There’s a lot that goes on at the Chatham-Kent Animal Shelter. Operated by Pet and Wildlife Rescue (P.A.W.R.), staff and volunteers are known for going above and beyond when it comes to animal care.
Myriam Armstrong is the operations manager for P.A.W.R., and says she started the rescue almost a decade ago.
How It All Began
“It started in 2014 out of my home. In 2015, it became a charitable organization and in 2016 I was awarded a municipal contract for two of the wards in Chatham-Kent and a year and a half later, we were awarded the rest of the county,” explains Myriam.
It was a combination of her past experience working with rescues and her love of working with animals that helped kickstart the organization.
“I’ve been involved with other rescue groups in the past. I just wanted to make sure that I did something strictly for Chatham-Kent and only for Chatham-Kent animals,” she explains. “I always wanted to work with animals so I built my rescue as a volunteer for the first few years while working full-time until I was able to get the contract.”
From running the rescue in her home to now operating out of the Chatham-Kent Animal Shelter, Myriam says the municipal contract includes the operation of the shelters in Chatham and Wallaceburg and also by-law enforcement for all of Chatham-Kent.
“It was a big change. We didn’t have a facility or offices at the beginning. I had never run a shelter before but I’ve brought on a lot of great employees to help build up the shelter and grow it into what it is today,” she says. “Everyone here loves animals, regardless of their position, which makes things a lot easier.”
The Human Side of Animal Control
Animal Control Officer Chris LeClair joined the team in 2019. He says that his day-to-day life really depends on how each day begins.
“We assist with morning cleanings to help give the animal care folks a head start. But that can change if the phone rings or if there’s an emergency or something that needs my attention, like any calls that come in for by-law violations,” Chris explains.
He says that sometimes there are misconceptions about animal control by-law officers.
“I work more with humans than animals. We’re out on the streets, working hand-in-hand with emergency services, police, and the fire department, assisting with search warrants–any time an animal is involved, we can be called out for anything. We’ve established a good relationship with other services in the community,” Chris explains.
Myriam’s role in overseeing the operation of the shelter can also change day-to-day.
“Every day is different. But generally, first thing in the morning everybody is helping to clean up every animal. We have about 250 animals in our care. Every cage, litter box, blanket–it all has to be cleaned. We try to get each animal some exercise as well. As soon as we open our doors at 10:00 am, we start to see animals come in. Just yesterday we had 22 stray cats brought in within an hour and a half,” Myriam says.
Her role as operations manager is a blend of working at a desk and working directly with the animals.
“My job has a lot to do with administration because I’m in charge of things like payroll, HR, taxes, accounting, bookkeeping, promotion, marketing, volunteer management, and inventory. I also like to get involved with everything to do with the animals as well. I help with the dog training and any kind of special cases we have coming in,” says Myriam.
The Wild Side of P.A.W.R.
While the “pet” side of P.A.W.R. deals with surrenders, adoptions, and by-law enforcement, the “wild” side operates a bit differently.
“A few days ago we had a fox come in that was hit on the side of the road. I have worked with wildlife before, so in that case, I stayed late to help take care of the fox and teach staff how to help it,” she explains.
Most of the animals in the shelter’s care are cats and dogs, but with Myriam’s experience with wildlife, there is no limit on the type of animal they can help.
“We’ll take whatever comes. There are two aspects of the organization. One aspect is the contract services which involves the operation of the shelter and providing by-law enforcement, and the other aspect is the rescue part. We always prioritize the contracted services first like taking in stray animals and surrenders when we can, but after that, we can go on wildlife calls which is all at our own cost,” she says.
“When officers aren’t busy, they’ll go out and pick up distempered raccoons, injured possums, and any other wildlife that needs help. We’ll work with any species. We built an addition behind the shelter to accommodate bigger animals. We’ve had a pony, pigs– we could have a cow at any moment,” Myriam explains.
Going Above & Beyond
With 250 animals in their care most of the time, Chris and Myriam say they’ve seen lots of situations, and they do everything they can to make sure the outcome is good.
“We’re lucky here because we have a team who goes above and beyond every day to save as many animals as possible. There are times when we’ve had sad situations, but that comes with the work we’re in. But most animals leave the shelter alive and well, thanks to adoption and transfers to other facilities. It’s quite incredible to see the extra work that staff take on solely for saving as many animals as possible,” says Chris.
One example involved a dog who was badly injured.
“We recently had a dog that needed a lot of help, but Myriam decided that she was going to seek out a placement for him and she ended up finding someone in Quebec City. Even though there were a lot of costs involved and some logistics in getting him to another province, Myriam figured it out,” Chris says.
He says situations like this happen often at the shelter. Myriam has even bottle-fed kittens at home.
“People don’t see this type of thing happening behind the scenes. The staff here go above and beyond on a daily basis,” he says.
For more complicated situations, staff have sent animals across the border to Michigan to receive treatment.
It Takes Teamwork
“We have a mix of staff and volunteers. We have 15 staff and 9 are full-time, and we manage the Wallaceburg location, we’re open 7 days a week, and we have someone in animal control available 24/7. The amount of work the team completes is kind of unreal, but what really works for us is that everyone does everything. We all clean every day, no matter what our position is, so that everyone is aware of what everyone else has to deal with. We also have some strong volunteers, about a dozen of them who are all great and each has their own skills,” explains Myriam.
As the shelter looks forward to 2023, they have a few goals they want to achieve.
“We will be building a vet clinic just for shelter animals next year. Our plan is to do fundraising just for that. It’s expensive but this means we will be able to save a lot of money and time by having our own clinic,” says Myriam.
With a lack of emergency services locally, Myriam hopes to address that in the future.
“My long-term goal is to grow it into a double clinic so one side is a low-income and emergency clinic open to the public and the other is just for the shelter.
All of this is possible thanks to the donations that come in from the public. For anyone who wants to help in other ways, Chris and Myriam say they’re always looking for more help.
“We are looking for more strong volunteers, especially with driving. We take hundreds of trips driving wildlife to different rehabilitation centers. Monetary donations are also very important. Our contract covers all of our overhead like utilities, payroll, and some of the supplies, but all of our vet costs are covered by donations. All donations that come in directly support the animals,” Myriam says.
North Kent Wind is honoured to support the Chatham-Kent Animal Shelter and grateful for all the work that Pet and Wildlife Rescue does in the community.