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Volunteer Programs Make the Difference at Watauga Humane Society

By Otto Solberg

For the last 49 years the Watauga Humane Society has been active in finding animals new homes in the community, but many people don’t know the efforts the open-admission shelter has gone through to bring their euthanasia rate to over ten times below the national average.

Charles Duke, the President of Board of Directors

With over 300 volunteers, many of whom are trained to work personally with the animals, the Watauga Humane Society has been able to implement a variety of programs that helped 2,027 animals be adopted in 2017.

“The biggest impact is that we have taken a large number of animals that might otherwise have ended up as strays and the problems that come with that, and rescued and rehabilitated them to the point that they are adoptable and put back into the community,” said Charles Duke, the President of Board of Directors.

Many animals that come to the shelter have behavioral issues that could prevent them from being adopted it weren’t for volunteer programs like Diamonds in The Ruff, which helps prepare these animals to fit into a home.

“The dogs all have some skills,” said volunteer Don Moell. “Our goal is find out what those skills are and embellish them. The more skills they have, the more adoptable they are.”

Diamond Dogs get everyday human interaction from teams of trained volunteers like Moell. They teach basic commands to the animals, assimilate them to household noises, and even teach them to walk on a leash.

“In a normal open-admission shelter, most of them would definitely have had a chance of being euthanized,” said Christy Watson, Director of Operations and Animal Welfare. “A lot of shelters don’t have the resources for a volunteer program like Diamonds in the Ruff where volunteers come in and work with the dogs every single day.”

Although the Watauga Humane Society only has a 16 person staff, they work to find their volunteers a role that matches their skills and interests, and teach them what they can do to help the animals.  

“I have been really impressed with the amount of volunteer training and the hands on approach they take,” said Moell. “Everyone that I’ve dealt with is extremely appreciative.”

The Watauga Humane Society also takes special care in matching their animals. Those interested in adopting go through an interview process and the shelter provides meet and greet rooms for potential owners to spend one-on-one time with the animal before taking it home. The shelter will accept any adopted animal back in the first two weeks if it isn’t a good match, and will often check how the animal is doing in its new home.

“One of the real pleasures of this job is watching the faces of people walking out with a newly adopted pet,” said Duke, “There’s nothing like it. They’re just so happy, and so is the animal.”

Although there is an adoption cost, each animal is spayed and neutered, and has up-to-date shots and vaccines. Currently a donor is sponsoring the cost of adopting any senior dogs over the age of six.  

The humane society relies almost entirely on volunteers and donations to help give their animals a better life.  

“Without our volunteers we would not be here” said Watson. “Not only do volunteers help with the animals hands-on, but they also are the reason why we have the donations coming in, and the fundraisers that make us profit to fund the operations that care for the animals.”

While many humane societies may only be able to accept certain animals, the Watauga Humane Society even accepts feral animals brought to them by Watauga Animal Control.  Feral cats cannot be domesticated and often must be euthanized at other shelters.

“Our trap-neuter release program is a big part of why our euthanasia rate has gone down,” said Watson. “We do not euthanize feral cats.”

The trap-neuter release program and barn-cat program allow these animals to be released or relocated to a farm without further contributing to the feral cat population. Duke said that this program’s success has helped reduce the number of feral animals they take in every year.  

These programs are just some of the ways that the Watauga Humane Society has brought their euthanasia rate down to three percent, compared to the national average that is estimated to be over 40 percent according to the numbers provided in a 2017 ASPCA press release.

If you’re ready to adopt a new member to your family, or wish to donate your time or money to the Watauga Humane Society, visit https://wataugahumane.org or stop by their facility to see how you can help give these animals a better life.