Would-be pets are among the victims of decline in the coalfields of southern West Virginia, but one community in Mingo County has managed to spearhead a rescue effort that's off to a remarkable start.
Gilbert Happy Tails, to host its first "Fur Ball" fundraiser this month in Gilbert, West Virginia, has already received support from across the eastern U.S., and more than 140 guests are registered to attend the event, which is no small feat in a town of 500 residents.
Rescuer and organizer Victoria Surber says the rugged region along the Kentucky border has been beset by a number of issues that have led to a pet-abandonment issue, which can be reversed.
"We send many of these rescues north to states like New York and Michigan where there are laws in place that have reversed these over-population problems, " Surber says.
"They're willing to come south to pick up the rescues because they don't have the problems we do."
Surber says a lack of laws and enforcement is being compounded by income problems, "though there is help out there to provide spaying and neutering at no cost."
Formerly one of the state's most productive coal-mining regions, mining employment has declined dramatically in recent decades, and while tourism has helped create some new jobs, it has hardly interrupted the cycle of economic decline.
Many area residents acquire pets but don't have the means to care for them, Surber says. She has recently helped rescue 75 and arrange transport for as many as 30.
The Town of Gilbert recently agreed to provide Gilbert Happy Tails a shelter facility that will serve as an alternative to the small Mingo County animal pound, and the organization is applying for non-profit tax status.
The formal ball will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. February 15 in the upstairs ballroom at the Larry Joe Harless Community Center in Gilbert. Tickets are $30 for individuals and $50 for couples. "I support Gilbert Happy Tails" t-shirts will also be available at $10 a piece for those who attend.
For more information or to contribute, follow the Facebook page Gilbert Happy Tails or email email@example.com.