Posted: October 11, 2017 at 9:32 pm

By Brianna Clark, Emily Pateiro, and Philip Polling

One afternoon in late April, Animal Warden Charles King got a disturbing phone call about a malnourished horse roaming the back roads near Morgantown. King not only found the horse but he also stumbled across a property with 43 dogs living in a cramped space with feces covering the dirt floors. Some of the dogs were emaciated with sores on their bodies. King called for backup and he and three other workers managed to put all of the dogs, some snapping and growling, into a truck and take them to the Monongalia County Canine Adoption Center.

The mistreatment of animals, particularly cats and dogs, is a major problem in West Virginia, according to King and other animal wardens. Some owners do not feed or care for their pets appropriately or get them the medical attention they need.

In 2015, animal shelters in West Virginia took in 48,000 abandoned or neglected pets. Out of that 48,000, 84 percent of dogs were adopted but only only 32 percent of cats found other homes, according to the state Spay and Neuter Program. The mistreatment of pets is a particular problem in Morgantown, in large part because college students don’t realize how much work they are. In many cases, West Virginians leave their dogs tied up outside, even in harsh weather conditions.

Some college students openly acknowledge this.

“Owning a puppy and kitten can be really difficult sometimes, especially because I’m always busy with school and work and I can’t give them the play time and attention they need,” says Kiersten Edens, a senior in the Elementary Education Program at West Virginia University.

Leila is a five-year old cat who was abandoned by her owner in Morgantown and rescued by the Monongalia County Adoption Center

The good news is that the number of abandoned pets taken in by shelters has been steadily decreasing in recent years, thanks in large part to a 2010 state law that requires all pets in government-funded humane and rescue organizations to be spayed or neutered within 30 days of arriving to the facility. In 2010,  animal intake was north of 2,300. That number has decreased to 1,677 animals in 2016. Due to more animals being spayed and neuteredthe percentage of animals euthanized in shelters decreased from 61 percent in 2010 to 46 percent in 2016.

In addition, an increasing number of dogs are being adopted in West Virginia. In 2016 the Monongalia County Canine Adoption Center received 695 dogs and 84 percent of those were adopted. The rest were euthanized.

Cats, however, are less likely to be adopted. While 982 cats were taken in by the adoption center in 2016, only 32 percent were adopted. The rest were killed. The excessive number of cats who have to be put down can be attributed to the fact that cats reproduce faster than dogs and they are less popular as pets.

Even so, many dogs are mistreated, particularly by owners who don’t understand they need to be walked on a regular basis every day and they must be taken to a veterinarian when sick. In addition, not everyone can afford to take their pet to the vet.

When they get sick and need to go to the vet, it can get expensive fast,” says Edens.

Last year one WVU student brought a dog with a broken leg to the Morgantown Veterinary Care clinic. The dog belonged to his roommate who had refused to get the dog medical attention after it accidentally broke its leg. By the time his roommate took the dog to the vet, the leg had become badly infected and had to be amputated, according to Calvin Bench, an employee of Morgantown Veterinary Care.

Charles King, the Monongalia County Adoption Center dog warden,
cleaning the kennels for the dogs

“We see a lot of students bring in pets who are not getting the adequate care they need because [the students] don’t have the funds to do so,” said Bench. “We recommend they get three rounds of vaccines and deworming medication but a lot of times [the student owners] never come back.”

King says he often witnesses neglect and abuse of pets by other owners as well.  Several of the 43 dogs he rescued from that back-woods property in Morgantown had to be put down because of their age or medical problems. He is the first to admit that his job takes a high emotional toll on him.

“It’s not like you know, hey I had a bad day, had a lot of paperwork,” King says. “But to go in and say I had a bad day because I put down a bunch of animals. They’re God’s creation, and I just had to play God, and it sucks.”