By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Lisa Williams led the way to a kennel with two small black dogs. They barked excitedly along with the many other canines for attention. She pointed out the board on top of the kennel’s gate and the cloth strips holding it here.
“These two are escape artists,” she revealed. More than once, employees at the Mercer County Animal Shelter have arrived for work to find both the little dogs — Chihuahua-Pomeranian mixes — waiting for them in the front lobby. They have learned how to climb up the chain link gate.
Williams opened the kennel and managed to scoop one up, but the other darted away and ran to the lobby where it greeted some visitors and rolled over in hopes of a tummy rub.
She held both the little dogs close and smiled as they licked her face. “We’d like for them to stay together — they love each other,” she said. “They love kids. They’re going to have to be with someone who can keep them confined or they’ll get loose and get in trouble.”
In a cat room where spayed and neutered cats roam, rest and play, she introduced Butters, a cat that was adopted and then taken to a veterinarian to be neutered. Unfortunately, the adoptive family never claimed him from the vet, so he ended up back at the shelter.
Taking care of dogs like the escape artists and cats that need a home is the sort of job Williams has always wanted to do. She had been working in the retail sector when the jewelry section she staffed at a local department store was closed. When she started looking for a new position, she spotted a help wanted ad about a job opening at the Mercer County Animal Shelter.
“When I saw that ad, I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” Williams recalled.
She started out as a kennel technician, but she eventually started assisting the shelter’s directors and filling in for them whenever they were away. Eventually, she became director last year.
“I started in June,” Williams said of her new post.
Taking care of animals was nothing new to Williams. She has always had plenty of animals at home that depend on her.
“I’ve been an animal person my whole life. I love animals. You want to get into something, most people do, where you feel like you can make a difference,” she said. She took a moment to count off the animals she has at home.
“I have...Sweetie, Lucy...I probably have five dogs and five cats, and I foster, too. I foster cats,” Williams said. “I have had animals my whole life, my own animals. Most of the animals I have now are shelter animals. When I came to the shelter, I started accumulating one here, one there. We have three cats or more that have come to our house. Every winter, every spring, we have two or three that come to our house. They come in and settle in, and act like they want to stay.”
Once it becomes apparent that the cats do not have a home, Williams takes them in and gets them neutered or spayed. Back at the shelter, Williams worked with the other personnel and volunteers last December to conduct the first annual “Home Sweet, Home Fair” to encourage adoptions. Adoption fees were reduced during the event. When the rate of adoptions began to slow, Grant’s Supermarkets stepped in and paid the fees during the remainder of the fair. By the time it was over, 95 dogs and cats had new homes.
“It was a big, huge success,” Williams said. “I wanted the community to know that we wanted them to be involved with the shelter. We wanted them to know that they are as much a part of the shelter as anybody else. We wanted them to see what the shelter was like, how the animals were treated, and that we have their best interests at heart.”
The remaining animals, and the new tenants that have arrived since the fair ended, still need homes.
“We adopted out all of our cats but two, a lot of our small dogs and puppies, and a few large dogs. We still have quite a few large dogs left,” Williams said. Adult dogs are often already housebroken and socialized, so they make very good companions, she added.
The shelter started keeping a waiting list for people with animals they wanted to drop off when the kennels were at full capacity. People on this list started getting calls soon after the fair was over, and now the shelter is filling up again.
“The most challenging thing would be keeping our numbers to where we have enough room for everyone. That means you have to increase your adoptions, so we need people to come in and adopt,” Williams said.
One way to help reduce the number of homeless dogs and cats is to spay and neuter pets. If that is not possible, keep them contained so they cannot breed, she said. Left on their own, these animals multiply their numbers quickly.
While the shelter is designed with the needs of dogs and cats in mind, the shelter has seen other pets. Williams tried to remember some of the more unusual arrivals.
“Let me think. We’ve had snakes, guinea pigs, birds, rats, mice. We’ve had people call us and want us to take squirrels, but we’re not allowed to. That’s for the DNR. We don’t take in rats. We had a big, long snake. It stayed in the drop off,” she said. A humane officer finally took it home.
In another instance, the shelter suddenly had to deal with a lot of rodents confiscated from an animal hoarder.
“We took 34 or 35 mice and rats. We’re not made to house little creatures like that,” she said.
Williams and the other personnel quickly discovered that mice could get through very small holes. They had to experiment before they found a way to contain the little creatures.
“We put them in a bird cage and that didn’t work very well. We had to tie everything to keep them in. They were cute though,” she said. “One mouse that got out ran around for a while. One of the employees took him home.”
When Easter comes and goes, another animal starts appearing at the shelter. Rabbits that were “cute little bunnies” grow up and become problems for the unprepared, but they are good pets if handled correctly, she stated.
“We get rabbits a lot after Easter and through the summer,” Williams said.
As the new year progresses, Williams hopes to have other events that will increase adoptions and bring more people to the animal shelter. A constant stream of dogs and cats needing homes keeps coming to the shelter, so the work never ends.