Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 29, 2013

Heart for homeless pets

Mercer County woman shares time, compassion with shelter animals

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

GLENWOOD — Nova likes her fuzzy toy mice and her other cat toys, but seeing visitors made her shy and wary about coming out of her room. Her benefactor, Shelia Smith, tried coaxing her out to meet the guests.

Life has been tough for Nova. She lost a litter of kittens, and now she lives with a chronic disease. Smith works to keep her happy and healthy as possible.

“If she lives two years or 20 years, she’s not in a cage and she’s got love,” Smith said. “She is not locked up and she’s got a home with nothing but love. She’s got it made, that girl does. She’s mommy’s baby. I say the Lord sent her when I needed her the most.”

Smith’s family had dogs and cats when she was growing up, and she learned to love animals.

“I’m from Amonate, Va., I’m actually a coal miner’s daughter and I was raised in a coal camp.  That’s where I was born and raised, she said.

Smith moved to Mercer County from Virginia in 2008.

“I married a man. I have two jobs. I’m a nurse and I work at Restwood Center in Bluefield, and I met my husband there. He was a volunteer. We got married and we had nine wonderful years together. We had decided to move this (manufactured) home. I had bought it brand new when we married and we moved it here.”

Herbert “Bunk” Smith later passed away on March 2, 2010.

“He was a good man. I lost my best friend,” she said.

Smith adopted Nova from the Mercer County Animal Shelter. The cat was the mother of three kittens then, but they all died from feline leukemia; the virus infects only cats. Smith gives Nova medication to keep the disease in check.

“Hopefully we can keep her in remission and she’s got a long life,” Smith said.

Like other volunteers, Smith followed a recent situation at the animal shelter in which 65 cats faced the possibility of euthanasia; a respiratory infection had spread among them, and they had to be moved before their enclosures could be disinfected. Shelter personnel and volunteers managed to find adoptive homes, foster homes and rescue groups to accept the cats. Smith said she understood the need for euthanasia in some circumstances such as when an animal is sick or dangerous. She added that volunteers hoped to have more notice when a problem develops.

Volunteers are turning more to the Internet as a way to find homes for dogs and cats. Smith went to her computer, called up Facebook, and pointed out all the photos and descriptions of homeless pets.

“I was just on Facebook and I began to see all these pictures and all these pictures of animals and I thought, well I wonder what they’re doing. Then I realized that they (volunteers) were posting them and trying to get them out and into the community. I just got more and more involved with it and more and more concerned, and just kept posting, trying to get the word out,” she said.

Smith does not currently work at the animal shelter, but she visits the homeless pets and plans to work more directly with them after she retires.

“I don’t work there, but I go up and visit when I can. I’m holding a full-time job and a part-time job. I do go. But I plan to retire next month and I plan on doing more,” she stated. “I go up there and I feed them treats and I pet them.”

The animals do not have homes, but they are well treated, she added.

“ I would say they’re well taken care of. They always have fresh water and food. I’m not here to bash anybody, because they take good care of those animals. Their cages are clean, but I just love to go up there and pet them, and we have fundraisers.”

A recent dog wash and adoption event at the Green Valley-Glenwood Volunteer Fire Department helped bring homeless pets and new owners together.

“We actually adopted out four animals that day that were Code Red. You know what a Code Red animal is, don’t you? They pass their date or they got so many days before they are euthanized. We had one little dog, her name was Sassy, but her name was changed to Silvy, but she barked at everything. All she wanted was love and attention, but she was fostered, so we actually saved five,” Smith recalled.

The events help promote pet adoptions, and even more pet promotions are being done on computers. Smith said that she and other animal lovers encourage people to be responsible pet owners. Her dog was outside in a shaded kennel.

“I’ve had animals all my life. I was raised with cats and dogs. I actually have a dog out there now. She was about five weeks old when I got her. She’s about 12 now. We got her as a puppy and I love her dearly, yes, I do. Her name is Lexy. Lexy’s spoiled rotten,” Smith said. “My animals are well taken care of. She has a fan on her now. In the summertime, I keep a fan on her. I believe if you’re going to have animals, you need to take care of them.”

The animal shelter’s personnel works hard to make sure the dogs and cats under their care get good treatment, she added.

“They do a great deal of work up there. They really do. Sometimes we have problems with communication, but you know what, in my profession we have problems with communication. Things get lost in the shuffle. We just want to work with them, and them with us, and get as many of these babies saved as possible.”

One problem Smith sees is how quickly the shelter’s spaces are occupied. As soon as some dogs and cats are adopted or sent to rescue organizations, others arrive to take their places.

“You go and have lots of (kennel) runs, and by the end of the day, they’ve taken in 20 dogs and 20 cats. What it boils down to is that the problem is the community. We need more community involvement. That’s what we need,” Smith said.

One way to increase community involvement is to have a countywide spay-neuter ordinance, she said.

“That’s what we’re wanting. We want to have that and get as many people involved as possible with spaying and neutering. It’s the community. People just turn them loose and let them breed, and bring in hundreds and hundreds of kittens and puppies.”

The combined efforts of animal shelter personnel and volunteers have resulted in many adoptions and rescues, she added.

“You have to realize how many we have saved. No, we didn’t do anything; it was with the Lord’s help,” Smith stated as she flipped through some notebooks. Each book was filled with the names of rescued animals. “From April 17 — and I know I had missed a lot — 243 that have either been fostered, adopted or rescued, and that’s a lot of lives that have been saved in two months. I don’t know how many I have missed.”

Many of the dogs and cats brought to the shelter are strays, but others belonged to owners who cannot care for them. In some cases, the animals belonged to seniors in poor health or people who have lost their jobs. Unfortunately, Smith said, there is another trend: pet owners who drop off their dogs or cats simply because they don’t want the animals anymore. Sometimes the animals are older and in failing health.

“It breaks my heart,” Smith said on the verge of tears. “You see a dog being carried away and it’s looking back like it’s saying, ‘Why am I here?’ I can’t understand why people do that to them. They’re family, they’re family.”

— Contact Greg Jordan at