Since 1964, the Central Vermont Humane Society (CVHS) has been the local animal welfare organization for Washington and Orange counties and beyond. While focused on animal welfare, they also have increasingly become a social service agency, assisting people who are facing a wide range of issues, including financial insecurity, housing issues, drug addiction, and others, issues that also impact their pets. CVHS provides those community members with a safe haven for their pets or provides the support they need so their beloved pets can remain a part of their lives. We spoke with CVHS’ Executive Director, Laurie Garrison, about the wide range of issues faced by both pets and people, and how the organization is working to assist them. The following are edited excerpts from our conversation.
What is the largest or most challenging problem or concern facing companion animals?
I think the problems faced by pets are very similar to those faced by people. All the issues we see in Vermont, the high cost of housing, the opioid crisis, food insecurity, our aging population, impact pets. There are social services available for the human side, but very little support on the animal side. CVHS is filling that gap more and more. Also, while spay/neuter has been very effective in making sure there is not an overpopulation of dogs in Vermont, there is still a significant overpopulation of cats, so more spay/neuter education for felines is needed.
How have the problems and concerns faced by companion animals changed over recent years?
When CVHS was founded, overpopulation of companion animals was a serious issue, and euthanasia was high. Now, not a single animal welfare organization in Vermont euthanizes for space. It used to be that CVHS was busy housing many stray animals, but this is no longer a serious need, in part due to our work in educating the public to bring animals to us rather than abandoning them (and abandoning an animal is a crime in Vermont).
Our intake of local dogs, whether by stray intake or owners bringing them in, has decreased over the last five years. To meet the demand for adoptable dogs, many organizations, including CVHS, transport dogs into Vermont from communities where euthanasia is still high. On the cat side, most cats come from their owners and not enough spay/neuter has happened, so we are still overwhelmed with kittens in the warm months. Another thing that has changed is the animals we do take from our community are requiring more care, whether medical or behavioral, and they are staying with us longer. Over 40% of the animals who come to us from our local communities require extra-mile medical care. These trends are happening in many communities across the US.
Is there a most common situation or circumstance you are saving animals from?
Financial insecurity, whether it’s not able to afford the care of the pet or housing issues related to financial hardship. We get a lot of pets from people who find themselves unexpectedly homeless.
What are some of the ways you protect and advocate for companion animals in need?
We follow an Open Door Open Heart policy so that our community feels safe to come to us for help with their animal. We understand that pet problems are people problems and treat people with compassion and respect when they reach out to us for help, ensuring their pets get the care they need. We provide education and support to pet guardians to help them keep their pets, provide our voice to support strong companion animal legislation at our State House, and provide many levels of positive-based dog training to ensure dog people know proper training techniques, to enhance their bond with their dog, and to promote good canine citizenship. We also hold a Kid’s Camp every summer to provide humane education to children to help them grown into compassionate adults. Humane treatment of animals directly translates into the humane treatment of people.
How many different ways are you caring for the animals at your facility at any one time?
We provide all the medical and behavior support a pet needs until they get adopted. Some animals are ready to go and waiting to be adopted, while others are here but under medical or behavioral care so not available for adoption. Some are available for adoption at our partners, One Stop Country Pets and Guy’s Farm and Yard, and others are in foster homes getting specialized care (recovering from surgery, on special medications, getting extra one-on-one socialization, etc.). We also have numerous momma cats with kittens in foster care right now. We have a total of 117 animals in our care at this moment.
CVHS is a very volunteer-driven organization, what are some of the most important ways volunteers get involved and support your work?
Volunteers support every single one of our departments and programs. Without them, we could not do the work we do. Volunteers are vital to helping us care for over 1,000 animals a year, from cleaning and disinfecting to keep animals healthy, to walking dogs and socializing cats to keep them active, providing front desk and office support, helping us with our events, and even mowing the lawn! Volunteers help us in every way imaginable, and we are so grateful!
What kinds of classes, clinics, or educational opportunities do you offer to animal guardians?
We offer dog training classes of various levels all year. At various times, we offer seminars for adults, and in the summer, we offer our Kid’s Camp. We are also always available by phone during open hours to answer questions about companion animals.
What kinds of work are you doing in terms of legislative advocacy and support?
Every year, we participate in Humane Lobby Day hosted by The Humane Society of the United States at the State House and talk to our various representatives about companion animal legislation CVHS believes in, and we rally our supporters via our website and social media to support key legislation. Our Operations Director, Erika Holm, is a member of the Animal Cruelty Investigations Advisory Board, which proposes various improvements to our state laws around animals.
What are the most important ways people can get involved?
Volunteer! Donate! Adopt! Follow our Facebook page and sign up for our E-news updates on our webpage.
What else would you like people to know about your organization and its work?
That CVHS has state-of-the-art policies and procedures. We are constantly adapting to the needs of the people and animals in our communities. Many people still think if they bring us an animal, it has a high chance of euthanasia and that is not true. Our motto is we go the extra mile for animals, and we do that every day. We currently operate under a deficit, which we are working hard to close, but we rely totally on the support of our community to keep our doors open. CVHS is your local animal shelter, we are the only organization that does what we do in central Vermont, and we need the support from our local community!