Working in the animal-rescue business can be quite fun: Think cuddling with kittens and playing catch with rambunctious canines. But it also can mean cleaning out pet carriers and giving water to sick dogs late on a Saturday night at a truck stop. Just ask staff members of the Prince William Humane Society.
The nonprofit group, launched in 2012, opened its first adoption center earlier this year, and its workers made that trek to the truck stop last month to take in dogs and cats displaced by Hurricane Irma. The efforts were part of fulfilling the organization's combined mission of increasing adoption rates of homeless pets and reducing animal euthanasia in the county.
The Irma pets had been in shelters in Florida, and the Prince William group took custody of them as part of an arrangement with the Kanab, Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society, said Humane Society President Lori Leary. The Prince William contingent left the county at 6 p.m. Sept. 9 and headed to the truck stop in the Richmond area to meet animal rescuers who were bringing dogs and cats north.
The Humane Society group picked up 30 dogs and 16 cats and headed back to Prince William. They agreed to house all the cats and 10 of the dogs for adoption, and to bring the remaining 20 dogs to the county government-run animal shelter in Bristow.
It was a whirlwind tour — by the time the Humane Society workers left the shelter, it was 3:30 a.m. — but the impact seemed clear the next day, as prospective adopters clamored to find out about the Irma pets.
"We were closed that day, but we had people knocking on the door," Leary said.
Since then, the Irma animals have been getting adopted, and the Humane Society has been getting back to more usual tasks. Mainly, the organization partners with the county shelter to reduce overpopulation there and prevent euthanasia when possible.
The Humane Society adopts animals from the shelter, paying the required fee just as an individual would, and then brings them to the group's own adoption shop in Dumfries. That operation can house about 11 dogs and 18 cats and is a place where potential pet owners can interact with the available animals.
The organization has a paid staff of three, as well as 35 to 40 volunteers, and is funded by donations. In addition to adoption services for the general public, it runs programs for military families, wounded veterans and the elderly.
It's work Leary describes in serious terms.
"You're saving lives," she said. "These animals are innocent. They're lost or they're discarded or they're given up on. They have nowhere to go."
And it's work that benefits the public, Prince William police Maj. Dawn Harman said.
The Board of County Supervisors recently approved the construction of a new $14.1 million animal shelter, but the current shelter has been overcrowded for years, said Harman, whose duties include overseeing the facility.
When there's overcrowding, it means diseases can spread among the animals. But by helping to reduce the shelter population, the Humane Society helps prevent that. And that, in turn, minimizes future health-care costs — and costs to taxpayers — at the government-run operation, Harman said.
The animals the Humane Society gets from the shelter don't end up staying in Dumfries for long, either, she said, because the organization has been successful in finding homes for the pets.
The first adoption at the Humane Society's shop was made in May by 29-year-old Katie Cooper, whose family lives on a horse farm in Orange County, west of Fredericksburg.
Cooper found Taco, a Chihuahua-like one she grew up with, online and was smitten right away.
"I fell in love with her eyes," she said.
What Cooper didn't notice at first, though, was that Taco has only three legs.
Taco arrived at the county shelter with a severe spiral fracture, according to the Humane Society's website. She lost one leg, but emergency medical procedures the organization paid for — that's another program it runs — restored her to health otherwise.
Now, the petite 9-year-old spends her days in a rural setting with horses, goats, chickens and cats, Cooper said, and spends her nights sleeping alongside Cooper's 7-year-old son, Austin.