CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Chelsea Staley's A-frame house in Clendenin is overflowing with primitive art, scented candles, wedding pictures and black rubber Kongs.
Dog lovers know Kong rubber pet toys as one of the most foolproof ways to keep your canine from chewing through household items. Chelsea holds up one and grins. "You know how these are supposed to be indestructible?" she asks. "Yeah, well, my babies have destroyed them."
The Staley "babies" are the 10 dogs living with Chelsea and her husband, Mark. The Staleys settled on 20 acres after they married in 2010; at the time they had two dogs.
They now have a family of six permanent dogs and four rescues.
It was never in the plan to live with a pack, but then again Chelsea is the co-founder of Dog Bless, a rescue advocacy group dedicated to saving dogs. The purpose of Dog Bless is to provide alternatives to euthanasia of shelter animals.
Early in their marriage, the Staleys committed to adopting a puppy together, but the dog turned out to be very ill, infected with parvovirus. "He never even made it home," Chelsea said.
The puppy's death was a heartbreak that turned into a mission.
When Mark got a call from the shelter director encouraging him to get another dog, Chelsea was incensed. "I said, you call her back and tell her I want to be on the board at the shelter. I am not going to let this happen to other people."
Chelsea's motto is "Be the change you want to see." Any time she felt the urge to criticize the shelter, she channeled that energy into an opportunity to do something positive.
She realized that most dogs would never be adopted from the Kanawha/Charleston Humane Association's shelter without the benefit of photographs and social media marketing. The shelter had a Facebook profile, but no page to showcase the animals for adoption.
Her message to the shelter: "If these dogs don't have photos, they don't exist to the world."
Chelsea said 6,400 animals were put to sleep last year at the Charleston shelter. She believes it's too easy for these animals to be forgotten when they aren't seen, and she knows some people will never go to the shelter but want to adopt a dog. Newspaper ads help keep shelter pets in the public's mind, but online sharing spreads the word farther and faster. By law, the shelter must keep a dog for five days, but if an animal is sick or space is tight, they may be euthanized on day six.
Chelsea volunteered to take photos once or twice a week, and persuaded the shelter to let her create a Facebook page. Slowly things started to change, she said.
For a year, Chelsea faithfully put dogs' pictures online; then one day, the shelter board members had a meeting and made a decision that surprised her: They wanted to be rescue-friendly.
"Prior to this decision, people would want to rescue dogs and be told no, or the shelter would be so damn hard to deal with that the dogs had no chance. The euthanasia rate was 77 percent and they get about 1,000 animals a month. Do the math," she said.
In April, Kathy McClung (one of those "crazy, passionate dog people," Chelsea says) came to a public meeting about the new focus on rescue. McClung challenged Chelsea, asking why she didn't take photos every day, and why pictures of the dogs were never taken outdoors. Chelsea turned her "be the change" philosophy back on McClung, pointing out that she could do more if she had help.