The Animal Shelter of Texas County is situated east of Houston. (File photo)

In a piece of real estate the size of Rhode Island, there are going to be some wayward domestic animals.

Less than five years ago, Texas County was lacking a central location dedicated to tending to unwanted dogs and cats despite being the same size as that small northeastern state and being the largest county in Missouri.

In May 2006, local strays and cast-offs gained some attention when The Animal Shelter of Texas County (TASTC) was created.

It all started one day when TASTC founder and current president Rita Romines felt compelled to take action.

“I was picking up dogs from the side of the road and thought, ‘Where am I going to take these?'” she said.

In the beginning, Romines and other volunteers did their work “out of the backs of cars” and from the offices of community veterinarians. Then in June 2008, TASTC’s facility on Highway 17 east of Houston opened, and local unwanted dogs and cats finally had a place of their own.

Contrary to popular belief, TASTC has no government affiliation of any kind. It is a non-profit corporation that has only one paid employee and exists solely because adoptions, fundraising, donations and grants obtained from private organizations.

The shelter’s financial matters are overseen by a 13-member board made up of concerned individuals from all corners of Texas County and a five-member advisory board consisting of local veterinarians and business people.

“We get no government funding whatsoever,” Romines said. “To get our money, we get out and beg. It’s hard work.”

The shelter building features 11 dog kennels, a whelping room and cat room with several “condos.”

The facility was recently upgraded with the addition of a covered outdoor cat area. The cat patio (a.k.a. the “catio” or “Kitty City”) features many perching spots such as shelves, logs and rocks and is screened in so the residents have access to fresh air.

“Our cats deserved this,” Romines said. “It should really help keep disease down since they’ll be getting fresh air.”

“It’s probably one of the best investments we’ve made,” TASTC manager Marsha Martin said.

As of about a month ago, Martin became the shelter’s first paid employee.

Concrete for the catio floor was donated by local businessman Mike Manier while construction duties were largely handled by men from the New Life USA rehabilitation center.

Most of the food for the shelter’s animals is donated by Royal Canin USA, a pet food manufacturer based in St. Charles. A storage room at the shelter is stacked high with large bags of food; when the supply gets low, shelter representatives head north and pick up a load, usually about 3,000 pounds at a time.

Royal Canin actually initiated the generosity after an article about the shelter ran in the Houston Herald.

“They saw an article and they contacted us and asked if we needed help with food,” Romines said. “We said, ‘Of course.’

“If it wasn’t for that, I’m not sure we could exist.”

Walmart also donates food, providing torn bags on a weekly basis. Some of that food goes to needy people who can’t afford to feed their pets and some to people with “foster dogs” who keep them in their homes until there’s room in the shelter.

Through an unlikely scenario that Romines said involved a lot of good luck, TASTC recently received a $5,000 grant from a foundation based in New York to use for spay and neutering and health .

“You just apply and pray,” Romines said. “But the guy who happened to read the application was from Mount Vernon, Missouri. He called and said, ‘I know the need in the Ozarks.'”

Anyone visiting the shelter will notice how clean the facility is. That’s thanks to several volunteers who are dedicated to maintaining that state of cleanliness and work done by people fulfilling community service requirements.

“That helps because if people came here and it wasn’t clean, they would want to leave,” Romines said. “This way it’s more of a happy place.”

In 2009, 424 animals were adopted through TASTC. The shelter has already eclipsed that number this year, having topped the 450 mark by Veterans Day (300 dogs and 152 cats).

TASTC’s animal inventory can be viewed on Petfinder.com, a website for use only by non-profit shelters. Thanks to exposure made possible by the site, animals from Texas County have found their way into homes as far away as Seattle and New York.

Many dogs that come through TASTC’s doors end up in northeastern states thanks to a connection with an organization based in Concord, N.H., known as Happy Dogs of New England. Happy Dogs regularly checks Petfinder to view TASTC dogs and then contacts Martin to claim several of them.

The chosen animals are driven by TASTC representatives to West Memphis, Ark., before being flown to New Hampshire by Happy Dogs. At a Nov. 6 event at a Concord area PetSmart, Happy Dogs adopted out 14 TASTC dogs.

That working relationship exists in large part because spay and neuter laws in the northeast minimize numbers of unwanted dogs and cats and subsequently creates a demand for ones from the Ozarks.

Six TASTC dogs are currently staying at the South Central Correctional Center in Licking as part of a program called Healing Paws.

“It’s the most wonderful program we’ve done,” Romines said. “It’s good for the inmates and it’s good for the dogs. Not one dog has come back from there. They always get adopted.”

A TASTC dachsund named Zeus, who is deaf, recently learned sign language at the prison. Zeus has moved on to a school for deaf kids to encourage them to learn to sign.

“They do their sign language and the dog obeys their commands,” Romines said. “It’s amazing.”

TASTC fundraising techniques include dog shows, wiener dog races and raffles. A year-long raffle is under way in which 52 guns will be given away, one per week for a year. The firearms were purchased at a low rate direct from Remington; raffle tickets are $100 each and only 1,000 will be sold, making ticket holders’ odds of winning 20-1.

As of last week, the shelter’s resident list included 25 dogs and 24 cats.

“We’re at full capacity,” Romines said.

Full capacity at the shelter creates a difficult situation; people wanting to check dogs or cats in often have a hard time understanding when there’s no room at the animal inn.

Romines said she hopes people in the community can grasp how daunting TASTC’s task is and be patient and understanding when dealing with the shelter.

“You can’t believe how busy our phone is,” she said. “The shelter is only so big and has only so much room. People sometimes get really mad at us when we have nowhere to put a dog. But if they’ll just work with us, we’ll try to work with them and eventually get their dog in here.

“We’re small, but it’s all we have and it’s all we can afford.”

All animals that go out of TASTC are up to date on shots and have been spayed or neutered. Cost to adopt a dog is $75. Cats are $25.

“We work hard for what we have, and we have some dedicated people who believe in the cause,” Romines said. “I’m just so proud of this.”

For more information about TASTC, log onto www.tastc.com or call 417-967-0700.

 

 

We work hard for what we have, and we have some dedicated peoplewho believe in the cause.”

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