ELKINS, WEST VIRGINIA – An Elkins animal shelter is now collaborating with businesses in the region to provide some temporary homes for resident cats, with hopes to increase adoption rates in the county.
The Randolph County Humane Society has now partnered with Fancy Paws, Shabby Avenue and Triangle Heating and Cooling to foster shelter cats within their respective businesses.
Shelter officials are hoping to expand the program to include more partners in the region. Program organizer and shelter volunteer Carrie Shupp says five other local businesses have expressed interest in the program.
Shupp said the program took root back in December, when Fancy Paws owner Ann Kreps-Weber offered to groom RCHS cats in preparation for Christmas so store employees would be able to obtain certification as cat groomers to meet a growing demand.
“(Kreps-Weber) mentioned they were considering a shop cat and the idea transformed into Fancy Paws becoming the first RCHS Off Site Partner location,” she said. “Our first adoption was Dec. 23, only a week after initiating the project.”
Shupp noted there have already been 15 adoptions from Fancy Paws since the program was initiated, which she attributes to an increased visibility of the cats and a successful adoption event which is hosted by the shop. As of March 11, there were two cats – Bijou and Meatball – featured in the store’s front window for all passerby to get a look at, although they are free to roam behind the counter after business hours.
Kreps-Weber said the arrangement is mutually beneficial because the cats also bring business in, but they also free up space at the shelter.
“It’s just a really good feeling to have people who work downtown stop by on their lunch breaks to come in and talk to the kittens, play with the cats or just stand outside the window,” she said. “It’s just been really great.”
Shabby Avenue was the next to offer space for fostering services to the RCHS. Shupp said Cowboy, a friendly orange tabby who has special needs, roams the Elkins business and has been delighting shop patrons ever since.
“Cowboy has been so popular with the public that people have stopped by just to meet him,” Shupp said.
Store owner Jamie Rush said when she heard about the program and learned that RCHS hoped to expand it even more, she “thought it was a wonderful idea,” and decided to participate.
“Being an animal lover myself, I expressed to (Shupp) that I would be willing to help with getting their program started and would consider fostering a cat at Shabby Avenue,” she said.
Rush noted, at first, she wasn’t sure if Cowboy, who had been returned to the shelter twice because of a feline illness condition he suffers from and was in need of immediate temporary placement, was going to be a good fit with her business. Rush added she initially wondered just what she had gotten herself into, but the cat has proven to be a welcome guest at the shop.
“I can honestly say that I am very glad that I did agree (to foster Cowboy),” she said. “He has been a well-behaved and gracious guest during his stay at the shop and my customers love him.”
Rush said Cowboy is very friendly and goes out of his way to greet greet each and every customer as they enter. She added that he is “quite a character.”
“He has a fondness for wearing bow ties, which has gained him his own following on social media,” she said. “Customers tell me that they watch for his photos and enjoy reading Facebook posts about the silly things that he does or seeing him posing for the camera in one of his many bow ties.”
Rush said customers often express their gratitude that she is so willing to participate in the program.
“I feel that by fostering him at my business I am providing him a better chance at finding a forever home because potential adopters get to see what a great personality he has without the distraction of dozens of other animals,” she said. “It also helps free up space at the shelter for other animals in need.”
Rush also mentioned she would “absolutely encourage” other local businesses to consider partnering with RCHS.
Shupp said that the most recent partnership – with Triangle Heating and Cooling – was also initiated by the business owner. Emerald, a 16-month-old female with special needs because of an injured left foot, was introduced at the business this past Monday. She was adopted days later.
Business owner Kristie Stalnaker stated she wanted to participate in the program because “cats don’t always get a fair chance when they’re at the shelter.”
“We wanted to bring her in, just so more people could see her,” she said. “I think it’s a great program they’ve got going on and I’m happy to help.”
Stalnaker said she already misses having Emerald around her office.
“Emerald is just a sweet little girl,” she said. “I can’t say enough about how sweet of a kitty she is.”
Stalnaker said she’s looking forward to meeting a new work companion as she foster cats for the RCHS.
“I’m really soft-hearted for animals and I think every pet deserves a good home,” she said. “Often they don’t get that when they’re in the shelter because a lot of people don’t like to go there because ‘it’s sad’ and can make people uncomfortable.”
Each of the participating shop owners have volunteered to supply food for their foster cats, although this is not a requirement. Shupp said the RCHS is committed to supplying basic needs for foster pets.
“We are so very thankful for (all our partnering businesses) and humbled by their interest in helping us help homeless animals,” Shupp said. “Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You are so appreciated.”
The program benefits these shelter animals “in so many ways,” Shupp said. She added the partnerships reduce the risk for illnesses, increase socialization and allow cats the chance, in some cases, to roam free and “just be cats.”
“If we had a dime for every time someone says they cannot come to the shelter because it is ‘too sad’, we would be very rich. This arrangement changes that,” she said. “The cats are not at the shelter, they are there in the store you walk by on your way to lunch. They are at the business you frequent. Seeing them makes all the difference.”
Shop owners also benefit from having a cat roaming around, Shupp said.
“Having a cat creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere,” she said. “Let’s face it, animal lovers stick together. Given a choice, Elkins residents who are animal lovers will give business to a shop that demonstrates their love for animals, too.”
Shupp also said shops also benefit from the partnership because the RCHS promotes participating businesses. She noted these arrangements are good for the community because they foster awareness and increase public exposure to adoptable pets.
“This allows us, at RCHS, to make room for other homeless animals and prepare them to be adopted. As long as we are at capacity, we can’t take in others,” she said.
Freeing up shelter space allows shelter officials to more actively get involved with the Trap Neuter Release program, which Shupp said, in the long run, will reduce the number of free-roaming community cats.
“I am sure the public is familiar with ‘it takes a village.’ It is the same in animal welfare,” she said. “Instead of focusing on homeless animals as an issue, we should see this as a community challenge. That challenge is to reduce the number of homeless, unwanted animals and see higher adoptions, more TNR support and a responsive community to be a component of change.”
Shupp said the program is merely one step in the right direction for Elkins to be a “humane city.”
“A humane city is one in which the leadership and residents make a conscious decision to provide resources and strategies that protect the health and safety of all animals. It reflects respect for – and value of – all life,” she said. “As part of that campaign, we hope that businesses will choose to become humane businesses, whose practices and policies reflect those values.”
Shupp noted the RCHS off-site adoption partners are prime candidates for the program, as they are already demonstrating their interest in protecting community cats.
Any Randolph County business owner interested in partnering with the shelter to foster a cat should feel free to contact Shupp on Facebook, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 304-591-2223. Alternatively, interested participants may also contact RCHS Shelter Manager Kelly Scheidegger. All applicants go through a basic screening program.
“We make sure our partner will be a suitable fit for the program,” Shupp said. “Our main responsibility will always be the welfare and safety of RCHS animals.”
Anyone who is interested in providing a forever home to a pet at the RCHS is also encouraged to contact the shelter at 304-636-7844 or acquaint themselves with the shelter’s many residents by visiting the group’s website at www.rchswv.org.