History of the Haywood County Animal Shelter

By Cynthia Morris | Jun 16, 2016
Photo by: Donated

By Connie Hewitt.

In the 1960s, Haywood County erected a shelter about 12 feet square near the site of the current shelter building to house dogs and cats that had been found. It had a single open drain. Cats were placed in 14 inch by 14 inch wooden hen boxes that were on stilts above dog cages. The cats had no litter boxes or bedding — just the wooden floor.

The dogs were in cages made of wood and wire and these were cleaned by hose. The urine- and feces soaked-wood always smelled fetid. The animals were only typically held for two days before euthanasia.

Before injections were used for euthanasia, the dogs and cats were taken to the landfill and killed by gunshot. People could stop by the shelter and take whatever animal they wanted. No one was around.

Donna Chambers (nee McCracken) needed a barn cat, so she stopped by and took a mom and five kittens. She placed ads and found homes for all them. As heartbreaking as it was to choose who would live and who would die, she kept taking cats and finding them homes over the following years.  Local building contractor, Burton Green did the same with dogs.

About the same time, Haywood Animal Welfare Association, Inc. was formed by Catherine Armitage, head of the Waynesville Branch of the Haywood County library; as well as Burton Green, Irvine Weintraub, Donna Chambers and Evelyn Coltman. The gropu received its 501(c)(3) in 1987.

This group began the push for a “real” animal shelter and a more humane way of “euthanasia” by lethal injection. Veterinarian Frank Enloe became the first veterinarian to regularly go to the shelter and used medications by injection to euthanize the unadopted or unwanted animals there.

Architectural plans for a dedicated real shelter building plans were obtained from the Humane Society of the United States and were modified by architect Joe Sam Queen, and these were presented to the county commissioners.

Like the proposed new animal shelter, the current one took a long time to move forward.  The first issue was the location of this shelter, and after much back and forth with Hazelwood, they decided to construct the shelter on the same site where the cramped wooden cages were on Hemlock Street in Hazelwood.

Then came the public outcry for spending “$80,000 on a dog pound” and the term “Canine Hilton” was used disparagingly in the press. Burton Green offered to build the shelter with his employees and not charge the county for their labor.

HAWA pledged $5,000 towards the shelter construction and Signal Communications Systems volunteered a $4,000 communication system. However, when final plans were submitted for bids, the shelter price rose to $115,000 because sealing the floors and kennels had not been included in original plans. Burton Green estimated his contribution of labor for the 4,200 square foot shelter as a value of $50,000 to $60,000 since the closest bid to his was $175,000.

After many delays, Haywood County broke ground on May 13, 1989, and the shelter opened Feb. 10, 1990.

In 1988, the needs and knowledge about building animal shelters was not well known. The special materials, ventilation, acoustic, plumbing and sanitation needs were not well understood.  Certain things were known to be needed, but many animal welfare groups, such as Maddie’s Fund and the ASPCA were just starting to come to an understanding of what animal sheltering was all about. They began funding research into best practices for caring for unwanted pets.

Shelter design and shelter management and medicine are now taught in veterinary colleges. Designs were tried and tested and today the needs of animal sheltering have become much better understood as to how to prevent disease; decrease stress on animals; contain and handle sick or injured animals; and how to present the adoptable animals to the public in the safest and best ways.

Across the country, major cities as well as rural counties have the same problem — what to do with unwanted, lost or displaced animals.  The task has become to house them efficiently, safely and humanely with redemption or adoption as the preferred end, rather than mass euthanasia.

Animals end up in shelters usually through no fault of their own —it’s people who are the problem. They don’t spay/neuter in a timely manner; breed to make money not knowing where their litters will end up; are beset by financial problems and have to give up their animals; don’t properly care, socialize and train their pets so they no longer want them; have to move and can’t take their pets with them; their landlords may not accept pets; and many, unfortunately, find themselves unprepared to provide proper veterinary care for their pets.

Haywood County is a very caring, pet friendly place, but our current facility to serve Haywood’s animals and owners is outdated. The ventilation problems promote the spread of disease, it is loud, uncomfortable for people and animals and is overcrowded much of the year.

It is expensive to maintain and impossible to properly cool and heat. The proposed new shelter has been designed to meet North Carolina state codes that the present shelter cannot meet.  If built as planned, it should meet the needs of Haywood County for 25+ years to come and will be an asset to the community.

The economic impact of dogs and cats in Haywood County is significant, adding $43,500,000 to the economy. An attractive, welcoming facility that is comfortable for visitors, employees, and animals will be a component in economic development of our county.