You can pet them. You can only pick them up for just a few minutes though and then they want down. They just don’t want to be held and loved,” Hicks explained. They have several feral or semi-feral cats available to be adopted as barn cats.  

In 2022 the shelter saw an increase in the number of dogs at the shelter, while the number of cats decreased some. The shelter does a small number of local adoptions annually, adopting out just 59 dogs and 102 cats last year. Most of the animals who come through the shelter are placed with rescue groups outside of the area. But even that process falls on the shoulds of shelter staff who have to gather photos and videos and test the pets with other animals in order to network them with other groups online. 

“We work way after we are gone from here we are posting, we are doing this and doing that,” Hicks said. “Our day doesn’t end once we go home.” 

Animal shelters across the country are seeing a similar trend with more pets coming through their doors and staying longer because the number of adoptions isn’t keeping up.

“The percentage of intakes has went up. The adoption just has not matched it. So shelters are just staying fuller and their length of stay is increasing,” said Stacy Rogers, Regional Director of Best Friends Animal Society. “Anecdotally we are hearing that a lot of people are surrendering due to rising costs, housing issues those kinds of things. We just don’t have any hard facts to support it yet. I know those are things that our data team is looking at and trying to figure out is how you speed those adoptions back up and figure out a way to help people be able to keep their pets.” 

Carrying the load of an endless stream of animals is especially daunting for rural shelters where a few people do it all. 

“I mean our hands are full but we aren’t going to leave an animal behind and not try to get it help and give it what it needs,” Hicks said. 

Nationally post pandemic staffing shortages are impacting animals in more ways than one.  

“It is a struggle just to find employees and keep them once you get them, especially in small communities where the pay might not be as high as it is in shelters in bigger towns,” Rogers said. 

Vet clinics are also stretched to the limit, sometimes having to delay vital services such as spaying, neutering and vaccinations. 

“Spay neuter is a nationwide issue where the vet clinics just are not staffed regardless of location,” Rogers explained.  

But while many things aren’t ideal right now, it isn’t all bad news. Ottie, who has been at the shelter since October 2022 got to go home this week. Even though the staff is stretched thin they still take time to get to know all of the animals so they can make sure they are matched with the right families. Thanks to the generosity of donors they can sometimes send animals like Ottie home with their adopters along with some of their favorite things like toys and blankets. 

“These dogs and cats do need homes to go to and it is a great opportunity to do something for someone else,” said Rachelle Brandenstein.  

For the shelter staff, Ottie’s wagging tail is a victory and a bright spot to help them through the tough days. 

The team at the Roane County shelter urges people who are feeding feral cats in their neighborhood to have those animals spayed or neutered. 

A group called Operation Fancy Free is available to help with those efforts in some cases. You can text them at 304-531-8710.

If you have any questions about adoption, want to make a donation, need help with spay and neuter, or anything else you can call the Roane County Shelter at 304-927-2555. 

To learn more about Best Friends Animal Society click here.

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