tubbyBy Jennie Acklin

Courtney Valent decided to start EARS just a little over two years ago. One of her favorite sayings is, “Somebody should do something about that.” Then she realized she is that “somebody.”

Valent was involved for many years in another animal shelter in Cattaraugus County and decided that she needed to do more. So with the help of many good friends, including Tawnee Bocharski, and many volunteers, she founded Empire Animal Rescue Society (EARS).

EARS is a registered non-for-profit organization that utilizes a local network of foster homes for all of the animals brought to EARS. Only a few “holding” cages are on-site in Salamanca. These are used primarily for isolation until a vet appointment can be made and a foster home arranged.

“Dogs and cats that are brought in are usually very frightened,” said Valent. “Keeping them in an isolated cage only makes that situation worse. Instead, our philosophy is to get the pet socialized in a family environment right away. It also allows us to fully assess the compatibility, so that I can say for certain if a dog is good with children, for example, or if a cat gets along with other cats, dogs or other family pets.”

Finding a network of foster homes is no small task, but it has worked well so far. Currently, there are approximately 60 dogs available for adoption, and over 400 adoptable and feral cats ready for adoption and placement into homes.

“Animals just seem to find me, “said Valent, with a smile and a laugh.

Whether it’s a stray, a drop-off, a cruelty case or individual circumstance, she is always helping animals in need.

EARS is also in contact with a Kentucky shelter and frequently organizes transports for those animals to foster homes here in Cattaraugus County.

“It’s an amazing system that we’ve organized,” said Valent. “It is a completely volunteer network of one-hour driving shifts to get the dogs or cats here, whenever needed.”

Animal cruelty is another large part of her day-to-day function at EARS. She receives an endless stream of phone calls and emails alerting her to cruelty cases.

A positive step towards ending cruelty cases is the recent hiring of a full-time animal cruelty investigator for Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties. Ray Muniz, a former sheriff, will now be working with EARS and other local animal shelters. People can call (716) 665-2209, ext. 204, and leave a voice mail message to report animal cruelty. Muniz can also be reached via email at cruelty@spcapets.com.

Education is the other part of ending cruelty, and eliminating the abandonment of family pets.

“These are family members — part of our daily lives,” said Valent.

As a full-time teacher in Salamanca, both Valent and Tawnee Bocharski, another dedicated EARS volunteer, take the opportunity to educate their young students about making a commitment to their family pets and animals in general.

“They need us to care for them — it is our responsibility to be a community,” are messages they repeat often.

EARS maintains a very active Facebook page and a website where you can find recent posts of available pets, items needed, or volunteers being called to action at www.facebook.com/EmpireAnimalRescue or www.adoptapet.com/adoption_rescue/80987.html.

If you are interested in adopting one of the animals on their website or Facebook page, you must first email courtneyvalent@hotmail.com to obtain an adoption application. Then a meet-and-greet appointment is made with the foster family. The donation fees for adoption vary depending on the pet. Valent reminds everyone that pet care and vet bills are expensive, and that the family must be ready to take on the financial and emotional responsibility.

EARS relies completely on donations as it is not publically funded by anyone or any county, state or federal agency. The biggest expense is vet bills. Two local veterinarians—Dr. Tim O’Leary in Little Valley and Dr. John Inkley in Randolph — work closely with Valent and her group of foster families. All animals are given a vet checkup before being placed with a foster family. This may include spay/neuter, all age appropriate vaccines, deworming and flea control.

Several adoption and fundraising events are scheduled throughout the year and include a booth during Ellicottville’s Fall Festival in October and Rock N’ Oldies in September, as well as the Pet Expo in Hamburg in November. Many other events are in the works with information posted on their Facebook page.

The current wish list at EARS includes gas cards (for volunteers taking pets to vet appointments), cat litter, a washer and dryer, a utility trailer to travel to EARS adoption events, and eventually a full-size rescue center. Volunteers are always needed to do laundry and to serve as drivers.

Valent hopes to have a humane educator someday, as well as a grant writer. If you can help with any of these needs, please email EARS at courtneyvalent@hotmail.com.

“Unwanted pets can become loving family members,” said Valent. “Please spay and neuter your pets.”