By Andrea Watts

Persevering with so little should be the motto of the Lewis County Animal Shelter. Open six days a week and staffed by only four women, two of who are part-time employees, this is the only shelter serving a geographic area larger than King County. Though the county provides funds for building operations and salaries, everything else that is necessary to run the shelter – pet food, money for medical procedures, office supplies and even toilet paper – is provided for through donations. And to make the work more daunting, we “have to take [every stray], no matter what,” said Amy Hanson, manager of the Lewis County Animal Shelter.

For over twenty years, Amy has worked at the animal shelter, and in spite of the funding and space limitations she faces daily, Amy enjoys the work and the challenge of doing what she can to make the facility a pleasant place for the animals who are fortunate to pass through on their path to finding a new home. “The women are totally dedicated to those animals … [they] try as hard as they can for each animal,” said Bonnie Winters, a volunteer of four years.

Amy Hanson and Roxie, Lewis County Animal Shelter, Washington State
Photograph by Andrea Watts

Nearly 3,000 cats and dogs are dropped off at the shelter each year, a number that 22 years ago used to be 5,000 before the county revised the county code to require mandatory spay and neutering of adopted animals. Behind this number are these animals: the 200-300 cats and kittens that Bonnie has fostered this year; the 15-20 cats or kittens that are dropped off every day during the summer; abandoned animals found along the road: beloved pets that seniors must give up when going into assisted living; or animals removed from abusive situations, such as the 66 fox hounds that were taken in earlier this year.

Space limits the number of cats and dogs the shelter can house, but Amy and her staff are resourceful in finding ways to accommodate more animals. When they noticed an unusual number of kittens being lost to illness, they converted office space into a kitten room for kittens under six months old, so they wouldn’t be housed with the adults and the number of deaths has declined.

Kitty Room Lewis County Animal Shelter, Washington State
Photograph by Andrea Watts

The main Kitty Room houses 75 cats, and though space can be made for more if necessary, Amy prefers not do because cramped conditions means disease spreads easier and cleaning is harder. Through the work of volunteers in raising money, donating building materials, and county workers donating their time, the cats now enjoy a new enclosed outdoor unit that was added this year.

There are 16 main dog kennels, with ideally only one dog per kennel to reduce crowding. In another area are five more kennels that can be used for isolation when needed. What might surprise people is the stable and corral, also on-site, for the horses or livestock that also have to be taken in when abuse is reported.

Where the government support is lacking in running the shelter, the local community is generous. The shelter works with three local vets who are “very kind to the shelter,” Amy said, and Bonnie agreed, adding that the vets give a discount if they can. Each week, a vet visits to perform the alterations so the animal is ready for adoption. Contributions of food and money are regularly given, helping the shelter out just a bit more. “You don’t realize how many lives you are saving with these donations,” Bonnie said, even “$10 [is] more than we had.” In addition to fostering kittens, she also writes thank-you notes to acknowledge these acts of kindness.

Because the Lewis County Animal Shelter is a government agency, fundraising activities are limited but the shelter has developed an active Facebook presence to feature adoptable animals and create awareness of their needs. Citizens can choose to donate to a specific cause, such as the medical fund, supplies, or sponsoring an animal, but “anything is welcomed,” Amy said.

Lewis County Animal Shelter, Washington State
Photograph by Andrea Watts

Constantly facing space limitations, Amy partners with several local animal rescue organizations so adoptable animals can find homes. For the past 10 years, the Oregon Humane Society has visited the first Thursday of every month and takes on average eight dogs. Northwest Organization for Animal Help (N.O.A.H) takes cats. Amy also utilizes petfinder.com and Facebook to highlight the animals available for adoption and share the success stories. Adopters visit from Seattle, Portland, Canada and even Colorado to find a new furry friend.

But in spite of these efforts of Amy and her staff to find homes for their animals, euthanasia is an unfortunate practice they can’t avoid because the number of animals dropped off at the shelter exceeds their space. Roughly 1,200 animals are euthanized each year, which according to Amy, is “too many.” Though dogs are rarely put down because they are adopted quicker, cats and kittens are not so fortunate as they are seen as disposable animals. Neither Amy nor Bonnie like that euthanasia must occur, but it’s the reality the shelter faces with its limited space and funding. “I still cry all the time … No one loves animals more than I do,” Amy said, and Bonnie added, these women “are tremendous, go[ing] well above and beyond to find homes.”

Though others might find the situation at the Lewis County Animal Shelter overwhelming, Amy and her staff greet the challenges with a positive attitude and a desire to serve the animals in their county by finding them a home. And every animal that is successfully adopted owes its life to their dedication and the community’s support, because without the Lewis County Animal Shelter, there is nowhere else for these abandoned animals.

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