Helping Pets, Helping People

By Barbara Grigg

This story originally appeared on www.wvexecutive.com.

Given limited resources and the exponential nature of unfettered animal reproduction, West Virginia taxpayers currently spend about $10 million every year on animal control. According to Dana Johnson, manager of the Monongalia County Canine Adoption Center (MCCAC), of the 50,000 dogs and cats that entered West Virginia county shelters in 2015-2016, 40 percent were euthanized, a logistical necessity given the economics.

Many nonprofits are well-known for using their resources and talents to address recognized societal problems, and several like-minded nonprofits in the Mountain State, including the Mountaineer Spay Neuter Assistance Program (M-SNAP), Federation of Humane Organizations (FOHO) of West Virginia and the West Virginia Spay Neuter Assistance Program, have set their minds and hearts on tackling a serious West Virginia problem—pet overpopulation.

Grigg’s dog, Riley, a week after adoption from the Humane Society of Harrison County.

While the death of homeless animals is devastating, the human toll is also incalculable. Consider this: someone’s job description includes putting animals to death every week to make room for more animals that will most likely meet the same fate. Such is the case for many West Virginia animal control workers who suffer from compassion fatigue in dealing with a problem created and perpetuated by members of their own communities.

Mindful of the benefits companion animals provide humanity, including therapy, treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and service and police assistance, this small army of animal advocates has coalesced to put its collective finger in the dike holding back West Virginia’s pet population. In doing so, members save animal lives, ease the workload of shelter workers, help avoid public health problems from free-roaming pets, lower taxpayer costs for animal control and even reduce incidents of cruelty and neglect.

Many noteworthy groups across the country and the state rescue animals from local kill shelters, operate their own no-kill shelters and transport unwanted pets to rescue groups in other states. While these animals are spayed or neutered before being placed in their new homes, this often occurs after the fact. Other animal welfare groups target a solution before the fact with a “turn off the spigot” rather than “mop up the spill” battle cry: spay and neuter.

Often the most effective animal welfare organizations are run on a completely volunteer basis and rely on the live here, give here philosophy of fundraising, but they also directly benefit their local communities. The recipient of a 2016 Governor’s Service Award from Volunteer West Virginia, M-SNAP of Morgantown is a good example of an all-volunteer, aggressive spay and neuter program.

Riley is now 12-13 years old, three times what he weighed when Grigg adopted him, fat and happy.

M-SNAP was created to make zero companion animal euthanasia a reality, targeting one of the main obstacles for caregivers to fix their animals—the expense. Since its inception in 2008, M-SNAP has contributed to the local economy by helping reduce the number of homeless animals entering the Monongalia county shelter, thereby reducing the taxpayers’ burden, and by contracting with veterinary clinics that perform the surgeries, thereby generating income for 10 local businesses that employ more than 200 people.

In addition, M-SNAP educates its community on pet overpopulation.

“I usually work with at least one West Virginia University class each semester, exposing these students to a problem they may need to address as future community leaders or wherever their careers take them,” says Nancy Young, community outreach coordinator for M-SNAP.

FOHO of West Virginia another all-volunteer group, networks with animal welfare groups and provides primary research and online resources. Every two to four years, the group holds a statewide conference on animals for law enforcement, humane and rescue groups, attorneys and other interested parties. They also advocate for legislation that protects animals living in the Mountain State.

In 2013, the West Virginia Legislature created the West Virginia Spay Neuter Assistance Program (WV-SNAP) to subsidize the cost of spay and neuter surgeries for low-income pet owners in all 55 counties. However, according to FOHO West Virginia Board Member Theresa Bruner, the law was passed without a reliable funding source. In 2017, FOHO is supporting a bill that will increase an existing state pet food registration fee for each of the 9,000 permits currently registered at the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.

“We must fund this state program to control the dog and cat overpopulation,” says Bruner.

The nonprofits are making strides. In the past nine years, the intake numbers at the MCCAC have decreased 41 percent, and euthanasia has been reduced by 60 percent. Like the canary in a West Virginia coal mine, the vital mission of animal welfare groups saves lives while contributing to the wellbeing of every resident, two-legged and four, living in the Mountain State.

About the Author

Barbara Grigg is the director of Bless the Pets, an outreach of the Greater Clarksburg Evangelistic Association, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. An adjunct instructor of English and journalism at Fairmont State University, she has a bachelor’s degree in education from Concord College and a master’s degree in communication and media management from Regent University. Grigg has worked as a photojournalist and media developer for training and employee relations for the U.S. Postal Service in Norfolk, VA, and Washington, D.C. Her book, “Answers about Pets from the Bible,” is available through her website. She can be reached at blessthepets@comcast.net.



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