An Elkins, West Virginia, animal shelter is collaborating with businesses in the region to provide temporary homes for resident cats, with hopes of increasing adoption rates in the county.
Three local businesses have agreed to foster shelter cats and the Randolph County Humane Society’s program organizer Carrie Shupp said five additional local businesses have expressed interest in the program.
Shupp said the program took root in December, when Fancy Paws owner Ann Kreps-Weber offered to groom RCHS cats in preparation for Christmas, so store employees could obtain certification as cat groomers to meet a growing demand.
“(Kreps-Weber) mentioned they were considering a shop cat and the idea transformed into Fancy Paws becoming the first RCHS off-site partner location,” Shupp said. “Our first adoption was Dec. 23, only a week after initiating the project.”
Fifteen adoptions from Fancy Paws have followed. Shupp attributes that success to an increased visibility of the cats and a successful adoption event hosted by the shop. As of March 11, there were two cats — Bijou and Meatball — featured in the store’s front window for passersby to see, although the cats are free to roam behind the counter after business hours.
Kreps-Weber said the arrangement is mutually beneficial because the cats bring business in, but they also free up space at the shelter.
“It’s just a really good feeling to have people who work downtown stop by on their lunch breaks to come in and talk to the kittens, play with the cats or just stand outside the window,” she said. “It’s just been really great.”
Shabby Avenue was the next to offer space for fostering services. Shupp said Cowboy, a friendly orange tabby with special needs, roams the Elkins business and has been delighting shop patrons ever since.
“Cowboy has been so popular with the public that people have stopped by just to meet him,” Shupp said.
Store owner Jamie Rush said when she heard about the program and learned that RCHS hoped to expand it, she “thought it was a wonderful idea,” and decided to participate.
“Being an animal lover myself, I expressed to (Shupp) that I would be willing to help with getting their program started and would consider fostering a cat at Shabby Avenue,” she said.
At first Rush wasn’t sure if Cowboy, who had been returned to the shelter twice because of a feline illness condition and was in need of immediate temporary placement, was a good fit with her business. Rush added she initially wondered what she had gotten herself into, but the cat has proven to be a welcome guest at the shop.
“I can honestly say that I am very glad that I did agree (to foster Cowboy),” she said. “He has been a well-behaved and gracious guest during his stay at the shop and my customers love him.”
Rush said Cowboy is very friendly and greets every customer as they enter. She added that he is “quite a character.”
“He has a fondness for wearing bow ties, which has gained him his own following on social media,” she said. “Customers tell me that they watch for his photos and enjoy reading Facebook posts about the silly things that he does or seeing him posing for the camera in one of his many bow ties.”
Rush said customers often express their gratitude that she is willing to participate in the program.
“I feel that by fostering him at my business I am providing him a better chance at finding a forever home because potential adopters get to see what a great personality he has without the distraction of dozens of other animals,” she said. “It also helps free up space at the shelter for other animals in need.”
Rush added she would “absolutely encourage” other local businesses to consider partnering with RCHS.
Shupp said the most recent partnership — with Triangle Heating and Cooling — was also initiated by the business owner. Emerald, a 16-month-old female with special needs because of an injured left foot, was adopted just days after being introduced at the business.
Business owner Kristie Stalnaker said she wanted to participate in the program because “cats don’t always get a fair chance when they’re at the shelter.”
“We wanted to bring her in, just so more people could see her,” she said. “I think it’s a great program they’ve got going on and I’m happy to help.”
Stalnaker said she already misses having Emerald around the office.
“Emerald is just a sweet little girl,” she said. “I can’t say enough about how sweet of a kitty she is.”
Stalnaker said she’s looking forward to meeting a new work companion as she continues to foster cats for the RCHS.
“I’m really soft-hearted for animals and I think every pet deserves a good home,” she said. “Often they don’t get that when they’re in the shelter because a lot of people don’t like to go there because ‘it’s sad’ and can make people uncomfortable.”
Each of the participating shop owners have opted to supply food for their foster cats, although this is not a requirement. Shupp said the RCHS is committed to supplying basic needs for foster pets.
“We are so very thankful for (all our partnering businesses) and humbled by their interest in helping us help homeless animals,” Shupp said. “Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You are so appreciated.”
The program benefits the shelter animals “in so many ways,” Shupp said. She added the partnerships reduce the risk for illnesses, increase socialization and allow cats the chance, in some cases, to roam free and “just be cats.”
“If we had a dime for every time someone says they cannot come to the shelter because it is ‘too sad,’ we would be very rich. This arrangement changes that,” she said. “The cats are not at the shelter, they are there in the store you walk by on your way to lunch. They are at the business you frequent. Seeing them makes all the difference.”
Shop owners also benefit from having a cat onsite, Shupp said.
“Having a cat creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere,” she said. “Let’s face it, animal lovers stick together. Given a choice, Elkins residents who are animal lovers will give business to a shop that demonstrates their love for animals, too.”
Shupp added shops also benefit from the partnership because the RCHS promotes participating businesses. She noted these arrangements are good for the community because they foster awareness and increase public exposure to adoptable pets.
“This allows us, at RCHS, to make room for other homeless animals and prepare them to be adopted. As long as we are at capacity, we can’t take in others,” she said.
Freeing up shelter space allows shelter officials to more actively pursue the Trap Neuter Release program, which Shupp said, in the long run, will reduce the number of free-roaming community cats.
“I am sure the public is familiar with ‘it takes a village.’ It is the same in animal welfare,” she said. “Instead of focusing on homeless animals as an issue, we should see this as a community challenge. That challenge is to reduce the number of homeless, unwanted animals and see higher adoptions, more TNR support and a responsive community to be a component of change.”
Shupp said the program is just one step in the right direction for Elkins to be a “humane city.”
“A humane city is one in which the leadership and residents make a conscious decision to provide resources and strategies that protect the health and safety of all animals. It reflects respect for — and value of — all life,” she said. “As part of that campaign, we hope that businesses will choose to become humane businesses, whose practices and policies reflect those values.”