Leader of the Pack

Meet Stephanie Howell, the new executive director of Little Victories Animal Rescue, who has quickly learned that it takes a village to care for the homeless dogs and cats in our region.

By Katherine Pyles

The reason Stephanie Howell took on the role of executive director of Little Victories Animal Rescue, a no-kill animal shelter for dogs and cats, is simple. It’s the same reason she loved her childhood growing up in Huntington and the reason she moved back here 13 years ago to raise her children: “Huntington has heart.”

“Huntington is a caring community,” Howell said. “When people in this area see a need, they work to meet it. Animal rescue takes a village — and we have a great village.”

Howell graduated from Eastern Kentucky University, then lived in Lexington, Louisville and Cincinnati before returning with her children to the place she’s always called home. Prior to being named executive director at Little Victories, the only no-kill animal shelter in southern West Virginia, the former advertising executive served as the parent partner at Huntington East Middle School, where in addition to promoting parent involvement at the school she began a food and clothing pantry for students in need.

Much like the community that raised her, Howell’s goal when she sees a need is to do whatever she can to meet it. “It’s just in me to want to help,” she said. So, when she saw the need for someone to take the reins at Little Victories, she jumped in feet first.

“Helping others is a passion of mine,” she said. “And to go home every day knowing you made a difference, what’s more rewarding than that?”

Of course, Howell’s job doesn’t come without its challenges. The numbers are staggering — nationally, 7.6 million animals enter a shelter every year. Only 2.7 million are adopted, and another 2.7 million are euthanized. The rest remain in shelters, waiting for a home. At Little Victories, an average of 79 calls come in each week asking to surrender animals. Because of limited space and resources, many of those requests are turned down.

“We’re dedicated to saving lives,” Howell said, noting that in 2017 Little Victories took in 156 cats and dogs. “We take sick animals. We take unwanted animals. We take animals who’ve been beaten. Each one receives one-on-one attention, is fully vetted and is spayed or neutered. We really get to know our animals, and our goal is always to rehabilitate them and get them ready for their forever homes.”

However, of the 62 dogs currently at Little Victories, 22 are sanctuary dogs, unadoptable for various reasons. Thus, supporting Little Victories means not only aiding in the rehabilitation and adoption of hundreds of pets each year — 216 cats and dogs were adopted from Little Victories in 2017 — but also helping to provide animals who have no other options with a safe, caring home for the rest of their lives — a true sanctuary.

Howell said one of her first initiatives as executive director is providing new homes for the sanctuary dogs. Their insulated cottages are deteriorating, and 10 new cottages are needed. In addition to fundraising needs of $2,100 per cottage, volunteers are needed to help build the structures. But the supporters and staff of Little Victories are up for the challenge, she said.

“Our staff and volunteers are the best,” Howell said. “People often don’t realize that we operate entirely on donations and grants, and it costs $1,000 a day to maintain the farm. That means our staff and volunteers have to be creative. They fix lawn mowers and washing machines. They paint railings and man the phones. And on top of all of that, they have a huge love for animals. On their breaks, our staff will go and sit with an animal — not because they have to, but because they want to. They’ll go over to an animal who’s been abused and just sit with it, until it’s time to get back to work.”

Another priority of Howell’s is educating children and adults about the care of animals and the responsibility of having a pet.

“One of the hardest parts of my job is the lack of responsible pet owners,” she said. “It’s unbelievably hard seeing animals who’ve been allowed to suffer. We need to educate from the bottom up: teaching kids about compassion for animals, how to be safe around animals and how to be responsible pet owners; teaching college students that a pet is a major commitment that requires time, effort and money; teaching adults how to take care of their pets and keep them healthy. We need to teach everyone the importance of spaying and neutering and work to change the spay and neuter laws in our state. Ultimately, that’s what’s going to save the most lives.”

In addition to boosting Little Victories’ humane education and advocacy efforts, Howell said she hopes to grow the organization’s volunteer base, adding to the dedicated volunteers from throughout the region. There’s Don Mega, who brings dog biscuits every Monday, Wednesday and Friday — “like clockwork,” Howell said — to give to each dog. There are families who walk dogs together and cat lovers who spend hours at a time in “the cat house,” a literal three-bedroom, two-bathroom house where adoptable cats are free to roam and explore. There are handymen who show up anytime something needs repaired, volunteers who keep the grass mowed and animal lovers across the Tri-State who meet needs both large and small.

“I’ll post on Facebook that we need more newspapers, and by the end of the day my porch will be completely full,” Howell said. “These aren’t even from people who’d call themselves animal lovers. They might not even have pets of their own. They just want to help. Our support is not just from Huntington — it comes from all over the country, literally — but what we get from the Tri-State is something very special.”

To learn more about the work of Little Victories, including upcoming fundraising events and how to get involved, visit www.littlevictories.org.


KATHERINE PYLES is a freelance writer and editor living in Huntington.


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