Citizens for Humane Action — an animal shelter built by the community for the community

In 1975, Westerville, Ohio was a different place. Stray animal populations were swelling, and few organizations existed to address the issue.

Three residents felt compelled to take action where others had not. Their mission: To serve the people and animals of Central Ohio by providing safe, temporary shelter and care for abandoned or otherwise homeless cats and dogs, and to reduce pet overpopulation by means of spay and neuter, education and community outreach.

They named the small nonprofit they dreamed of Citizens for Humane Action (CHA). What began as a small, but passionate effort of few in a small farmhouse on a hill has grown into a thriving public service supported by more than 400 volunteers and 12 full-time staff members.

Growing with the community

While their mission remains, CHA’s focus has evolved.

“As we’ve grown, so have other local shelters,” Levi Webster, volunteer and event coordinator, said. “We’ve shifted from serving only our immediate community to helping other organizations in great need of help.”

Webster said nearly all of CHA’s cats now come from the greater Franklin County area, where a massive stray population still exists. And their dogs are often transfers from larger, overcrowded shelters and government-run facilities throughout central Ohio, as well as rural facilities without the resources to provide necessary care.

“Many of our dogs come to us because they are at-risk for euthanasia, they are ill, or have been in the system for a long time without finding a home,” Webster said. “We take them in, give them the proper vet care and help them find homes.”

But Webster adds that local animal rescue is not a competition.

“A lot of people look at things in terms of high- or low-kill shelters, which is outdated terminology,” Webster said. “We’re all in the same boat and work together to place animals and reduce overpopulation.”

A unique model of care

What sets CHA apart from other shelters is how they select their animals and care for them. CHA is a limited intake shelter, meaning they only accept an animal if they have adequate financing to provide the care the animal needs, and if the animal meets strict intake requirements.

“We’ve made a strong commitment to our community, and the animals we let people take home are our responsibility,” Webster said. “Safety is our top priority.”

The dogs and cats CHA accepts must be behaviorally sound, with no history or signs of aggressive tendencies. And while they are equipped to treat most veterinary health conditions, including parvo and heartworm, they cannot care for animals with terminal illnesses.

But they don’t just give up on animals that do not meet their requirements.

“We provide counseling to people who need to surrender an animal,” Webster said. “Every situation is unique, but we try to educate people and connect them with community resources, whether it’s a different shelter with more capacity, a breed-specific rescue or a veterinarian or trainer who can help.”

Webster said this model gives CHA an advantage over other shelters because they can provide their animals with very individualized care.

“We don’t have uniform standards of care for every animal,” Webster said. “For example, if an animal has severe anxiety or a health condition like heartworm, we have the luxury of being able to dedicate time and resources to help the animal recuperate. Many shelters aren’t able to provide that level of attention.”

Served by those they serve

Community has always played a central role in CHA’s existence, but none more prominent than in its funding and operations.

CHA’s fundraising committee works around the clock planning events and establishing sponsorship relationships, and the shelter is fully reliant on the donations it receives from the community members and organizations who believe in its cause. Any small profits made from adoptions are reinvested in the shelter.

But Webster said the shelter’s greatest asset, and need, is its volunteers.

“Without our volunteers, we wouldn’t be here,” Webster said. “Our full-time staff keep the lights on, but our volunteers take care of everything else, from walking dogs to veterinary care and landscaping.”

Anyone 18 years or older can volunteer, and those 14 to 18 years old can volunteer if accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Sign up for a CHA volunteer orientation session by filling out their volunteer questionnaire.

“Working with our volunteers is the best part of my job,” Webster said. “Our volunteers are here out of the kindness of their hearts, because they love the animals and our mission.” – Natalie Leber

For more information about CHA and the animals they have available for adoption, visit CHAAnimalShelter.org or check out their Facebook page.

Photo: Taken at the CHA Animal Shelter.

Natalie is a Columbus, Ohio native and a Strategic Communications graduate of The Ohio State University (Go Bucks!). Her full-time job as a Senior Communications Specialist pays her bills, while photography, music, friends and animals fuel her passion. Natalie also volunteers at Citizens for Humane Action, an animal shelter in Westerville, Ohio and enjoys spoiling her two fur babies, Derby and Frank.