For 16 animals at the West Volusia Humane Society, Saturday was their lucky day, as West Volusia residents and families visited the shelter to participate in the national Clear the Shelters adoption event.
Dozens of other animals, however, will have to wait a bit longer to find forever homes. Tray Black, director of the shelter, hopes that, with the community’s support, those prospective pets won’t have to wait too much longer.
Black, a DeLand native and former animal-cruelty investigator, has headed up the shelter since last summer, in a move that took his career full-circle.
“When I was 18, this was where I started,” he said.
A lifelong animal lover, Black volunteered as a teenager at the WVHS, cleaning kennels and doing other work. When he learned last year that the shelter was looking for a new executive director, he jumped on the opportunity.
“It’s the only career I’ve been in, and I’ve worked every aspect of it,” he said. “I’ve cleaned kennels; I’ve done vet-teching; I’ve done investigations … and now I’m back where I started.”
Located off Grand Avenue, just west of DeLand and on the north side of the Volusia County landfill, the West Volusia Humane Society is a little off the beaten path. The shelter — which dubs itself “The Little Shelter With a Big Heart” — has been around since 1955.
“I’ve known this shelter my entire life. When I was a little kid, my parents would bring me out here,” Black said.
With space for about 40 cats, 22 dogs and a small number of livestock animals, the no-kill shelter tends to stay pretty full, he said.
“They’re coming in faster than we’re getting them out right now,” Black said, standing with a Beacon reporter in the cat-adoption room. “We’re in the heart of kitten season.”
Several of the shelter’s more vocal residents didn’t hesitate to interject during the interview.
While most of the 20-plus cages housed single adult cats, a few were home to litters of adoptable kittens. The shelter also has a separate room currently used for cats with special needs, including illnesses.
Many of the animals at the shelter were surrendered by their owners for various reasons. Other animals come from local cities’ animal-control departments.
Sometimes, the shelter takes litters of docile kittens from residents participating in trap-neuter-release programs, in the hope that the cats can be adopted out rather than returned to a colony.
The West Volusia Humane Society pales in size compared to other Volusia County shelters, such as Halifax Humane Society in Daytona Beach, which can house 350 animals each day.
Another key difference between the shelters and some of its peers is the West Volusia Humane Society’s strict no-kill nature.
While the policy, along with the shelter’s small size, restricts its ability to accept animals, Black said the WVHS has taken in about 600 animals so far this year, mostly cats, and has adopted out nearly all of them.
The original 1955 shelter building is still standing on the Humane Society’s property, but it’s currently not operational. Shelter staff are in the process of refurbishing it, in hope of increasing capacity.
“My goal is, within a year, to have the place back up to full operation again,” Black said. “For one, it’ll open us up a lot more kennels, so we can bring in more animals.”
The shelter is currently operated by four full-time staff members, not including Black, and one part-timer, along with a healthy corps of volunteers.
“They come and they get all of the dogs out of the kennels for us,” he said. “They help us bathe dogs. I have one volunteer that comes in at 8 a.m. when we get here, and she’ll help us clean the cat cages and everything.”
Among the staffers is Celine Bengochea, a veterinary technician.
“I like it here,” she said. “I like animals, and I like the fast pace of it.”
Black said the shelter is always looking for more hands, and more people who can foster animals.
The shelter is also in the process of rebranding itself. The group’s board has approved a new name — still secret, for now, Black said — and the shelter is currently going through the legal motions to adopt its new name.
“Because we’re West Volusia Humane Society, some people think we’re funded by Volusia County, but we’re not,” he said. “It’s just donations, and adoption fees. What we get in is what we get in. We get no state or government money, whatsoever.”
Black hopes to reveal the shelter’s new moniker by the end of the year.