After a decade of wear and tear, the kennels of the Watauga Humane Society, which have accommodated thousands of dogs since their construction, are in the process of being replaced.

The move comes after the WHS noted rapid deterioration within the kennels, caused by years of heavy use. Designed to increase safety, sanitization and help their four-legged residents feel more at ease, the humane society hopes to have the new kennels installed by the end of spring 2021.

Traditional kennels, typically constructed of metal wire, can pose a potential hazard for overexcited or upset dogs, who at times get caught in or snagged by them. The new kennels the humane society is aiming to install would feature less wire and would include “fear free” features, at times designed with the dog’s evolutionary ancestry in mind. One new feature would be the installation of front-facing privacy panels in each kennel, which would offer the dogs a feeling of added security.

“Dogs descend from wolves which are den creatures, so it offers them a sense of safety,” said Ashlee Yepez, the human society’s Director of Operations and Animal Welfare.

The privacy panel would also cut down on the “tunnel vision” effect caused by conventional kennels, which can be overwhelming for some dogs. Furthermore, stationary food bowls positioned on a swivel would allow staff to feed the animals without entering their living space, a move which could frighten new dogs not yet acclimated to their new conditions.

“For dogs that are a little bit intimidated or scared as they’re adjusting to their new environment, we have a way of making them feel safe and secure inside their kennel, while also being able to access their food and water easily without entering,” stated Yepez. Another advantage of stationary food bowls is a decrease in food spills, which creates a more sanitary living space for the facilities’ inhabitants.

Though the primary focus is on improving the kennels themselves, upgrades to the kennel’s floor are also on the humane society’s to-do list and is what initially spurred the project along.

“About a year ago, the state inspector came out and noticed some settling in the floor of our dog isolation area,” said Yepez. “Once we took the kennels out of our dog isolation area, we realized just how impractical they were. They just weren’t providing the same amount of sanitation and safety as when they were first installed.”

Resurfacing and resealing of floors both inside and out, coupled with the installation of new drainage systems, are currently under way with the intent of creating more sanitary conditions while cutting back the spread of disease. With the best interest of their animals in mind, the humane society is always seeking new ways to improve their facilities and further their mission of curbing pet homeless.

“There’s been a lot of research in the past 10 years as to how animal welfare organizations like ours can better improve the lives of the animals that are here, said Yepez.

“We’re not just here to house them, we’re here to help them behaviorally, give them enrichment, love and care and see them as naturally as possible so we can find the best fitting home for them,” Yepez said.

Aside from providing food and shelter for abandoned animals, the Watauga Humane Society operates a pet-food pantry, educates the public about responsible animal care and offers a low-cost spay and neutering program. Unable to hold many of their annual fundraisers due to the rise of COVID-19, the humane society is currently reaching out to the public regarding their new kennel project, which is estimated to cost $147,000. To find out more about the Watauga Humane Society, their mission and ways you can donate, visit https://wataugahumane.org/ or call (828) 264-7865.

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