Monday, April 15, 2024

Stray, released, sick, healthy: This organization takes them all

Roxy, an eight-year-old Chihuahua, survived Hurricane Irma while tied to a tree. Roxy was visibly shaking during WYDaily's visit to Heritage Humane Society. (WYDaily/File photo)
Roxy, an 8-year-old Chihuahua, survived Hurricane Irma while tied to a tree. Roxy was visibly shaking during WYDaily’s visit to Heritage Humane Society. (WYDaily/File photo)

When people adopt pets from Heritage Humane, they’re usually healthy and happy.

But they don’t always arrive that way.

“Most days we don’t know what might come through that door,” said Kimberly Laska, Heritage Humane‘s executive director. “It’s not like we get a check from the government because all of the sudden you’ve got kittens or puppies that need extra help. By the time they’re ready for adoption, everything is taken care of but we’ve done all of that hard part.”

At Heritage, the employees and volunteers are prepared to care for the well-maintained animal to the malnourished pet that ends up on their front step. But while animals come to the shelter in a number of ways, Laska said there’s a difference between a stray and an abandoned animal.

An abandoned animal, by law, is when an owner knowingly gives up an animal without having secured another owner. These animals arrive at the shelter all the time in a variety of ways from scheduled abandonment, where an owner lets the shelter know they will be bringing in their pets, or sometimes the pets are left quietly, in the middle of the night when no one is around.

Related story: Heritage Humane Society works to make holiday adoptions last

When a stray is brought in, it can be a different story.

There are often times when a pet is brought in after being found on the side of the road, or wandering in public. These animals are brought in by animal control and good Samaritans, Laska said.

Last year, of the 1,845 animals brought into the shelter, 821 were brought by animal control or residents who simply found the animals wandering on their own.

But that doesn’t always mean that an animal found without its owner is without a home.

“So many times people think if they find an animal then they can just keep it,” said Tanya Nash, volunteer and community engagement coordinator for the organization. “And that’s sad because there is a family and a home missing that pet.”

One of the ways to tell if an animal is previously domesticated, meaning it most likely came from a home, is by looking at the care and breed. For example, Nash said people can tell the difference between a domesticated rabbit and a wild rabbit because often domesticated rabbits will have colorful or white coats. Domesticated animals are usually well cared for and groomed.

Additionally, an animal that seems friendly and comfortable with humans probably came from a place where they had a lot of personal interaction. That means that when finding stray animals on the street, a person shouldn’t just assume they can take them for their own.

Related story: Kimberly Laska: Pet lover at the helm of Heritage Humane Society

Bringing them into the shelter means, by law, there is a holding period of no less than five days before the animal can be adopted, according to the state legislative information system. This gives the shelter time to see if there is a family missing the pet — Heritage reunited 256 pets with their owners last year.

Sometimes strays don’t have homes looking for them and sometimes, that means they haven’t been well-cared for.

“The financial investment is ours,” Laska said in regards to medical treatments for the animals. “But it’s really a community investment because 93 percent of our funding is coming from the public, not taxpayers. It’s coming from businesses and special events. So there definitely is a cost factor involved with that.”

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Both Laska and Nash said part of the shelter’s mission is to care for any animal, no matter the cost. To do this, there are teams of care-givers, foster homes and volunteers that have dedicated their time to round-the-clock care.

One of the items the organization tries to stress to people is to bring their animal in if they can no longer care for them. They said a lot of animals come in because their owners have just released them into the wild.

“We are a resource,” Nash said. “We will take care of any animal that comes through that door. That’s what we do everyday.”

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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