They are everywhere you turn. Whether walking to class, enjoying a peaceful moment at Harding Plaza or cruising down Dave Ward Drive, we’ve all seen their sad, questioning eyes. They’re the stray animals of Conway, and they have no place to call home.
Actually, they have a place to call a temporary home. A dorm for animals, if you will. That’s where the safe haven known as the Conway Animal Welfare Unit comes in. The AWU, located on Highway 64 West, is one of the most active animal care organizations in the city.
This dedicated group picks up both homeless cats and dogs and accepts them from people who bring them in. The employees bathe, feed, groom and deworm them, then set them up for adoption in loving homes.
The AWU officers also act as animal police and do everything from taking care of barking disturbances in neighborhoods to removing pets from bad situations.
“The adoption prospect is the icing on the cake,” AWU nanager Shona Osborne said. “But we operate under the Conway Police Department, so we do have a mission. We pick up stray animals and care for the abandoned ones.”
From the moment you walk into the lobby of the AWU building, you can definitely get a sense of the group’s dedication to the animal kingdom. One wall is home to a large colorful aquarium and the other holds informative charts, including the decidedly creepy “Can you figure out what snakes are in your backyard?” poster.
There are live creatures – a baby ball python greets you as soon as you step through the door – and stuffed ones such as alligators and baby deer. The latter are used to decorate the wildlife scene in the front of the room, complete with waterfall, logs, flowers and stones.
The AWU works primarily with dogs and cats, but in the past it has been home to raccoons, skunks, opossums, pigs, alligators and sheep. As Conway continues to grow, many of these animals lose their homes because new neighborhoods and businesses disturb their habitats.
The shelter is currently holding 26 dogs and around 25 cats, so officials welcome anyone who simply wants to volunteer time with the animals and help them socialize. Osborne said many college students drop by the AWU for as little as 30 minutes a week and walk or play with the dogs.
Other sources in the city also help bear the burden of neglected animals.
“Petsmart helps us a lot,” Osborne said. “When we are crowded, they take some of our animals. All of the dogs and cats there are from us.”
The AWU encourages applicants for foster homes or adoption as well. Adoption fees for all animals are $20. Animals are usually kept for about two weeks, but sometimes they must be euthanized as a last resort.
The once-homeless cats and dogs can know what it’s like to be happy and cared for at the AWU, if only for a short time.
“Sadly, this place may be where they’re going to get the cleanest water, most food and have the cleanest environment in their lifespan,” Osborne said.
UCA students also do their part to support animal welfare. The campus has its share of cats walking around campus, but they’re not strays – they’re feral.
“These are wild cats that help control the rodent population,” UCA Humane Society faculty adviser Lisa Mongo said.
“Instead of inhumanely killing them, the UCA Humane Society was formed in 1999 to control the population, vaccinating and spaying/neutering so it remains small.”
The main purpose of the UCA Humane Society is to regulate the cat population, and the club sets up fundraisers for local rescue organizations.
Next time you see one of Conway’s lonely furry residents, consider making the trip to the AWU.
“If there’s one stray animal on the streets, that’s too much,” Osborne said.