ST. ALBANS – Hemi is a ten-year-old pit bull. She’s talkative and small for a pit bull. She also has a lot of energy, spending it in bursts as she sprints across the Franklin County Animal Rescue (FCAR)’s yard after toys.

As Hemi sprints around the yard, the yips of three other dogs can be heard from within FCAR.

“The others are upset that they can’t come out back right now,” said Kelly Frederick, FCAR’s executive director as the shelter’s manager, Rory Merrick, struggled in a game of tug-of-war with Hemi.

Hemi, rescued from a high-profile dog abandonment case in Richford last month by, among others, volunteers from FCAR, is one of four dogs housed at the animal shelter. The others, a brother-sister pair of Australian Shepard mixes and a beagle mix named Pepper, max out FCAR’s space for dogs.

Despite the traditional struggles facing rural animal rescues – tight resources, a widespread service area, a large population of strays, etc. – FCAR has sought to expand the services it can provide the greater Franklin County community.

Those services have to be somewhat flexible, according to Frederick, as the rescue’s tight resources mean the physical expansion of capacity is difficult. The result has been a networking tour led by the chair of FCAR’s board of directors, Kevin Briggs, as well as an expansion of the rescue’s fostering program to dogs and a new “humane education” outreach program in the works.

The Messenger will cover Briggs’s networking tour and educational program in later issues.

Limited space is nothing new to FCAR or to Franklin County’s network of animal control officers, specialists and anyone else who works with the county’s pet population. Recently, animal control officers have expressed difficulty in finding capacity for the population of stray animals they pick up around the county. While there is space for cats – FCAR in particular has been able to make room through an active cat fostering program – dogs have been another story altogether.

As recently as Dec. 17, St. Albans Town’s and Georgia’s animal control officer David McWilliams implored the St. Albans Town selectboard to meet with FCAR leadership about the town’s population of strays that, according to McWilliams, was becoming increasingly difficult to accommodate.

According to McWilliams, the issue was a countywide one, something Frederick confirmed.

“A lot of animal control officers are struggling to find places to keep dogs until they’re available for adoption,” Frederick said. “Even then, most of the time we don’t have room available for all of the animals that they find.”

A renewed fostering program for dogs hasn’t been as immediately successful as its counterpart for cats, Frederick said, as dog fostering requires certain guarantees from the fostering household that can be hard for some to meet.

“Dogs need more space, and we have to be really particular about the home life and how they’re able to care for the animals,” Frederick said. Foster parents need to be able to provide food, ample time to exercise the dog and proof that other animals in the fostering household are safe – that their vaccinations are current and they can live with another dog.

Fostering parents would also need to have access to transportation to FCAR so the dog can attend its regularly scheduled check-ups provided by FCAR.

Since FCAR began accepting dogs again, Merrick, the shelter’s manager, and Frederick estimated somewhere between 50 and 60 dogs had been adopted through the rescue.

The shelter has an active waitlist for both cats and dogs. Offhand, Merrick said there were two cats on the waitlist, but four or five dogs waiting to be admitted to the shelter.

She and Frederick estimated that it takes roughly two or three weeks for a dog to be adopted and a slot to open.

During the summer, the waitlist for cats can expand to 50 cats, though the rescue’s fostering program can usually make enough room for new cats.

The County’s Animal Shelter

FCAR, backed into a section of St. Albans City just ahead of the city-town line, services a largely rural county of more than 600 square miles. While the rescue is accessible to the county’s largest population centers in St. Albans and Swanton, more distant areas like Richford and Montgomery are harder to reach.

“We serve a huge area,” Frederick said. “We don’t have the resources right now to attend to every case, especially in rural areas, which is one of the things we’d really like to change.”

One of the avenues the rescue is looking to take is a networking-like approach, according to Frederick. A deeper network of volunteers who care for animals could help cover some of the holes in Franklin County, she said.

The previously mentioned abandonment case in Richford provides an example of what FCAR’s network might look like. A Richford native on FCAR’s board of directors replied to a call for help from Richford’s animal control officer and, after mustering a few volunteers from the area, was able to help remove a trio of pit bulls abandoned in an apartment without power and heating.

Those three pit bulls, including Hemi, are now housed in animal shelters around the state, receiving medical treatment for wounds incurred when they were abandoned.

Hemi is currently the only one of the three pit bulls healthy enough for adoption.

Countywide networking could take other shapes as well, Frederick suggested.

“I would love to find ride-sharing to get your animals back and forth to the vet,” she said. “Things that could make it easier for people to access our services.”

FCAR is planning an education program as well.

A part of that includes a several-week long partnership with Missisquoi Valley Union High School that still needs to be ironed out, according to FCAR’s operations manager Alyssa Fairbanks, who’s coordinating that partnership.

Fairbanks also has presentations for younger classes, educating students on how to be responsible pet owners and on what FCAR provides as Franklin County’s animal shelter.

The best possible solution – an expansion of FCAR’s facilities – is off the table, however. Resources are tight for FCAR, which previously had to shut its doors because of significant financial trouble. While FCAR’s recovered from those financial troubles and is stable again, it’s still hard for animal rescues to raise the needed funds.

“The facility to be able to handle those here would be amazing,” Merrick said. “We’d love to help all the dogs in all of those cases, but we just don’t have the proper facility to handle them right now. The foster program will be a start, but it won’t solve everything.”

In the meantime, there’s always room for residents of Franklin County to pitch in at the animal rescue, Frederick said.

“There are always ways to help,” Frederick said. “The biggest one is to donate. If they want to volunteer or foster, they can sign up on our website or give us a call.”

The number to reach FCAR is (802) 524-9650. They can also be reached on their website, and via email at info@fcarpets.org.

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Rescuing FCAR: Animal shelter thriving