These 5 Women Are Saving the Animals of Southern West Virginia

Meet the women who have transformed the lives of local animals at the New River Humane Society.
By: Tom Gerencer
The women of New River Humane Society.

Caught in an animal trap for over a week with no food or water, Norman, a 4-year-old Bloodhound, faced certain death.

Amazingly, he freed himself and met some caring tourists. Shocked by his emaciated, injured frame, they called the local shelter.

By then, Norman was sick, starved and a candidate for euthanasia. To give him a fighting chance, his caregivers were forced to amputate the leg that had been caught in the trap.

After a long recovery, Norman now lives happily on a 93-acre farm. His companions include a three-legged Beagle named Addie, a loving human family and a few goats to keep him on his toes.

“I hate that he went through what he did, but he’s part of the family now. He’s a big, drooling, stinky part of our family. He belongs here,” says his owner, Brett Kees.

Norman the Bloodhound

The best part? Norman’s happy ending is repeated endlessly at theNew River Humane Society in Fayetteville, West Virginia.

There’s Frosty, a neglected Husky who was found with such terrible gangrene that one vet said euthanasia was the only choice. She’s now in her forever home in Washington D.C.

Then there’s Sir Lancelot, who was found with a wire cable embedded in his neck. And Frankie, another dog caught in a snare trap. And Dexter, who was badly burned by chemicals in a meth lab accident.

“He went through a couple surgeries to remove some broken tendons,” says shelter board member Mary Legg. “Then we did laser therapy to get the flesh to grow back enough to stitch it closed. I fostered him for a couple months and he went to a great rescue and a great home.”

In fact, Norman’s gallows-to-salvation tale was repeated 1,800 times in the past year alone. That’s 1,800 animals saved at a former-kill shelter in one year. It’s a pretty stunning turnaround, considering that 1,500-plus animals were once put down annually at the shelter to make space (none were put down to for space in 2016 or 2017).

The reason for the transformation? A group of dedicated women who won’t take “that’s just the way things are” for an answer.

Shelter volunteer with dog

Rural West Virginia can be a particularly difficult place for animals to live due to the poverty and lack of education in the region. Everything eventually rolls downhill and, unfortunately, animals are at the bottom.

Just a few years ago, the shelter overflowed with cages stacked in the hallways. When Kathy Gerencer first went in to adopt a dog, she cried uncontrollably and didn’t sleep for nights. She began to volunteer, then joined the board along with three like-minded women.

Board member Kylie Price is an occupational therapist. Senior board member Beth Powers is a teacher. Legg runs a farm and works at a tractor supply store. All of them are loving, caring moms.

Together, they hired Amanda Withrow, the shelter’s new director.

“I never thought I’d find a group of people who care so much and do so much,” Withrow says. “I don’t even know how most of them do it with their families and full-time jobs. They’re just incredible. I love them. They’re my family.”

The shelter now operates within capacity, thanks to an impassioned outreach program with several out-of-state rescues. They also owe a lot to the community and a core group of dedicated volunteers and foster parents.

“We’ve had dog fighting rings in the area,” Powers says. “Animals here face trapping or starvation. We see a lot of embedded collars or harnesses. Dogs freeze to death. We also deal with hoarding cases. People think they’re doing the right thing, but they don’t know how to care for the animals. We see a lot of puppy mills and backyard breeding.”

Shelter volunteer with dog 2

That amounts to hundreds of heartbreaking stories every month, many as horrifying as Norman’s and the vast majority ultimately as heartwarming.

“It’s a constant onslaught of animals who have been so severely abused and neglected,” Legg says. “We find the funds or we beg for the funds and we fix them up and send them to great homes.”

In spite of overwhelming community support, the board still struggles with funding. The members work for free for countless hours each week. When asked how they find the energy, Price tearfully recounts an early visit.

“One of the dogs my daughter was very fond of – I will never forget that dog being taken to the euthanasia room. There’s part of me that’ll never forgive myself for not taking that dog home. It changes you,” she says. “I pray that this facility never sees those days again. I want it to be a wave of change all over our community.”

The women work tirelessly, setting up a constant flow of animals out of the shelter and into foster homes or out-of-state rescues. The work they do has also changed the way they feel about each other.

“I never knew there could be such a group of ladies that work so hard, are passionate and would do anything to save an animal,” Gerencer says. “We see a lot of sad things, but what keeps us going is the feeling of seeing this once depressed, thrown away, abused animal thriving and relaxed in a home environment that truly loves them.”

Shelter volunteer with dog 3

And with all the work and all the heartache, the board members get something unexpected in return.

“My dad passed away, and with all that sadness, it dug me a little deeper into the Humane Society,” Powers says. “I think it helped me grieve the pain of losing my dad. It’s true when you’re helping others it kind of helps you through the hard times too. Since these girls have come around, that’s when I started seeing all my dreams and goals come true.”

A walk through the shelter today reveals some empty cages, vacated by animals who’ve gone on to their forever homes. No longer a death trap for impoverished animals, it’s now a gateway to a better life.

If there’s ever any doubt, ask Norman. He’s a world away from where he started. He and thousands like him now have warmth, comfort and love, thanks to the dedication of these five uncommon women.