Happy Tails Animal Rescue of Washington County, Virginia (HTAR) is one of the charities that Fetching Apparel is working to help. And recently, the group saved its 10,000th homeless pet. This milestone was definitely worth adding to our collection of rescue stories.
WOW!! Applause. STANDING ovation. What an incredible accomplishment.
One of the dogs HTAR founder Kay Stewart rescued is the Fetching Apparel mascot – Jeffrey! He was just days away from being euthanized when Kay stepped in. She just knew in her heart that he would make a wonderful family pet and we are so grateful that she saw that potential in Jeffrey. He is full of love and such a spirited little guy; we can’t imagine life without him. Jeffrey will have been with us 8 years on July 28!
Kay went on to found the group Happy Tails, which is in its 5th year of operation. HTAR has volunteers who work to transport animals like Jeffrey to more highly populated areas in the state. The goal is to give them a better shot at being adopted by partnering with dozens of dogs and cat rescue groups.
“There is just no opportunity in a small county and small community like Washington County to have all animals that end up at the shelter to be adopted locally,” said HTAR president Loni Willey. “And so the only chance they’re going to have at a forever family and a future life is for this network to come together and for us to coordinate with so many rescues across the state.”
Loni said that one third of the animals that go through the Washington County Animal Shelter are rescued or returned home. But the other two thirds face being euthanized.
“While our work is mainly focused on saving animals at the Washington County animal shelter, our work extends into the community as well,” said Loni. “We often save animals that would be surrendered to the shelter or abandoned somewhere.”
The C.C. Porter Animal Shelter in Washington County, Virginia is run by the sheriff’s department and even the county’s top lawman is taking note of HTAR’s progress.
“Happy Tails is a wonderful group of dedicated individuals who provide a much needed service to this area,” said Washington County, Virginia Sheriff Fred Newman. “Their dedication toward rescue efforts is amazing.”
Each week HTAR volunteers spend significant time at the shelter assessing the animals available for adoption and rescue. They begin by taking care of any medical conditions or urgent needs, but they also offer lots of much-needed attention and love.
Then it’s time for the pets to say “cheese!” The volunteers take photographs of the animals, gather some tips on their individual personalities to create a biographical sketch, and assess any behavioral concerns.
“That information is then sent out to a network of rescue organizations across the region to identify potential pre-screened rescue groups who could accept one or more of the dogs and cats, get them vaccinated and spayed/neutered as well as see to any medical needs, and then work to get them adopted and into forever homes,” said Loni.
She goes on to explain that it takes two days of intensive work each week to complete all the assessments and outreach to HTAR’s rescue partners.
“We then have a big day once a week – often on Thursdays,” said Loni. “We pull the dogs and cats – from both the shelter and the community – that have been committed to by rescues, and get them settled in our transport van.”
Then it’s off to Washington, D.C., which is about 6 hours away from HTAR, and/or Richmond, Virginia, which means almost 5 hours travel time.
“We have two volunteers who tirelessly drive across the state once every week to meet up with our rescue partners,” said Loni. “This commitment translates to 10 to 14 hour days by these amazing volunteers and about 25,000 miles each year.”
And when Happy Tails receives follow up letters and pictures, they know this journey they’re on is truly worth it.
“A beautiful part of this work is having a chance to hear the “after” story,” said Loni. “We see so much trauma and horror on the front end, yet all it takes to bring a smile to the faces of our volunteers – and occasionally a tear in the eye – is watching the wagging tails as they get into the transport van headed to their new lives, as well as some of the photos and stories we hear back from our partners about how many people fall in love with them along the path up to and including their forever family.”
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Here is more of my Q & A with Loni Willey of HTAR.ORG.
Q: What is Happy Tails’ main mission?
A: Happy Tails is dedicated to rescuing animals from abuse, neglect, abandonment, and euthanasia. Happy Tails’ critical work with our local shelter and within the community is often the only chance for these deserving dogs and cats to find loving, lifetime homes. Our focus is three-fold:
- PREVENTING the abuse, neglect, cruelty and unnecessary euthanasia of animals;
- PROMOTING AND SUPPORTING the spay/neuter of all pets; and
- EDUCATING the public in responsible pet ownership and guardianship.
Q: How do you monitor the impact of your efforts?
A: The State Vet Report system reports, on an annual basis, the numbers of animals that enter a shelter or rescue organization as well as how they leave (return to owner, adoption, euthanasia, etc.). It is critical information on how many animals are in need each year, and how adoption and rescue efforts are making a difference.
We have seen a dramatic change in Washington County’s numbers since our work started in 2002 (taking into account the time when HTAR founder Kay Stewart was working under the umbrella of the Animal Defense League). In 2002, the euthanasia rate at the shelter was 85% for dogs and 97% for cats – which meant that 1,962 animals were euthanized that year. In 2013 – ten years after launching our rescue work – the euthanasia rate has been reduced to 32% for dogs and 50% for cats, which has reduced the euthanasia rate to under 500 animals. There is still much work to do, but the progress is significant. Year-by-year statistics can be found at State Vet Reports.
