Abused, neglected animals find relief, recovery, Orange Co., VA

Seeking shelter
Abused, neglected animals find relief, recovery Shelter

The Orange County Animal Shelter helps animals recover and provides a sanctuary for those discarded, dismissed and damaged. Some animals that come into the shelter are fostered before being put up for adoption in order to receive a little extra TLC. Pictured are two kittens that were fostered by shelter volunteer Heather Isaak.

By Gracie Hart Brooks
Published: January 05, 2011

There's Barney, the emaciated dog found in a ditch who came into the shelter dying of starvation and is now living a happy life in a permanent home. Or Leigh, the black retriever with the shattered leg who went on to become a therapy dog for an autistic adult. Whatever the case, Orange County's abused and unwanted animals receive a boost from the Orange County Animal Shelter.
The shelter can't stop people from abusing their animals, but it can help the animals recover and provide a sanctuary for those discarded, dismissed and damaged. Animal shelter director Beth Hamilton said the shelter sees a lot of cases of abuse and neglect involving a wide range of animals, from livestock to pets like cats and dogs.
The cases can range anywhere from the failure to provide care to a financial inability to pay for care.
"People in some cases don't think about it or have no time," Hamilton said. "In some cases, they don't care and in some cases they mean well, but can't afford it."
Hamilton tells the story of a black cat who recently came into the shelter after being rescued by a couple who watched it be thrown from a car window at a road sign. Or there's the cat that was carried in by its paws by someone threatening to kill it.
"It's more frequently than we'd like," she said.
Orange County Animal Control Officer Trish Dahl said there are many factors when it comes to animal abuse or neglect. She said a companion animal care statute, which only involves companion animals like cats or dogs, states animals must be adequately cared for. This includes providing necessities, things like food, water, shelter and health care.
"Adequate care is food, water, shelter and necessary vet care when needed, those are the basics," Dahl said.
Animal cruelty is a different violation, she said, relating to all animals, not just companion animals. It involves cruel, brutal or inhumane treatment, among many other things. Whereas a violation of the companion animal statute is a class 4 misdemeanor punishable by up to a $250 fine, animal cruelty is a class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. Dahl said a special provision can also allow a judge to prohibit a violator from owning other animals, order them to undergo counseling or order them to pay restitution.
But no matter what the charge may be, those animals usually wind up at the shelter where compassionate staff and loving volunteers help nurse the unfortunate animals back to health.
Providing support to the animals largely comes under the shelter's responsibilities. An emergency veterinary fund, administered by the shelter, is used to treat ill or injured animals and rehabilitate them for adoption.
"It helps us purchase everything from antibiotics and pain medication to veterinary services for specialized surgeries and Heartworm treatment," Hamilton said. "We also microchip all of the dogs put up for adoption which enables us to assist in reuniting lost pets with their owners and recover any of our animals abandoned at high-kill facilities."
Hamilton said volunteers are integral to the shelter's success, providing enrichment for the animals on an almost daily basis.
"They play with them, bathe them and walk them," she said. "Even some of the cats go out on harness. They also foster special needs or housebroken pets in their homes and rear bottle babies by hand."
Heather Isaak is one of those volunteers. She spends every Monday at the shelter, a day when its typically closed and the animals might not get human interaction otherwise. Isaak said she began volunteering at the shelter 18 months ago after hearing about Barney and animals like him.
"I really wanted to help," she said. "At the same time I was afraid I wouldn't be able to handle seeing all the abandoned animals. Anyway, I went down to the shelter and Beth and her staff took me on a tour. There were dogs and cats and outside there is an area for unwanted cattle, horses, sheep and pigs. I was amazed at how many different animals were there."
Isaak said she loves volunteering. Her position is in the laundry room, a task she found after asking what really needed to be done.
"Each animal gets a blanket, mat, dog or cat bed," she said. "All are laundered every day. Then there are also the dog dishes, cat dishes, cat litter pans, carrier cages and other things that need to be washed by hand every day. It doesn't sound like much fun I know, but it is very rewarding."
In the laundry room are four cages, which Isaak said offer a welcome sight each Monday morning.
"It is always a surprise to come in early on Monday mornings and see the little faces of kittens, cats and even dogs anxiously waiting for their cages to be cleaned out and to have a clean cage with a clean blanket, fresh water, food and usually some toys to keep them company," she said. "As I work in the laundry room, I watch and talk to these animals in the cages and after they finish eating and playing they are all sound asleep when it's time for me to leave around noon. I always give a little prayer that some will find loving homes before I come back the following Monday. Sometimes that happens, but often there are the same ones there the next Monday."
Finding the animals permanent homes is a priority for the shelter. However, some animals need a little extra attention before they can be placed up for adoption--attention they get from foster parents.
"Foster parents provide medical care, food, time, love and attention to help the animal recover," Hamilton said. "Sometimes an animal has to learn, recover and understand humans are here to help them. Fostering provides for a better recovery with one-on-one attention."
Hamilton said once ready for adoption, animals may be shown by Carole and Karl Santone of CARE and the Orange County Humane Society who show the cats and dogs at off-site events. The society also provides monetary support for the shelter. Also, the shelter partners with the Petsmart Charities Rescue Waggin' and other organizations to safely place between 15 and 30 dogs in rescue each month. And, currently, six dogs at a time work with an inmate training program at Coffeewood Correctional Facility in Mitchells.
"We are fortunate to have lots of success stories," Hamilton said. "We have Bubba, the chocolate Pit Bull who recently completed training [to become] a therapy dog for an autistic adult. Shepherds and Labs from this facility have begun lives as working detection dogs. Collie mixes and other breeds have been trained in agility or as Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certified pets taken to visit nursing homes by their generous owners."
Hamilton also said many shelter animals have found new homes where they are loved, spoiled and appreciated as companions, living the good life with kind, patient people.
"That's my favorite kind of ending," she said.
Some animals she mentions as success stories are Jake and Grace.
"Jake was surrendered along with another dog named "Peggy'," Hamilton said. "They were older housebroken indoor pets. Their owners could not care for them any longer for whatever reason. Jake was adopted and is spoiled rotten. Peggy developed cancer and had a couple of surgeries to remove a reoccurring tumor. She still had a good quality of life so the Santones adopted her themselves. She passed away just a couple of months ago."
Grace, said Hamilton, came into the shelter as an emaciated stray. She was sent on the Rescue Waggin'.
"It's really a community effort," she said. "Animal lovers just come forward."
And its not only the animals that are affected by the shelter and its volunteers, but also the volunteers who are affected by the animals.
"This is one place I feel I am needed," Isaak said. "There is always work to be done and you can't help but not laugh and enjoy the kittens playing [or] hold a cat and pet it, hear it purr and feel your heart melt. Or take a dog out for a walk--just the two of you--and watch the excitement in its eyes."
Isaak said the shelter benefits from a wonderful group of volunteers, many retired, who give numerous hours of their time and an outstanding director and staff.
"They love what they do and they do it well," she said. "They work well with the volunteers and they always have time to stop and help us when and if we need them. They are a very important part of the reason I keep returning every Monday morning and I hope to continue for as long as I can."
For more information on the Orange County Animal Shelter and animals currently housed there, contact the shelter at 672-1124. For questions regarding adequate animal care or animal abuse, search the Code of Virginia at http://leg1.state.va.us/000/src.htm.

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