There’s no place like a forever home for animals at Asheville Humane Society

Senior dog Cassie watches from her featured adoptable dog condo.

Olivia Kane

Senior dog Cassie watches from her featured adoptable dog condo.

Olivia Kane, [email protected], Contributer

Hips shaking in an arthritic fashion, Cassie slowly takes her seat next to her purple Daffy Duck bed, watching the eyes  observing her from the other side of the glass. Creasing their eyebrows in a pitying gesture, a few tap the glass and subtly coo “what a good girl.” Cassie watches silently, approving  the attention with a soft, slow swish of her tail. Cassie, a senior dog, waits for her forever home. 

Cassie, the featured adoptable dog of the day, is one out of hundreds of animals waiting for homes at the Asheville Humane Society. Unlike Cassie, many of the other dogs make their existence known loud and clear the moment a car pulls into the parking lot. A chorus of barks and howls echo from the buildings, reverberating off the next door concrete structure.

While the Humane Society stands warm, wooden and welcoming, just a mere 15 feet away, the Buncombe County Animal Shelter sits gray, cold and concrete, paling in comparison. Despite the stark contrast, the shelter and humane society work in tandem to save lives. Whether lost, homeless, or surrendered, the journey to finding a forever home starts here. 

The shelter, designed like a puzzle with interconnecting hallways and layers of doors, houses the stray welcome center. The tan walls, lined with in-wall enclosures full of cats and kittens, reflect the meows and scratches of the residents welcoming a woman with blue and copper glasses. Donor Relations Director Laila Johnston, though less than a year in her position at the rescue, fits in as if she has been there since  the beginning. 

Johnston, walking past the wall cages and the outside dog runs, cheerily greets each animal along her path. The interjecting meows and barks are not the only accompaniment to Johnston’s footsteps as she makes her way through the maze of hallways. Volunteers tackle mountains of dirty towels and blankets, the whirl and rumble of industrial sized washing machines shakes the floor just outside the laundry room. Dozens of red trash cans overflow with blankets and beds freshly washed and folded. Medical supplies are organized in a clinic room and phone lines ring at the front desk. 

“It’s not the quietest place in Asheville,” Johnston laughs, gesturing to the chorus around her. 

Ensuring the safety of all involved, every animal gets their own space outfitted with comfortable blankets and beds, simulating a home environment

“We try to find as many foster homes as possible. as proud as we are of all this,”. “Some people don’t understand why some dogs get grouchy and barky, but can you imagine living like this? Living next to a human and a human and a human.” 

Walking through the two row dog runs your ears ring with the cacophony of deep, loud barking. Most of the dogs in this section of the shelter are full grown, large and intimidating. While some bark excitedly and wag their tails as you pass, others lunge at the chain link gates snarling and baring their teeth. 

Johnston, passing members of their behavior rehabilitation team, proudly recounts the hard work of the director of behavior and training. Any animal that comes to the shelter is assessed by this team for aggression, anxieties, behavioral issues and what kind of  home would suit them best.  

“Ideally we’re looking for forever homes. Our director of that program, Pia Silvani, is internationally renowned for her work in this field,” Johnston said proudly. “She’s kind of a big deal and we’re very lucky to have her.”

To minimize stress and emulate a home-like environment as much as possible, the staff constantly maintain clean housing and fresh blankets and beds. Johnston explained that they also provide enrichment for the animals by finding new ways to feed them such as putting their meals in puzzle bowls or freezing their meals into popsicle-like shapes for the dogs to pull apart.  

Exiting the shelter into the greenway, the humane society is a short 15 feet away. Passing the side wall, a warm stream of air blows into the path from a vent. 

“They’re doing laundry,” said Communications Manager Garrison Stephens. 

“I know, I love that smell,” Johnston replied emphatically. 

Once at the back of humane society, the environment becomes much calmer and quieter. A few barks can be heard at the front but are muffled through the walls. 

Johnston, checking in on the adoption coordination team, whirls around at the crow of a rooster down the hall. 

“We are open admission, so we take everything, and I mean everything,” she laughs, explaining the humane society not only takes dogs and cats but pigs, cows, chickens, rabbits, lizards, you name it. 

“We even had an albino boa constrictor that was found at a gas station once,” she recounted, eyes widening in shared surprise. 

Just as in the shelter not a stone’s throw away, staff putter around the humane society each with their dedicated task in hand. People come in and out doors in every direction, some with animals in tow, others with supplies or paperwork. 

At last, Johnston arrives at the featured adoptable animal condos. The left houses a trio of elderly working cats – Ford, Hawk and Sporty, and 10-year-old Cassie. 

Some animals who do have success finding homes here relocate to shelters up north. 

“The North is about three decades ahead of the South in spay and neuter initiatives so they actually do not have enough adoptable animals,” Johnston said. “We partner with them and send cats and dogs up there.”

“There is a litter of three kittens in foster currently,” Stephens said. “They’re getting picked up by a vet tomorrow and heading to Maine for adoption. They have a better chance of being adopted up there.”

Behind the featured condos, the youngest adoptable residents cuddle in their spaces or prepare for meet-and-greets like 2-month-old Messoria. Messoria’s own meet-and-greet did not work out, but Johnston firmly believes it will not be long before he finds his forever home.

Now in its 38th year, the humane society has grown from its humble beginnings in a trailer and condemnable building. In March alone, over 500 animals have found their forever homes. 

“15 years ago, Asheville Humane was operating out of a single-wide trailer in Leicester before they raised the $4 million to build,” said Joelle Warren, founder of Mountain Pet Rescue, a partner with Asheville Humane Society. “It’s been a long climb to get here.”