TORRINGTON – Over the past couple of decades, what started as a small, outdated dog pound has become a refuge for animals that need a second chance at finding a home. Waggin’ Tails Shelter offers lost animals a safe place to wait for their owners to reclaim them and offers abandoned animals a chance to get healthy while awaiting adoption.
Getting Waggin’ Tails to where it is today has been a huge group effort, with major contributions from supportive community members, the city, the police department and the ambition of one woman in particular striving to provide what is in the best interest of the animals.
“This has my blood and sweat in it because I helped put it all together,” Animal Control Officer Teri Shinost said. “I’ve always tried to be fiscally responsible with the money I’ve been given. I helped glue all the wallboard on. I did all the painting. I put the cabinetry in. I sealed the floors.”
Shinost started working for the Torrington Police Department in 1985 but did not serve in her current position until 1989.
Shinost said she began as the department’s meter maid, chalking tires, when downtown Torrington used to have a two-hour parking limit.
“My secondary job, being a community service officer, was to fill in for the animal control officer,” she said.
Sometime between 1986 and 1987, Shinost said, the city decided to no longer limit parking downtown.
“Fortunately for me, we had a dispatcher leave at about that same time,” she said. Shinost moved from meter maid to full-time dispatcher.
In 1988, Shinost had her daughter. When she went back to work, Shinost concluded that her current schedule (two graveyard shifts, two swing shifts and a day shift) did not work well with caring for an infant, so she decided to leave her position.
In 1989, when the previous animal control officer left the organization, Shinost took on that role.
When she started, the Waggin’ Tails Shelter was in its current location, on East 11th Avenue. Shinost said there were four individual cages in the back and one fenced area in the front.
“I only had five ways to separate dogs,” she said. In addition, there was a small utility room, with a farm hydrant and food storage.
Shinost said in 1996, “because of Bob Asbury, we got approval from the city to construct a new building.” Shinost said Asbury was a Farmers Insurance agent at the time and a huge advocate for the shelter.
With the city paying half the expenses, Shinost said the other half was raised through sponsors, events and donations.
The city built a 20-foot by 30-foot building and the shelter took occupancy in 1997.
“So that’s all I had. A 20-foot by 30-foot building with six indoor/outdoor kennels, four indoor only and a small food room,” Shinost said. The shelter now had its own water heater, bathroom and more room for dog food storage. This portion of the building is still being used for dogs.
To the west of the existing structure, an office was built with the same dimensions. Shinost said this was in 2002, after receiving money from an estate.
Shinost said the Bear Creek Veterinary Clinic closed in 2013. She considered moving the shelter to that location, to be more accessible to the public, but did not have the funds for it.
Though she couldn’t move buildings, Shinost was able to purchase their exam table, tub and single-use supplies.
In 2014, the Shinost had room for 10 large dogs, and several wire kennels for small dogs or puppies, and felt the need to expand again.
“I spent Christmas vacation trying to plan and draw up what I felt we needed to do,” she said. The most important features of a new space, for Shinost, included being able to separate small dogs and puppies from large dogs, to reduce the risk for spreading parvovirus.
Shinost constructed a plan to add more space – an examination room (to care for an vaccinate animals), a small animal room, a cat room and an isolation room.
As the facility has expanded, Shinost said she is now able to offer more care to the animals. Shinost has learned to treat and vaccinate animals, to cut veterinary costs.
This plan ended up adding 30-foot by 56-foot to the current facility. The new space also provided more storage, a handicap accessible bathroom and a place for a washer and dryer. Before this addition, volunteers would take home pet bedding to wash it.
The original east side of Waggin’ Tails needed some repairs in 2016, according to Shinost. The doors and concrete were replaced. The chain link fence was replaced with sturdier kennels and space was added to the storage room, which now houses a fridge, bathroom and any supplies the dogs might need.
“Everything I have is from the community,” Shinost said. “Everything you see here, except for the concrete and two doors on that building, have been donations, memorials and estates from over 21 years.”
Shinost said the shelter is always accepting donations. A local woman crochets blankets to send home with cat adoptions. Another woman makes blankets to put on dog beds. Community members have donated nearly all the cages and kennels. Shinost said their current need, besides monetary donations, is cleaning supplies, like paper towels and disinfecting wipes.
Students from Eastern Wyoming College help the shelter with treatments, radiology, vaccinations, spaying and neutering animals as part of a class, according to Shinost. This saves the shelter money and provides valuable hands-on learning for the students.
“This is not a facility or an organization that can be ran by one person,” said Shinost. Waggin’ Tails depends on volunteers that take care of animals seven days per week, since Shinost has other duties with animal control and being a communications officer.
Having an animal shelter overseen by the police department is a situation unique to Torrington, according to Shinost. Volunteers feed, water and turn out animals consistently every week.
The number of animals at Waggin’ Tails varies throughout the week, and Shinost said she does everything she can to not have a maximum capacity. At the shelter, Shinost has seen turtles, rabbits, birds, hamsters, chickens and goats, but she mostly cares for cats and dogs.
These animals are picked up as strays or surrendered by owners who feel they can no longer care for their pets. Shinost said the veterinary clinic has also reached out to her about pets scheduled to be euthanized due to behavior. Shinost said has evaluated some of these animals and been able to place them in new homes.
Animals picked up as strays can be reclaimed by their owners in ten days according to Shinost. The shelter posts on social media to get the word out about strays.
Adoption fees vary, based on the animal. Potential adopters must go through an application process, because Shinost’s priority is the welfare of the animals.
Animal rescues in Cheyenne and Denver routinely pick up Waggin’ Tails animals, to place them in foster homes.
“Once my animals leave, they belong to those organizations,” Shinost said. When an animal is given to a rescue, the money to spay, neuter, microchip and vaccinate comes from Waggin’ Tails. Shinost said it is not an ideal situation, but she would rather have the pets in a person’s home than in the shelter.
“It’s tough, but it’s also all about the animals,” she said.
Shinost hopes to soon add an additional space to the facility, specifically for feral cats. Having a separate area for these animals is important in order to maintain the safety of volunteers and other animals, because they are typically unvaccinated and difficult to handle.