Q: What other factors do you credit for this success?
A: While rescue has been a critical link in reducing euthanasia in our county, another significant impact has been the increasing success with spay and neuter programs such as the Margaret Mitchell Clinic and the Animal Defense League. Fewer animals are entering the shelter each year – which reduces the strain on the limited space offered by our small shelter. In 2004 (the first year available on the website listed above) the number of animals entering the shelter was 2,951. In 2014, that number was about half: 1,577. The effects of spay and neuter programs take time to be seen, but we are definitely seeing that now and is another integral part of how we reduce euthanasia in our community.
Q: Tell me about your volunteer opportunities at HTAR.
A: We have an array of volunteer opportunities at Happy Tails that can fit any schedule. The hands-on shelter work is about 2-3 hours of work three days a week, but does not need to be the same person each day (or week). We would love the opportunity to have even more volunteers who could work with us in giving more time throughout the week in just providing some love and attention to the individual dogs and cats. It’s heartwrenching to see their happy faces at the gates to their kennels whenever someone arrives, and then their dejection when they don’t get to share their amazing spirit and unconditional love more often.
In addition to helping at the shelter, we would love a chance to expand our foster home network, which is a critical link in the rescue process. Being a foster family means opening your home to an animal-in-need for a few days to a few weeks until they can move to their new rescue (and adoption). Sometimes a rescue organization is interested in a dog or cat, but their foster home won’t open up for another week or two. Or sometimes we have an animal that is recovering from a medical procedure and wouldn’t be comfortable on the transport van until a later date. Fostering is an incredibly rewarding volunteer opportunity, and just requires basic love, care, food, and a bed.
Separate from working with the animals, we are always in need of volunteers to help with our outreach and fundraising events. We have two primary fundraising events each year (a golf tournament in July and a 5K race and walk in October) which require a lot of legwork up-front as well as help the day of the event, as well as a variety of outreach events throughout the year. So if someone is more geared to that kind of volunteer role, we definitely can use their support as well!
Q: Why is this work so near and dear to your heart?
A: Dogs and cats are the most amazing gift to humans. Their capacity to offer unconditional love, and their devotion to their families, is just unmatched (and we could learn so much from them). They are the most gentle, giving creatures, and it is unacceptable and devastating how some are treated or neglected. Dogs and cats have been a huge part of my life ever since I was a child, and trying to intervene and advocate on their behalf is just a small chance to give back to them the wonderful love, experiences, and memories they have provided me in my lifetime. I think it also speaks to a much larger movement as well – moving on from the historical view of animals as property to be treated and discarded however we see fit, and growing a more global investment in the fair and humane treatment of all beings.
Q: Tell us how passionate the people are at Happy Tails.
A: There is just a humbling dedication across the people involved in Happy Tails. Walter and Jim drive to Richmond and back almost every week – just an unwavering commitment to this critical final step in getting animals to safety. Kay had the amazing vision to create this organization and local mission, and carried it almost single-handedly for years. Amanda touches literally every animal at the shelter, and gives them love, care, and a real chance at life. Our board members work tirelessly to raise funds for our transport and medical expenses, and help in the direction of our work. And our supporters make it possible. There are no words to adequately describe how a small group of people have made possible the saving of 10,000 deserving animals in our community.
Q: How can others help with your mission, even if we can’t be in the “trenches” like you and the other volunteers?
A: This is such a great question. Spread the word that animals are deserving of our love, respect, and commitment – and be role models in this for future generations. Report abuse and neglect – be a voice for them. Advocate for everyone to spay and neuter their animals – the only way we will ultimately end animal overpopulation is prevention on the front end. Make sure animals have a collar and identifying information, as well as a county tag – that way they can be returned home if they run away.
Q: How proud are you and the Happy Tails team to have been able to prevent so many animals from being euthanized?
A: Our members are so incredibly proud – and yet it is a double-edged sword. Saving 10,000 lives is important and real for us and our community; however, we wish that our work wasn’t needed. We cherish the many lives we have saved, yet also mourn those we couldn’t help in time. We all strive for the day that our work, and the existence of a shelter, may no longer be necessary.
Help Fetching Apparel support more great rescue stories just like these!
Successful animal rescue stories like this are what keep us going here at Fetching Apparel. In fact, supporting organizations like Happy Trails Animal Rescue is the reason behind the Fetching Apparel brand! Our mascot, Jeffrey, is living proof of the difference animal rescue organizations are making in the lives of these animals and the families that love them. Be sure and check out the Fetching Apparel Shop where 40% of our profits go directly to animal rescue organizations and spay/neuter programs!