KEARNEYSVILLE – Since its start in 1952, the Animal Welfare Society of Jefferson County has saved the lives of countless dogs and cats by finding them loving homes.

“AWS was the first animal shelter in Jefferson County,” explains Candy Cain, today the secretary of the nonprofit organization. “When we started, Animal Control only handled adult dogs, not cats, kittens or puppies.”

AWS in 1985 opened a no-kill animal shelter and adoption center at 23 Poor Farm Road, right down from the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.

The Animal Welfare Society began with a core group of community leaders including Mabel Venable, William Venable, W.P.C. Perry, Cora Chambers and Forrest Brown and two veterinarians, Drs. D.C. Master and I.J. Meyer.

A spay/neuter program was started to reduce the number of pregnancies of cats and dogs.

The shelter can hold about 55 to 60 dogs. There is one full-time employee, five part-timers and 14 board members. AWS not only has an adoption center but also runs a low-cost rabies clinic and other programs aimed at keeping animals healthy.

“We need about $250,000 a year to keep operating,” said Jane Tarner, AWS vice president. “We can’t just depend on donations. We hold fundraisers just about all year long.”

One popular upcoming fundraiser is the 13th-annual Bark in the Park. It’s set for June 1 at Jefferson Memorial Park in Charles Town.

“We have about 25 to 30 vendors, selling all kinds of things,” Tarner said. “We have an obstacle course, contests like awards for the dog with the waggiest tail, training games like ‘Red Light, Green Light’ and a raffle. We had about 80 dogs and their owners take part last year.”

In February, AWS held the Valentine “Purr”Fect Dinner and Auction at Hollywood Casino. Flower sales take place for Easter and Mother’s Day. There’s even a roadside collection in August where AWS volunteers literally stand in the road with buckets to collect donations.

Besides fundraising efforts, getting and keeping volunteers is another challenge for AWS.

“We are always looking for volunteers,” said Janet Bailey, an AWS board member. “It can be hard work, doing things in the shelter. Planning events and having people follow through with the different responsibilities that involves isn’t easy. You have to love it.”

Loving the work is something all three women have in common. They’re also educators by profession and have each been part of AWS for more than 20 years.

“We’re good at nurturing and organizing,” Bailey said, smiling.

Bailey and Tarner are retired. Cain is a consultant at Ranson Elementary School.

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