The Conway Animal Shelter is an immaculate facility on the western border of the city, and over the last 15 years, has seen a number of improvements, from the building itself to the level of services offered. 

For 15 years, Director Shona Osborne has worked to first and foremost keep the animals healthy in a top-notch facility, but beyond that, has implemented programs for outreach and volunteerism to bring awareness to the center. 

Osborne says the upgrades and addition of kennels, new chain link and cinder block walls, ceiling fans throughout and a mobile adoption unit has increased the quality of life for dogs and cats in care of the city. 

“We have worked to do all the things necessary to keep animals healthy,” she says. 

Osborne explained the city shelter is a partner with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and acts as a “source shelter” for a relocation program managed by the organization. 

“Southern shelters typically have more animals than homes, so we are able to transport to a ‘receiving shelter,’ typically in the northern part of the United States where, if you can wrap your mind around this, there are more homes than animals.”

ASPCA source shelters must be inspected and approved, and there are not many throughout the country, Osborne says. Every two weeks, dogs are transported to a receiving shelter. 

“It’s a lengthy process,” she explains. “It is time consuming, but the pluses by far outweigh the negatives.”

Dogs transported are usually adopted out of the receiving shelter in 42-72 hours after arrival. All the animals and potential adoptive families are vetted before placement.

All of that vetting on the animal’s behalf is done at the Conway shelter. Any dog over 6 months old, in addition to extensive health screenings, is behavioral tested to determine the general social ability of the dog. 

Every two weeks, anywhere from five to 22 dogs are transported from the shelter.

“People locally get first choice of our dogs, but they have to be a viable applicant,” Osborne says. “That’s always what we do for the community. 

“I also want to make clear that the dogs left behind here are not bad dogs, but the ones who move have to be sound dogs. I mean, we’re asking a lot of these dogs and we have to feel like they can handle travel, staying overnight in a place they’re not familiar with. …”

Although this process is placing dogs in loving homes all over the country, the Conway shelter does not necessarily benefit monetarily. 

“Knowing these animals are going to a home, and we know it won’t be long before they [are placed], is worth it,” Osborne says. 

However, because the Conway shelter is part of the program, the facility is eligible for grants. In 2017, the center received $40,000 for improvements for the asphalt pad in the rear of the building and for a drain system. Other money was earmarked for kennels.

Osborne says the Conway shelter receives fewer animals each year, primarily she believes because of a 2011 state law requiring any animal up for adoption must be spayed or neutered. 

“We don’t spay or neuter for the public, but after five days, the animal becomes ‘city owned’ and is put on a surgery schedule,” she explains. “These animals we adopt out has a direct impact of total numbers [coming back into the shelter]. That’s the best explanation I have.”

Osborne also points to strategic “marketing” of the shelter pets to speed the adoption process, and again, bring awareness to the shelter. Friends of the Conway Animal Shelter raises funds and resources to help care for shelter pets as well, helping pay specifically for heartworm treatments.

Osborne uses the internet and social media to tell the stories of available pets as well. Petfinder.com, AdoptAPet.com, RescueMe.org and Conwayanimalwelfare.org are the main online resources Osborne uses. On Facebook, www.facebook.com/conwayanimalwelfare and www.facebook.com/focasconway also are great places to meet the animals available and read their stories — which Osborne spends hours writing. 

“I go the extra mile for the animals,” she says. “We have a lot going on behind the scenes to help these dogs and cats [get adopted].”

PetSmart and Petco stores in Conway allow space for cats needing adoption because space at the city shelter is limited for felines. Osborne says that relationship aids in the adoption

process locally.  

Osborne says the Conway shelter is committed to making sure the animals have the best opportunities. Adoption rates are above the national average of 25 percent and well below the 65 percent national rate of euthanization.

Part of the success of the shelter also can be attributed to a robust volunteer program that requires an hour and a half class for people wanting to help walk dogs, play with cats, etc. The shelter will take the class to schools and other organizations wanting to rally people to help. 

“I cannot stress enough how important volunteering is,” Osborne says. “Even if someone is only here once a week for 30 minutes, that’s going to make a difference in that animal’s life.”

Outreach programs are also available for schools, nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the city.

To Adopt:

Visit the Conway Animal Shelter (4550 US-64, Conway, AR 72034) and look at animals. You’ll find the names, breeds and other information on kennel cards.

Fill out a one-page application.

Applicants are vetted by shelter staff to make sure placement is beneficial for the family and the animal, only then are decisions are made on first come, first served basis.

Once the animal is available, the shelter will contact the chosen applicant. Families (including current pets in the home) are invited to come and visit their potential new pet for a meet and greet. 

The adoption fee is $50 and $60 for residents of Conway and includes:

• Required city tags (City of Conway)

• Microchip

• Complete vaccinations

• Spay or neuter complete