Although its name has changed over the years, the goals of the New River Humane Society are as solid and consistent as they have been from the beginning — controlling the population of cats and dogs and assuring that all animals are treated with dignity and respect.

The group’s good deeds, however, are as obscure to the general public as they are laudable. “We would love to find homes for each and every animal that comes in here, but the sad reality is that it doesn’t happen that way,” lamented Susie Gee, director of the Humane Society-operated animal shelter.

“Many people don’t know we’re here. People don’t know how many animals come in here. At times, we can have 25 in a single day. It’s really sad how many animals come in on a daily basis. People are not responsible pet owners sometimes.”

Gee’s focus is on spreading knowledge about the feeding, care and sterilization of cats and dogs. Many think of the last option as cruel or harsh, but Gee counters that the alternative of overpopulation is even worse. A large percentage of those end up at the shelter, and far too many of them are euthanized.

To provide a quantifiable scope of the problem, Gee noted the shelter admitted 3,366 animals between July 2005 and last June. Gloria King, a secretary who sits on the society’s board of directors, said the group spayed and neutered 3,814 animals from July 1999 until July 2005 at a cost of almost $142,000.

King is the organization’s unofficial historian. She said a small group of only three people came together in March 1999 out of a concern about animal cruelty and other animal issues in Fayette County. Citizens for Prevention of Animal Cruelty — a predecessor of the Humane Society — was incorporated four months later.

It began operating the animal shelter for the county commission in April 2001. The July floods that year would force the shelter to temporarily relocate across the New River Gorge before returning to the original site in Beckwith. The shelter now consists of eight employees, and Gee sings their praises loudly.

“I have a really good staff, and they care about the animals. It’s not just a job for them,” she said.

“Those are the people I want to hire here. You have to like animals to work here. If they (her staff) have a free moment, they will bathe, brush or walk an animal. The humane treatment of these animals is important to me.”

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Problems that loom so large often seem beyond the grasp of the average person to have any positive impact at all. Au contraire, Gee said. Options abound for those who wish to ameliorate the crisis.

For instance, the society interacts with rescue groups from out of state that find homes for animals at the shelter. Three people make animal transports to Lexington, Va.

Those are then delivered to new homes by nonprofit organizations in Virginia. Gee said those groups then send the Humane Society a receipt to prove the animal was spayed or neutered.

“The rescue groups we work with are wonderful,” she declared. Gee emphasized the society could always use some volunteers to help drive animals to Lexington.

Another way of helping is to adopt a cat or dog from the shelter. Dogs and puppies carry a $40 fee, while cats and kittens cost $30 apiece. For females, that includes the cost of spaying. Those adopting a male receive a discount coupon for neutering.

“The more animals that are spayed and neutered, the fewer that are being euthanized,” Gee explained.

“If you’re looking for an animal, always remember that we’re here. We’ll try to fit anyone with the right dog or cat. We also keep a lost and found log. People can call here if they are looking for their pet. It’s great to be able to reunite an animal with its owner.”

Gee told of a lady who lost a pair of black Labradors two years ago. The owner placed an ad on the radio, and a society staff member heard it. It turned out that one of her dogs was at the shelter, so the lady came to the shelter and took her dog home.

A year later, the woman and her husband were awakened during the night by the sound of their dog barking in the basement over a fire that had started down there.

While they lost their beloved pet, Gee said, its barking saved their lives. “If a staff member here had not heard that ad, they might have lost their lives in the fire that night.”

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Gee applauded the work of city, county and state officials in keeping the problems of animal cruelty and overpopulation in check. It’s the pet owners who could do more. She emphasized that violations of leash laws and allowing injections to fall behind can result in fines and other legal woes for the owner.

To adopt a pet or simply see what is available at the shelter, you can either call 574-3682 or visit the shelter on the Internet at Click on Fayette County to see what the society has to offer, she said.

The shelter is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and the society holds meetings on the second Tuesday of each month at Chico’s restaurant in Oak Hill.

“I would like for people to come here and work for a day,” Gee said. “Then maybe more people would care.”

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