By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
(June 1, 2023) Gabby is an elderly dachshund who was brought to the Worcester County Humane Society by caring neighbors after her human companion passed away at 99 years old in Ocean Pines. The shelter’s vet diagnosed the dog with pancreatitis and Cushing’s disease. She is at a medical foster home until she recovers and then she will be eligible for adoption.
That’s just one of the many dogs that have been helped by the Worcester County Humane Society on Eagles Nest Road in Berlin. The shelter has 92 cats and kittens and 29 dogs and puppies, as well as 73 cats and 80 dogs in foster. The shelter is currently at capacity for dogs.
Kaitlyn Fitzhugh has been the manager of the shelter since early December. When she arrived, the shelter had 80 more cats than it does today.
She credits the decrease with her focus on functioning as a managed intake shelter, which means it does not have to take every animal.
Her goal is to take highly adoptable animals. She works closely with Worcester County Animal Control and Ocean City. She takes dogs from animal control that she thinks have a good chance of getting adopted.
Since the shelter is no-kill, she wants to make sure she does not get animals that will end up staying, because those animals take up space that could be better used for multiple animals that she can move in and out to their forever homes.
Fitzhugh says that thanks to their relationship with the county’s Animal Control Department, the county is doing less euthanasia.
“They do have a lot of great dogs. I make sure I know what is over there. We have built a good relationship,” Fitzhugh said.
When she arrived, there were some dogs that had been at the shelter for a year or longer. Some had behavioral issues. She used local trainers to help.
“I want to set them up for success,” said Fitzhugh.
One dog that had been at the shelter long term was sent to a boarding training center for a month and was adopted out when it came back.
Fitzhugh takes dogs and cats in by appointment only. She wants to be there to evaluate each animal that comes to the shelter.
“I take who I think I can help,” she said. “I want to have a game plan for every dog before it walks in here.”
Fitzhugh also refers people who bring their animals to the shelter to breed-specific rescues.
“They will take the animal no matter the situation. They are experts in those breeds,” she said.
She believes the rescuers can work with these animals well because they know the breeds and temperament.
While she has not seen a boomerang effect after covid, she is seeing people who are struggling economically and cannot afford vet bills or food.
“We have a food pantry for the community so if someone is in a tight spot, no questions asked, they can come in here and we can give them some cat or dog food.”
“Hopefully, with our clinic opening soon, they can continue with vaccines and annual needs.
“There is a shortage of veterinarians, so we are lucky to have two. We are keeping them busy with the animals we have here. “
Fitzhugh said she hoped the clinic, which is at 9808 Stephen Decatur Highway, will open by the end of the summer because providing medical care for animals helps keep them in their homes.
The shelter also provides short-term care for animals whose families are having a housing crisis.
“We can put a dog into foster care for 30 days to give someone time to get their situation together,” Fitzhugh said.
She has one volunteer who fosters dogs instead of adopting. “She is an older woman who would adopt a dog if her family would take it.”
The shelter runs on 12 staff, 10 caregivers and two part-time veterinarians.
One caregiver is Jordan Ross, who has been working at the shelter since December and drives an hour from Crisfield every day to work.
“This is my favorite place to be. I would not want to be anywhere else,” said Ross, who cares for the cats.
“I try to make it as homey as possible. That way they have an easier time adjusting when they get a home. I want them to get used to other cats. Everyone gets along,” Ross said.
In June, Fitzhugh is planning a training to teach staff how to pair certain dogs for playtime in the yard.
Volunteers also play a major role at the shelter by helping clean, do laundry, walk the dogs, cuddle the cats, provide help in the office, help with events, marketing and grant writing and driving animals to foster or vet appointments.
“We have amazing volunteers. They will do anything we ask them to. We would not be running without them,” Ross said.
Tiffany Dixon has been volunteering for three days a week.
“It’s hard work but it is well worth it,” Dixon said.
“I love animals. My future is with animals.”
Fitzhugh says the foster program is key to the shelter’s success.
“Fosters, that is our biggest need. They are the reason we can save any life,” she said.
“If they can provide us with cute videos and pictures and an adequate description of the animal in their home, we can get them adopted. We can set up meet and greets, and we can continue to save the animals and get them moving.”
In situations where someone has trapped a mom and now, she is having kittens, the shelter will take them, but will need the person to house them as a foster. The shelter will start vaccines and promote them for adoption.
Right now, Fitzhugh is playing foster to a husky mom and her 10 pups.
“The husky mom was abandoned. The people were evicted because their house was being demolished. Someone came here with the mom, dad and 10 brand new puppies. They are a husky-lab mix. The dad has been adopted. The pups will be ready for adoption at the end of June.”
“If someone wants to adopt a puppy, we don’t adopt out until they are fixed and up to date on their vaccines. They will go into their adopted home as a foster. While in foster, we provide everything for them,” Fitzhugh said.
That includes food, vaccines, and any other medical care.
All of these services cost money and the shelter runs on donations. Their volunteers also run a thrift store on Sunset Avenue, with all proceeds going to the shelter.
“The best day in the world is when we are out of business and there are not a bunch of animals waiting to come in here,” Fitzhugh said.
Visit https://worcestercountyhumanesociety.org/ to see the animals up for adoption or to learn how you can help.