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Humane Society a fulfilling work in progress

The Humane Society of the Ohio Valley was originally chartered in 1888 as the Washington County Humane Society — the oldest organization of its kind in the state of Ohio and one of the oldest animal-serving organizations in the United States.

We started a Belpre Township branch, chartered in 1910, but it closed in 1963. Our current building at 90 Mount Tom Road, Marietta, was constructed in 1980. In 1987, we were renamed the Humane Society of the Ohio Valley.

It costs about $40,000 a month to operate our shelter. We care for and return to owners or find homes for about 2,000 animals each year. HSOV has contracts with the Washington County Commission and the City of Marietta to support governmental functions of those entities. These contracts support about 18% of our annual operating expenses. The remaining 82% of our income comes from fundraisers, public donations, bequests, trusts, adoptions, grants and reimbursements of veterinary care for animals that go to rescues.

Until 2011, we were taking in almost 4,000 animals each year, and euthanizing many healthy cats and kittens, and a few dogs. Regretfully, almost half of the cats and kittens that came into our shelter before 2012 never made it out alive.

Changes were made in our intake protocols, and fewer cats were taken in when we became full.

We stopped euthanizing healthy, adoptable animals. Our save rate climbed to over 90% in 2013 and has stayed there every year, except 2019, when we took in a large hoarding case with many sick, not socialized cats.

Each year, we became more determined to save lives, not end them. We worked to increase adoptions and rescues, decrease and manage intake, and address medical and behavior issues as often as possible.

In 2015, we surrendered our euthanasia equipment and license. Our crematory was dismantled and turned into a food locker.

Also in 2015, we started regular dog walks and cat cuddling by volunteers for socialization.

We reached out to local businesses and partnered with Applebees, Workingman’s Store, American Flags and Poles, Baker and Baker, Green Acres, Putnam Chocolates, We Luv Pets, Merle Norman, Wit & Whimzy, Mahone Tire, Kroger, Walmart, Sams Club and many more to collect supplies and increase visibility of our animals.

We have experimented with programs like local senior centers fostering kittens needing bottle fed and loving care, camps for kids, and shelter tours for scout troops, which led to a few Eagle Scout projects, including a walking path at the shelter and cat boxes for our outside shelter residence cats.

Volunteers and staff took dogs to nursing homes and schools to visit and educate people on what we do.

In 2020, we added an animal food bank, partnering with local food banks to help people from the community in need of pet food keep their pets, instead of surrendering them.

COVID brought challenges and opportunities. We have kept the foodbank going by utilizing a national program, Greater Good, to collect enough food to help many people’s pets. In 2022, we became a member of Cuddly, which donates food and supplies to the shelter for the public.

Around 2015, we began making follow-up calls to adopters to help with adjustment and keep pets in adoptive homes. We reached out to the community for volunteer and foster help, as well as monetary and supply donations.

In 2020, our board and managers began attending monthly commission meetings. We continue to attend when invited. We provide monthly data to them about the shelter. We reached out to Marietta College and Marietta Community Foundation to utilize volunteers and see how we can work together in our community.

We began to have a regular presence at Marietta First Fridays with animals and shelter information. We met with Marietta Community Foundation about funds and added a link to donate to the shelter through the foundation.

In 2018, we updated to a more modern website. We maintain it with current information, as well as our Facebook pages and other social media. We recently added email updates for information sharing, and joined TikTok and Instagram.

In 2018, we dismissed our humane officer due to lack of records regarding calls. Staff still assists the dog warden when requested, as well as local law enforcement going on calls for strays and injured domestic animals. We will never refuse to take an animal brought in by law enforcement or as a stray due to our county contract.

We are proud of our accomplishments, but still have so far to go. There is no time to stop and enjoy any successes. One hoarding case can push us into uncomfortable decisions or filling our shelter beyond comfort for animals or humans. Our hope is to keep the progress we have made, which is a full-time job.

But looking forward, we also are focusing on animal enrichment while the animals are in our care. We want to decrease our length of stay for dogs and cats. Not euthanizing is wonderful. But that means some dogs and cats wait a year or more for the perfect home.

Enrichment helps, but doesn’t take the place of a loving home.

We also admit we have more work to do in customer service. The shelter is definitely a more welcoming place than years past. But we still have good days and bad days. We plan on customer service training for staff in 2022.

Shelter work is hard work, and many people with hearts of gold can come across a bit gruff when dealing with a customer, after a long day. People also get angry when we tell them we are full and can’t accept their surrender until we have room. We understand, and worry about any animal we turn away, but we hope scheduling surrenders can be a compromise while still allowing us to save lives. We hope to manage that better in the future. We are a work in progress, but we are making progress.

Dennison is a member of the Humane Society of the Ohio Valley Board of Directors.

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