Community Profile

The Avery Humane Society: Improving the Quality of Life for Animals and People

By LouAnn Morehouse

It’s hard to believe now, but until fairly recently, it was a rare event for veterinarians to spay or neuter the family pet. Apart from being a relatively expensive procedure, the prevailing attitude of the time seems to have been that dogs and cats would be…dogs and cats…and it was just nature taking its course to have lots of puppies and kittens around. Nature kept at it, and the unwanted offspring often wound up as strays, and one way or another ended up euthanized by animal control. In fact, “putting down” cats and dogs was almost commonplace. While some people saw that as a tragedy, the fact of the matter was that the principal reason counties supported animal control services was to eliminate unwanted animals. Although it was a public service that took care of a pressing problem, animal shelters were sad, desperate places to go to, and if your dog or cat went missing, chances were they would be euthanized at the animal shelter in short order.

Things are much different now, thank goodness. According to recent research, a sea change in the American consciousness got started about forty years ago, when there was a “decline in shelter intake and euthanasia from 1970 onwards, despite the doubling of pet dog and cat populations.” Researchers say it was largely due to increased levels of pet dog and cat sterilization as low-cost spay/neuter programs became widespread. And along with that came changes in attitude towards pet ownership. Dogs and cats were valued more as companions, and responsible pet ownership, which meant keeping pets vaccinated, fed and sheltered appropriately, and neutered, became the norm.  

The first animal shelter in Avery County opened in 1978 out on Stamey Branch Road. It was a true community endeavor born of compassion; one family donated land for the facility and many others stepped forward to make it succeed. A few decades later, a kind-hearted summer resident saw the effort put forth by those caring folks, and decided she could help. She rallied the support of her friends and, with perseverance, patience, and a lot of fundraising, brought about the completion in 2012 of the Avery County Humane Society that now stands on New Vale Road in Newland.

It’s quite a place, the type of facility you might expect in a modern urban center. Executive director, Gwynne Dyer, says that she frequently hears praise about the shelter from folks who come to adopt animals. People who have never even been to Newland are impressed that the county has such a fine humane society. She says the Avery Humane Society draws animal lovers from a wide area, “Charlotte, Raleigh, Tennessee, and beyond,” who drive all the way to Avery County to adopt a pet. It’s something she feels Avery County can “be proud of and embrace.” 

The big, flaring roofline of the shelter houses a state-of-the-art ventilation system that performs the all-important role of keeping the risk of contagion to a bare minimum. That’s a serious problem at other shelters, where neglected animals often carry disease that can infect other rescued cats and dogs, sometimes causing a total shut down. At Avery, which is a “no-kill” shelter, up to 95 cats and dogs have spacious, clean accommodations while waiting to be adopted. Volunteers and staff are frequently seen inside the enclosures, playing with the animal residents. Shelter manager Charlene Calhoun says one of the perks of her job is that, “if you are having a bad day, you can always go pet a dog.”

The Humane Society fulfills all the needs of responsible pet ownership, from low-cost spay/neuter procedures to that most rewarding process, the placing of dogs, cats, and the occasional rabbit, with a companion person. Gwynne Dyer says the Avery shelter is proud of their high pet adoption rate, and that many placements are senior animals, which are not as easily re-homed. It should be noted, though, that they cannot guarantee they can take every dog or cat people bring to them. They want to, but if the shelter is full, they have to put the animals on a wait list until a space opens up. Fortunately, given their active adoption program, space becomes available pretty quickly.   

Where once the solution to lost pets and strays was a sad end at the hands of animal control, the clean, fed, vaccinated, neutered, and cared-for tenants of today’s animal shelter are a big step forward in how we as a society look after our beloved companion animals. It took the will and the effort of many people to make it happen, and—here’s the most important part—it still does. Restoring just one neglected animal to health costs approximately $400, and every dog or cat admitted to the shelter receives that level of care.

The Avery Humane Society is a non-profit organization that relies on donations to maintain operations. It does not receive state, municipal, or county funding. Although major donors made the new building possible, it needs community support and engagement to cover the annual cost of running and staffing the facility. 

“The shelter in Avery County is an amazing place,” says Jesse Pope, President of the Board. “We provide the animals and the community with much needed services. We have an incredible facility and very knowledgeable staff. We thank the individuals and organizations like the High Country Charitable Foundation who make the important work we do possible. Since all support comes from private individuals and limited private grants, the support we gain from this community is paramount to our success and sustainability. We are very appreciative of the support we receive from everyone who helps make it possible.”

The services offered by the Avery Humane Society make a big difference in the quality of life here. But there are costs, and people should know what it takes to make it work. The Avery Humane Society has lots of ways that you can help. Go visit them; don’t worry, it isn’t like the old days. Their website has good information. Or you can call or email them. It really IS something we can all be proud of and embrace.

Take a moment now to pet your dog or cat…

The Avery Humane Society is located at 279 New Vale Road, Newland NC 28657.  828-733-9265

Notice from the Avery Humane Society regarding Covid-19: Access for the general public to the building may continue to be limited. Please visit for the latest updates.

Animals available for adoption may be viewed on the website. If you see one you would like to meet with and adopt, call the facility at 828-733-2333. Applications are also available at

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