A home for homeless cats

TORRINGTON – At the very end of 11th Avenue sits the Waggin’ Tails Shelter, a temporary home for animals still looking for their forever homes.

In May of this year, Animal Control began a project to get Torrington’s feral cat population under control. Many residents had complained about the smell, feces and other problems the cats caused. The City of Torrington granted $75,000 to the shelter to build a cattery for the anticipated [masses] of feral cats that would be coming into the shelter. The cattery would also keep them separate from other house cats as feral cats are more likely to start fights and to be more territorial.

Right now, the cattery is still a work in progress. The foundation is set and the walls have started going up, but there’s still a long way to go with insulation, water lines and other features still needing installation. It’s roughly 500 square feet and will have a separate entrance for bringing in the feral cats, avoiding any potential mishaps by bringing them all the way through the main building.

Animal Control Officer Teri Shinost is the only full-time worker at the shelter, and she’s already put in hours of her own time in leading this project and still plans to put in more.

“I think our trusses are due to come in after the first of November,” she told the Telegram, standing in the incomplete shelter as the early morning sun shines down. “Once it gets enclosed and shingled, then it will be me that goes through and puts all the insulation in and all the fixtures.”

Doing the labor herself means it’s difficult for Shinost to say when the shelter will be complete. Even as she shows the construction going on and pictures of what the shelter looked like when she first started there in 1989, pet owners are calling in asking for vaccination records and she’s directing shelter volunteers in their work to feed the animals and clean their cages.

“It’s a good thing I never throw anything away,” she said, pulling out a basket with neatly organized vaccination records from three years ago.

In 1989, the Waggin’ Tails Shelter was little more than a brick shack and a chain link fence. All the dogs were grouped together next to the building under one worn down roof, fenced in on three sides. No cages or fences to keep potentially aggressive dogs away from other dogs were in place. There were few other resources available for Shinost to use in providing for the animals.

Now, the shelter features an exam room, an isolation room for animals needing space away from other animals and humans, outdoor and indoor kennels for dogs, a functioning office for Shinost to work in and other permanent features making life easier for the humans and animals at Waggin’ Tails.  Donations from generous community members and Shinost’s “thrifty” tendencies have made all these improvements possible.

“I just spend what little bit of money I get as effectively as I can,” she said. “The more work I can do myself, the further my money goes.”

In Shinost’s office, she has a 3-D diagram of the shelter and another one of the new cattery, which gave her the ability to move the new building around on paper before she made the final decision of where to build it. Small windows have been cut out of the engineering paper and shelves have been labeled and measured in the diagram. The diagram, which Shinost made over Christmas vacation one year, shows the effort and time Shinost has put into just the planning of this project.

As of Shinost’s conversation with the Telegram, Waggin’ Tails only has five dogs available for adoption. Two of them have families lined up for potential adoptions and one of them will be going to another rescue. Shelter volunteers have moved all the dogs into the outdoor kennels to make room for the incoming cats. With the influx in cats and kittens in the shelter due to the feral cat program, cat cages have temporarily occupied the indoor dog kennels and the examination room.

The feral cats are available for adoption only as barn cats once they have been spayed or neutered and vaccinated. Experts generally consider feral cats impossible to socialize given their extreme aversion to human contact. Shinost has done everything she can to ensure volunteers and veterinarians never need to come in contact with a conscious feral cat in case the cat should become aggressive.

Shinost has been at the shelter for 32 years. While she is a full-time employee of the Torrington Police Department as its only Animal Control Officer, she’s donated countless hours of her own time over those years out of a deep-rooted love for her job and the animals she cares for.

“I don’t know, I love my job,” she said. “Yeah, I love what I do. And somebody’s got to be there for the animals...I don’t know how to explain it. I really don’t.”

Waggin’ Tails is a no-kill shelter, meaning less than 10% of their animals face euthanasia and only in extreme circumstances. Aggressive animals posing a threat to humans or other animals are put down, as well as animals with health issues too serious for treatment through the shelter. Volunteers and foster families give everything they can to help these animals before ever considering euthanasia.

The feral cat program has affected the shelter’s numbers this year because of the unvaccinated cats and kittens that come in sick. Intake numbers will also be higher this year because of the feral and free roaming cat program. Since May, Shinost has brought in approximately 175 feral and free roaming cats and kittens.

“This is no quality of life for them,” Shinost said, pointing to two feral cats who had tucked themselves into the very back of their cages. “They have never known anything like this. So, the best we do is we bring them in, take their pictures, post them on our Facebook page, say ‘Hey, if you’re missing a cat, we have it.’”

If no one comes forward to claim the cat, the cat is put up for adoption as a barn cat where it’s less likely to encounter humans and can happily live chasing mice as a service to its owner.

The Waggin’ Tails Shelter is always open to donations through its GoFundMe page and cash or check at the shelter or through the mail. The shelter’s mailing address is 436 E 22nd Ave., Torrington, WY 82240. To see Waggin’ Tails’s pets available for adoption, go to petfinder.com or visit the shelter at 980 E 11th Avenue.


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