Posted: February 24, 2014 at 7:53 pm

By Kelsey Bartlett, Makenzie Bristol, Alissa Hudak and Emily Meadows

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. At first glance, Animal House appears to be just another pet shop. However, the 1,000 square foot shop is expanding, not just in physical space, but also in terms of community outreach.

“We don’t go out and look for this, people just start calling us and asking us,” said Animal House Owner Cathy Cutlip.

Soon after opening Animal House, local schools and the 4-H Camp began contacting the shop and asking if they could bring in animals that the kids are studying.

“I thought, ‘That’s a great community service, we’re not going to charge you anything,’” said Cutlip. “Then, because of the (winter) weather, we weren’t able to take the animals, so we started bringing the classes in here. It’s a great field trip.”

The class grants students a hands-on learning approach, where they learn about the animals’ lives and their habitats.

Soon enough, Cutlip was contacted by Monongalia County schools, and was asked to help teach students with learning disabilities how to participate in a work environment.

Cutlip teaches students by placing them in a work environment that offers them a chance to perform a variety of tasks to better prepare them for employment after they graduate from high school.

“We had one boy that had his chin to his chest, and by the end of his semester, he had his head up. He was laughing. He was telling us what he did and didn’t want to do,” said Cutlip. “It just made a big difference in him.”

Cutlip said working with the students is one of the most rewarding parts of her job.

“For one hour a week, they will stay in front of the reptile tank and make sure no one sticks their hand in,” said Cutlip. “It makes them feel like they have a purpose. But what we’re doing is talking to them and getting them around people. It’s great.”

It’s easy to sense the passion Cutlip has for the pet shop nestled tightly into High Street, but she ultimately credits her son as the shop’s inspiration.

“Ever since my son has been little he’s been bringing home animals. I was never a big animal person, and because of my son, I began to realize how smart they are and how there are so many needs,” said Cutlip.

Today, the shop is run solely by volunteers, and all proceeds go directly towards their rescue and outreach programs.

“We did so much rescue this year that it was very hard to keep the store going,” said Cutlip.  “So we figured since we don’t pay ourselves and all of the proceeds go to all of these great things, why not? So now we can actually get some funding to help.”

Although Cutlip struggles to juggle operational responsibilities with a variety of volunteer programs, she is grateful for her team and the student volunteers that make Animal House possible.

“They come in and volunteer and help us keep the cages clean, refill water, sweep, and make sure the animals have everything they need,” said Cutlip.

Perhaps what makes Animal House unique is more than just its exotic collection of animals, but rather its ability to bring together compassionate individuals that desire improving the quality of life of all living creatures, be it animals or human beings.

“So this little, tiny, 1,000-square-foot store, is much, much more than a pet store,” said Cutlip. “I want to make a difference in our little area, and if I can touch somebody’s life and they can touch someone else’s, then, how great is that?”