NC shelter is using innovative new programs to comfort shelter pets

Ophelia, a staff favorite, is available for adoption
Ophelia, a staff favorite, is available for adoption

North Carolina is known for their high-kill animal shelters. Unwanted dogs and cats are constantly being surrendered with the hope of a new home where they’ll be loved for years to come. Unfortunately, there are too few good homes to go around and rescues in the state are too full to take on even one more animal in need.

Columbus County Animal Control, located in Whiteville, had the reputation of being one of the worst shelters in the state until Joey Prince took control in September 2015 when he replaced Rossie Hayes. Joey and his staff and volunteers are quickly making their shelter a role model with innovative new programs being put in place designed to help the dogs and cats in their care to find a forever home, as well as make their stay at the shelter as comfortable as possible.

When a lost or unwanted pet enters the shelter system, it’s a strange and harsh environment for an animal accustomed to the love of what should have been a forever home. Sometimes the stress caused while in the shelter ends with a dog or cat becoming ill or exhibiting bad behavior.

Columbus MP3 Project


In November 2015, a generous grant was received from the Rescue Animal MP3 Project that will make shelter life more bearable for the dogs and cats in their care. Headed by Dr. Pamela Fisher, the Rescue Animal MP3 Project is headquartered in North Canton, Ohio. The MP3 provides such additional titles as Canine Lullabies, Mozart for Dogs, Music Cats Love and Songs to Make Dogs Happy.

Columbus staff in training
Columbus staff receives training in pet photography

Great photography of shelter pets is key in finding a new home for an unwanted dog or cat. The Shelter Art Foundation has been instrumental in the success of several shelters by teaching shelter staff how to take quality pictures of their animals for posting online and providing equipment to these shelters for improving the photographs of their animals.

Nicole Del Castillo held a seminar in March where she trained shelter employees on photography equipment provided free of charge to CCAS for their use in photographing shelter animals. Training included positioning the animals to get the best shot, lighting techniques and digital photo editing.

Prince knows the value of social networking shelter pets, stating

“Most people today view the animals online before they come to the shelter. The first impressions people get of our animals are usually these pictures, so improving the quality of these pictures is a great help in finding these animals homes. We currently post our animals on over 20 animal-related online sites, so better pictures has been an important goal.”

The Columbus County Animal Shelter is teaming up to premiere the “Animal Reading Buddies” program. Studies have shown that reading to cats and dogs helps to bring comfort to and reduce the anxiety of shelter pets, and it has been shown to nurture empathy in children. Children in grades 1-6 will be encouraged to come to the Animal Shelter and read books from either Heroes Comic Store or one of the 7 branches of the Columbus County Library. This program will run from August 8 through September 30 and will be offered on Mondays and Thursdays from 3-5 p.m.

Participants sit outside of a dog’s kennel and read to them. They will be furnished with treats to give the shy animals to help reinforce the animal’s interest. The top 20 readers who read the most hours to the dogs will receive a $10 gift certificate to Heroes Comic Store, located at 90 Whiteville Town Center behind Taco Bell and next to Food Lion.

One parent is required to attend the training and must accompany the child every time they come to read. Closed-toed, rubber-soled shoes are required to protect the feet and give better traction when walking through the animal wings. Prince is excited about the reading program

“Programs such as these have been very successful for helping shy dogs and cats across the country. We are really looking forward to the increase in the socialization of our furry friends.”

These are just a few of the improvements taking place at the Whiteville shelter. Discounted rabies vaccines, special adoption events and community involvement fundraisers have done much to set Columbus County Animal Control on the path to becoming a model shelter. While no shelter can boast as being “perfect,” CCAC should be commended for putting innovative ideas into practice.

The shelter is located at 288 Legion Drive in Whiteveille and is open Monday through Friday from 12 p.m. til 4 p.m.. For the rest of the year the shelter will also be open from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m. the first Saturday of each month. If you have questions, the shelter can be reached by phone at 910-641-3945.

Please feel free to email me with positive animal stories at or PM me on Facebook at Elisa Black-Taylor, Writer and Photographer.

Elisa Taylor

Elisa's articles have helped save thousands of the shelter pets she writes about, along with animal welfare and cruelty case articles which are published on as well as her personal website at (National Cat Reporter). Elisa lives with her daughter and a multitude of cats (including one cat­-dog named Cujo). As a writing "addict" Elisa enjoys sharing interesting stories with other animal lovers.


  1. mongibello says:

    Yes, cats get a raw deal on the photo issue. They are also more difficult to photograph especially in a shelter environment which will have made them nervous and distressed.

  2. Vicki Keehner says:

    I to have noticed blurry, indistinguishable photos of the cats. This is really not fair for these beautiful animals, and I have seen comments about people asking for better pictures! If the dogs are getting perfect pictures, why not the cats. It seems there is a bias against the cats and kittens which is really outrageous!

  3. Sarah Lais says:

    Looks like the cats could use some better photos!!

    1. Elisa Taylor says:

      I wonder whether a professional photographer in the area would be able to donate some time at the shelter to photograph the cats. It would be a win-win situation. The photographer could put their “mark” on the photos, thus drumming up some business, and the cats would have better photos. It’s not enough to just stick a camera in and take the photo.

      I love the ideas being used to calm the cats. Let’s get some good photography for the cats added to the mix!

  4. Penny Ashenhurst says:

    The cats DO NOT get their pictures taken with any of the equipment donated as part of the photography “improvements” and never have.. .. to the extent that I have had to arrange for a notepad device to be bought for the shelter employee who takes cat photos to enable her to have better photos of them! Was bought only last week due to ongoing frustrations due to lack of, or poor quality cat photos .

    1. Elisa Taylor says:

      I’m concerned about the cats as well. I went back through several of the dogs albums and many, many of their photos are beautiful, whether made against a white backdrop or in an outdoor setting. I’ve been after Joey for months to get better photos of the cats. I hope he will because shelter cats get a bum deal anywhere you look. Once there are some good shelter cat photos I’ll be able to do shelter bio articles for my personal website. We need to stress adoption, as most cat rescues are full. Beautiful photos of adoptable cats would go a LONG way in finding them a home.

      Please tell the shelter employee I’ll be checking in on the cat album and I can do a bit of editing with PhotoScape to make the cat photos more attractive. Perhaps lining one large cage with a blue or white towel and photographing them. If Greenville can photograph 1000 a month+ animals I feel sure Whiteville could do their cats.

      1. Penny Ashenhurst says:

        We have a local lady who can take good pics, she was involved in setting this up.. but she is rarely able to timewise and we cannot wait days for a pic of a cat , is not sensible

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