A Van Buren woman is looking to gain community support to open an area animal shelter for dog rescues.

Rebecca Kaszubowski hopes to garner support from Van Buren residents and the surrounding community for a shelter to rescue and adopt homeless dogs.

Kaszubowski will host the second of two community forums on Thursday, Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Van Buren Public Library. The first meeting was held this past Thursday at Heritage United Methodist Church.

The purpose of the forum is to discuss issues that would face efforts to open a shelter and seek volunteers to help with its construction and operations, Kaszubowski said.

“We’re not going to be solving problems at that point, we’re just trying to get some people behind this,” Kaszubowski said.

Kaszubowski has been participating in animal rescue solutions for several years, she said. She spent four years as a volunteer at the Charleston Animal Shelter, rescued animals after Hurricane Katrina with Arkansans for Animals, is one of the seven founding members of the River Valley Animal Welfare Coalition and helped bring about Kitties and Kanines spay and neuter clinic in Fort Smith.

Kaszubowski was motivated to try to organize a shelter and rescue in Crawford County after several residents contacted her about the closure of Shana’s Last Chance Dog Rescue.

Shana Garner operated the rescue for about 25 years until it was closed last month after protection agencies seized 51 dogs on a voluntary basis. If Garner is able to get the rescue sanitized and free of parasites, she plans to reopen.

“When you have one individual - no matter how passionate - any time that responsibility falls on one individual, they will get overrun, they will get overextended,” Kaszubowski said.

Community support for such an effort is extremely important for a volunteer operated shelter, Kaszubowski said. Community participation allows a shelter to be sustainable, she said.

“If you can build a community because of supporters, not just physical volunteers but also financial, if any one person has to step away then someone can step in and you still have that solid foundation,” Kaszubowski said.

Kaszubowski pointed to the Charleston Animal Shelter as an example of such an endeavor. Charleston’s policies were similar to those of Van Buren, she said, but residents came together to organize a rescue whose mission is to prevent animal deaths.

Van Buren police pick up stray dogs and hold them for at least five days to allow an owner to claim the animal, but the city is not allowed to adopt out animals, said Officer Steve Gunter with Van Buren Police Department code enforcement.

“We can not adopt dogs out of our facility, that is state law,” Gunter said. “We can not adopt unless they are spayed or neutered, and vaccinated.”

After the five days is up, if no one has claimed the dog, the next action is at the discretion of the city, Gunter said.

“We have a contract with the Sebastian County Humane Society, but right now they are not taking many dogs,” Gunter said. “We will hold dogs until we are full and have no room.”

“That’s when we might have to euthanize a dog, and it’s awful,” Gunter continued. “We do the best that we can to get dogs over to the Human Society to find homes, but when they can’t take them either, that leaves us with nothing.”

Kaszubowski plans also include a partnership with the City of Van Buren. The city’s current facility could be restructured to accommodate the needs of a shelter and rescue, she said.

For Kaszubowski, it’s about more than just a shelter - it’s about changing the perception of individuals and changing “animal control” to “animal welfare,” she said.

“It’s about promoting policies and procedures that improve the lives of animals,” Kaszubowski said.

Kaszubowski can be contacted at rlkaszubowski@aol.com.