The purchase of window air conditioning units is the latest gesture by PAWS of Southwest Virginia to support the care of dogs housed at the Lee County Animal Control building in Jonesville.
JoAnne Harding, a member of the PAWS group, had requested the Board of Supervisors grant them permission to provide AC units in order to address some extreme temperatures occurring within the kennels. “The air conditioning units are a short term fix for the shelter,” said Harding. “We understand that a heat pump would be a better solution but that would also have to be a budget item for the Animal Control department.” Harding said that grants are available for shelters and she suggested that Animal Control could ask the county grant writer to pursue some funding on the matter.
She also would like for the county to investigate other grant opportunities related to the care of dogs. Allen Fortner, Chief Animal Control Officer, said that he was not aware of any grants that the department has received. He also explained that Litter Control was successful in acquiring grants and that department now falls under the umbrella of Animal Control for enforcement of laws in both areas.
Tim Whitt and David Wilder are the other Animal Control officers with Fortner saying they expect to continue several of the programs previously conducted through Litter Control.
Fortner said that volunteers are welcome at the shelter with Harding and fellow PAWS member Julie Estes among the ones offering aid with the duo also speaking at the Supervisors meeting on June 21. He noted that volunteering at the shelter has to be a coordinated effort because some of the animals are housed there because of a bite case or a cruelty issue and the law enforcement aspect of their job has to come to the forefront. “You could have an individual just show up here and want their dog back but the animal is being held just like a person at the Regional Jail,” said Fortner. “We aren’t allowed to leave a volunteer here when we are out of the office,” with Fortner adding that the attachment people have for their pets can make for some emotional moments at the shelter.
Fortner said they have the capacity for 19 dogs with three kennels earmarked as quarantine areas. Other challenges can occur if an animal requires medical attention and needs to be isolated. “If we can keep our numbers around nine or 10 dogs then that helps in limiting disease,” said Fortner. “And it also makes it easier to sanitize and clean the kennels which is done everyday, 365 days a year.”
Fortner would like to see more community assistance in the form of foster care of dogs with officers able to visit the foster homes and verify that they are in good condition. “Fostering allows more time for Jo (Anne Harding) and PAWS to place the dogs in a new home,” he explained. Harding said having volunteers at the shelter during the hours of 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. when staff is in place would allow for an exercise period for the dogs. Fortner added that having the volunteers aids them in the daily care of the dogs with photos of the available animals posted on a Facebook group - Friends of Lee County, VA Animal Shelter.
Harding said the fostering of puppies and mothers is a priority for the PAWS group and that helps reduce stress on the nursing mothers. Along with a physical presence, volunteers and groups can show support in the form of donations of money or dog food. Fortner said he added a line item in his budget just for donations with a local Girl Scout Troop making a recent donation. “We are wanting to purchase and administer shots with funding for vaccines requested in the 2022-23 budget,” said Fortner with $500 - $600 normally accumulating in an average year.
Fortner said that Food City and Walmart have frequently donated dog food which helps with their budget. He said the number of dogs has been at a high rate in recent months with a higher ratio of “owner surrenders” than stray dogs. Harding said a group of individuals she has befriended through Facebook has been remarkable with several involved in education. “I’m afraid we’ll be losing some that are currently helping once school starts back. And we need to find ways to recruit others to assist us,” said Harding.
She wants the group to organize some fundraisers for the shelter with a fully-fenced exercise area among the first of Harding’s improvement ideas. Harding said their Facebook posts have resulted in local adoptions of dogs with Lee County Animal Control also sharing photos on their page. She said that PAWS is a member of the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies with photos of animals held at the Lee County shelter appearing on the website and networked.
Harding made a point to stress that free spay/ neuter services are available to Lee County citizens through a grant program with the Margaret Mitchell Clinic in Bristol performing the surgeries. Fortner added that shots and micro-chipping of dogs is also included at no charge at the Bristol clinic.
Harding stated that PAWS received funding from the Lee County Community Foundation for spay/neuter with Lee County Animal Hospital providing the services. She said it is based on income with an application process required. “Education is huge when it comes to explaining the services available to animal owners here in Lee County,” said Harding. “One of my other issues is the fact that we have a Veterinary college here in our county and I’d like to see our Board of Supervisors down there knocking on the door to see about other care services.” She said PAWS has an agreement with the Debusk College of Veterinary Medicine which was established at the time when the college first opened. “Whenever they have their surgery months for their students then we send as many dogs there as we possibly can,” stated Harding. “The animals are fully vetted, spayed, neutered and everything which makes them easier for rescue.”
Harding said she feels the county could approach the Veterinary School about expanding the service to other animals in Lee County with the majority of those animals not receiving regular care and checkups.
The Lee County Animal Control Shelter is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and is located at the Transfer Station in Jonesville. They can be reached at 276-346-7710. PAWS of Southwest Virginia is available at 276-202-1198 or email@example.com