Shining Star: Barbara Scanlon

“Come hell or high water, there was going to be an animal shelter.”

In 1977, Barbara Scanlon helped found Marshall County’s first animal shelter. Today, the facility can hold dozens of dogs and an inestimable number of cats. There are outdoor spaces for dogs when the weather is warm and a cat room where visitors can spend time with cats up for adoption.

It seems idyllic, but it didn’t start out that way. 40 years ago, Barbara and three other women approached the Marshall County sheriff, unhappy with how stray animals were being euthanized. When they left, one of those women, the late Sally Lehasky, was the newly appointed dog warden. As such, it became the group’s job to collect stray dogs and hold them for an upcoming rabies clinic.

“We weren’t very well-liked, because of what we were doing,” Barbara said. “We had no training at all.”

Lehasky’s home became a de facto shelter, with a hodgepodge of dog houses in her backyard.

Barbara and her sister, Priscilla Oelschlager, along with Lehasky and her sister, the late Sylvia ‘Sissy’ Bell, began fundraising for the first Marshall County Humane Society. They got their start at the Marshall County Home Show, where Barbara says they “shamed people” into giving them donations.

She says it’s far easier to raise funds once an organization has been established.

“When you’re poor, like we were here, it’s just so hard to get support because people look at you and think ‘I don’t want to give them money. They might not be doing this in a month.’ Once you start making things better and better then people start to give you recognition.”

Lehasky’s home wasn’t suitable to keep dogs throughout winter, so the women approached the county commissioners, who agreed to move the animals into the steer barn at the county fairgrounds. The foursome dealt with flooding, lack of heating, escaped puppies and other mishaps at that site.

The next location was a tiny shelter barely big enough to hold a few dogs. The Northern Regional Jail eventually took over that facility, and then it was on to a barn in Benwood.

“Once we got started there was no stopping us,” Barbara said.

After the modern shelter was established just off U.S. 250 in Moundsville, Barbara and her colleagues started dreaming bigger. When a locally-based charity, the Evan G. Roberts Foundation, asked what they could do to help, they said they needed to build a spay-neuter clinic to offer low-cost services to the community. They were given a $98,000 grant, but still, it wasn’t enough for what they needed.

Then, they received a call from Richard and Sharon Dlesk. The couple offered a substantial donation: $50,000 for three years, with just one caveat. The Dlesks wanted the clinic to be named after their dog, Tiffany, who they adopted from the shelter years earlier.

“That little dog changed our lives,” Barbara said.

The Tiffany Dlesk Spay/Neuter Clinic was established as the shelter continued to grow and improve, and the rest is history. The shelter has benefitted from countless sponsors, many of whom have their names engraved on bricks at the clinic’s porch or on a wall inside the lobby.

Barbara has a wealth of stories about her adventures and mishaps throughout her work with the animal shelter and humane society. While jumping in to help an employee who was attacked by a dog, Barbara suffered several bites to her legs and arms.

“You’re put to the test. It’s not your average job,” she said.

She also played a role in helping Wetzel County establish an animal shelter, aiding in a lawsuit that forced the county commission to provide one.

Barbara was also involved when the Marshall County Humane Society started a program to provide humane education to local schoolchildren. For their efforts, they received the first national Humane Education Award from the Humane Society of the United States.

“If I had worked at anything as hard as this, we’d be a very wealthy family,” Barbara said, only half-joking. “But I’ve met so very many wonderful people.”

Though Barbara says she doesn’t spend too much time at the shelter these days, the long-time shelter worker who nominated her as a Shining Star begs to differ.

“Seven days a week, seven times a day,” said Janie Husek. “None of this would have happened without Barb.”

Today, volunteers are always needed, not only for help at the shelter and clinic, but also with fundraisers, which include an upcoming wine tasting. They’re also trying to keep growing. Barbara and Janie want to develop a consignment store to bring in funds for the shelter year-round.

“I feel truly blessed,” Barbara said. “I feel like this is what I was put on the earth for. I feel so fortunate to look back and say we did this.”

For information on the Marshall County Animal Shelter and upcoming fundraisers, visit their website or Facebook page.

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