Thirteen months ago, the Radig family in Pocahontas began searching for a new dog.
The previous October, they had to put down their yellow lab, who had been a beloved family member for 12 years.
“We came across PetFinder, which had a picture of a happy yellow lab named Hoyt,” Pam Radig said. “When we clicked on his picture, we read his profile and learned about PAWS.”
PAWS & More, Washington County’s designated animal shelter, has developed a reputation as a top-notch facility.
“When we read his profile, we contacted PAWS,” Radig said. “They immediately got back to us and were very friendly and helpful.
“Right away, they impressed us with how knowledgeable they were and that they were able to provide us with comprehensive ratings and behavior ratings in terms of his reactions to other pets, people and situations that other shelters did not.”
PAWS Director Amber Talbot said that collecting information about the animals during their initial days at the shelter is crucial to finding them the right homes.
“We track where the animals are from,” Talbot said. “Once we get all the information entered, the animal gets a kennel card, which has information like estimated age.”
Staff and volunteers observe the animal’s behavior and add that information to give a clear picture of the animal’s temperament.
After hearing more about Hoyt, the Radig family decided to make the three-and-a-half hour drive to Washington to meet the dog in person.
“We are so glad we made the trip,” Radig said. “We had visited six or seven other shelters and rescues. PAWS, by far, was the most family and animal friendly.”
She said she was especially impressed with how well the animals were cared for at the Washington facility.
“Some shelters had three dogs in a cage, whereas PAWS had roomy, well-kept cages with a fenced in area that we could play with and get to know the dog in,” Radig said.
The Radigs adopted Hoyt – now Rex – on March 17 of last year, and he has been flourishing with his new family.
“The one aspect about Rex that we treasure the most is how affectionate he is,” Radig said. “He wants to be with us around the clock and even considers himself a lap dog.
“People can not believe that we found this gentle, giant, fun-loving dog at a shelter. It breaks our heart that he was a stray on the streets of Washington before we got him.”
The family’s experience with PAWS has them offering insight to other people searching for pets.
“People should truly give animals at shelters like PAWS a chance,” Radig said. “So many people think they have to get a purebred puppy and spend thousands of dollars to get a quality dog, when so many wonderful dogs are waiting for their forever homes at nearby rescues and shelters.”
Talbot said that, on average, the shelter has 40-50 cats and about 12 dogs in the winter months. Those numbers jump in the summer to about 100 cats and more than 15 dogs, which includes animals in foster homes.
In 2018, PAWS took in 826 animals, up from 813 in 2017. Of those animals, 9 percent were reclaimed, 4 percent were carried over and 77 percent were adopted.
“That’s a really great turnover for us,” Talbot said. “We’re helping more; we’re adopting more. It’s an overall revolving door, and that’s what we want.”
The average stay for a dog is just over a month, while the average cat stay is about two and a half months. Those averages include a mandatory seven-day hold before PAWS can do anything with the animal.
“When an animal comes to us, we can’t do anything with it for seven days other than holding it, caring for it and trying to find its owner,” Talbot said. “That is a state requirement. If it’s not claimed in seven days, we get it ready for adoption.”
Running an operation that serves that many animals costs money, and that is the biggest challenge.
Cities in Washington County pay the shelter for the stray animals that come from those cities, but that does not cover all the day-to-day expenses at PAWS.
In recent weeks, PAWS has sought additional funding from cities to keep up with the rise in the number of stray cats coming into the shelter.
PAWS has regular fundraisers and is always seeking grants.
“We’re grateful to have quite a few grant opportunities,” Talbot said. “We write about 12 grants a year, and those are wonderful resources, but they only help with brick and mortar projects or programming.
“They don’t help with keeping the lights on or paying the spay and neuter bills, paying for the vaccinations the animals need. It’s constant fundraising that we have to do.”