Harris, Calhoun and feline companion

Susan Harris, Charlene Calhoun and a charming, highly adoptable cat pose for a photo in Avery Humane Society’s Cat Wing.

There is something missing at Avery County Humane Society. It takes a minute to place it. The shelter is full of dogs and cats and even a pair of rabbits, all of that is in order. It’s the smell, or rather, the lack of one. If anything, there is vaguely pleasant aroma that settles over a tour of the shelter.

For new ACHS Executive Director Susan Harris and shelter manager Charlene Calhoun, that is a point of pride.

“We just stay clean and we keep the mess up,” Calhoun said. “For us it is a huge priority, as our staff puts a lot into making sure the animals don’t have to stay in their own mess.”

“It’s not as much for the visitors as it is the animals,” Harris added.

The comfort and happiness of the animals in their charge dominates the time spent with Harris and Calhoun. They are both alive with passion for what they do, which includes providing Avery’s wayward animals with a comfortable, safe home.

“We give these animals a wonderful place to be until they can find their forever homes,” Calhoun said. “I am proud of the quality of care that animals get here.”

Calhoun, who got her start at the shelter doing web design, has progressed to her current position though dedication and love of the craft.

“I was just messing around with web design,” Calhoun said. “They needed someone to work in the cat room and when I got there, I realized it was where I needed to be.”

Avery Humane Society, which receives just three percent of its annual budget from county funding, is always looking for ways to sustain itself. It operates two retail stores that generate revenue that is used for sustaining the shelter: Paws and Claws, a thrift store, and Happy Paws Boutique, a small pet supply shop in the shelter itself.

Harris, who has a background in economic development, thinks that her background will help her to bring a fresh toolset to shelter management.

“I’m just getting my feet on the ground; I’m looking at what we have done well in the past, what we can do more of that maybe we weren’t before and what kind of things that maybe we could do better,” Harris explained. “I certainly have no intentions of reinventing the wheel. This organization has already been a wonderful community partner for a long time. What we want to do is just improve on what we are doing well.”

Both Harris and Calhoun wished to clearly define what role they have in the community as an animal shelter and not a government-affiliated animal control program.

As an animal shelter, one does not euthanize to make room for new additions. Avery County Humane Society must sometimes turn animals down, however. The shelter has a total maximum capacity of 95 animals, and once that limit is reached, no new animals can be taken on. There is a waiting list that can help accommodate the overflow.

Animal Control, as it exists in other counties, is typically a government-run organization that does euthanize less-adoptable animals to make room for new additions. Avery County has no such entity.

ACHS is not just in the business of taking in strays, however. They also offer affordable options for spaying and neutering to county residents’ pets. According to Harris, indiscriminate, random breeding is the biggest problem that pet animals face in this country.

Harris points out that the low cost spay/neuter services are in no way intended to compete with local vets.

“We have found out that the people who are taking advantage of these services are folks that otherwise would not have spayed/neutered if the discounted service was not available,” Harris said.

Harris and her husband have maintained a residence in Avery County the past 16 years, and just recently moved to the county full time.

“I’ve always loved the mountains,” Harris said. “When we would vacation, I never wanted to go to the beach. We would always come to the mountains.”

Although still new at the shelter, Harris is already beginning to feel at home amongst her co-workers.

“I have such a great admiration for the dedication and passion of our employees. People have such an emotional connection with their animals, and if we can help to provide animals that can become family members and enrich someone’s life, then we are really helping make this place a better world,” Harris said.

For more information, call ACHS at (828) 733-2333 or click to www.averyhumane.org.

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