As temperatures drop around central Ohio, the Licking County Humane Society is working to ensure no pets — and no humans — go cold this winter. 

The humane society, located on Thornwood Drive in Heath, doesn’t just help dogs and cats get adopted. They provide free and low-cost veterinary clinics to unsheltered people in Licking County, teach dogs how to paint, and thanks to a generous donation, can now provide sleeping bags for humans and their dogs while they’re staying outside. 

“Like our motto says, we’re more than just a shelter,” said Kelley Smith, the society’s program and communications director. 

Part of the goal, Smith said, was keeping unhoused individuals with their pets, many of which serve as a lifeline and a companion for people living in challenging, lonely circumstances. 

“We really want to try and keep pets and their people together,” Smith explained. “The sacrifices they will make for [their pets] would just break your heart.” 

This December, the Humane Society was able to distribute 30 human sleeping bags and another 20 pet sleeping bags, along with 20 pet coats and sweaters to keep dogs and cats warm. 

And the program, Smith said, is not a one-time thing: as donations come in, the shelter will be able to provide more sleeping bags for people and pets who need them.

Part of the problem, Smith said, is that some of the available resources for unsheltered people in Licking County don’t allow for them to keep their dogs with them. 

“A person may be in a situation where they could finally rent something, but they won’t because of a rental stipulation [that doesn’t allow their dog],” she said. “And they will not go to a warming shelter even if they need to if they can’t bring their pet in.” 

But in the winter months, where temperatures regularly drop below freezing in Licking County, staying outside can be dangerous. The sleeping bags, Smith said, are just the first step in keeping people with their pets this winter. 

“We also have partnered with Licking County Transit where they are going to allow people to bring their pets on Licking County Transit for rides to warming centers this winter,” Smith said. “So we just got them stocked with kennels, leashes, and blankets for the dog so that they can ride safely and comfortably.” 

Smith is proud of the extensions and excited for even more improvements in the future. Licking County Humane Society has expanded its services, trying to reach into the human and pet communities that need their help the most. 

Earlier this year, the shelter launched the Bright Spots Clinic, available once per month at the Salvation Army in Newark. The program provides professional veterinary services — microchipping, vaccinations and health consultations — for unsheltered individuals.

The shelter continues to grow in Licking County, adding more resources like a pet food pantry, an attached medical facility and new office space as needs change. 

But as they grow, the organization remains committed to finding dogs and cats forever homes. 

In the building, one of the walls is decorated with paintings created by adoptable dogs and cats at the humane society. Each is labeled with a name. 

“Some of these dogs are still here,” Smith said during a December tour of the facility, pointing. “Chicken Salad and BLT.”

“[One of our animal caregivers] took a canvas, put paint on it, wrapped that in saran wrap, and then smeared peanut butter over the top,” Smith said with a laugh. “And so the dogs were just having the grandest time rubbing this peanut butter with their snout and lucky enough they created these works of art.”

Chicken Salad and BLT, members of the “sandwich dogs,” were brought to the humane society earlier this year with a large group of dogs as part of a high-profile rescue. In all, the society rescued 14 dogs and 7 cats from a small house — all severely emaciated. All but three of them have since been adopted into forever homes. 

The Licking County Humane Society is the temporary home to rescued or surrendered dogs and cats, and strives to find “forever homes” for each and every one of them. 

In the last year, the humane society has helped place 1,600 cats and dogs in “forever homes,” offered spay/neuter clinics and a wellness clinic. 

A peak in adoptions is coming soon however in the form of the holiday season. Every year, families flock to adoption centers, hoping to get an adorable puppy just in time for Christmas. Puppies are needy though, and Smith has her own opinion. 

“Everyone thinks that a puppy will be the perfect gift for Christmas,” she said. “And if you’ve never had a puppy, it is, in my humble opinion, not an ideal gift when you’re already busy with a lot of other things.” 

Instead, she urges the adoption of older dogs. These dogs can be introduced to new environments much easier, though are often less likely to get adopted.

Anna Jones writes for, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s Journalism program, which is sponsored in part by the Mellon Foundation and donations from readers. Sign up for The Reporting Project newsletter here.