If it has fur and four legs, it has probably captured Courtney Belcher’s heart.
The animal and nutritional sciences major at West Virginia University has devoted her education – and her soon-to-be career – to nurturing these companion pets, which she hopes will help make a difference in the state of animal welfare in the area.
She will join more than 2,600 other graduates on Dec. 20 in Morgantown as she walks across the stage to receive her diploma.
“I’ve always loved pets,” Belcher, of Princeton, W.Va., said. “My grandma would adopt all the strays in the neighborhood and nurse hurt ones back to health. She has always been an animal-lover, and I think that made an impression on me at a young age.”
Following her grandmother’s lead, any creature that meowed, woofed or chirped in the neighborhood took up temporary housing in Belcher’s childhood home.
Belcher’s affinity for animals peaked when she decided to complete her high school senior project on “puppy mills,” commercial dog breeding facilities focused on profits.
“It really opened my eyes to the dangers that animals face,” she said. “That gave me an inside look at what happens and brought a whole new passion for animals. I wanted to do everything I could to be an advocate for them and help spread awareness.”
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That sparked something inside her. To fight back against this cruelty to animals, Belcher enrolled at WVU to learn more about how she could make a difference. While at the University, Belcher’s love grew from cats and dogs to horses, sheep, cows and more.
And instead of simply loving these four-legged friends, she devoted all her spare time to caring for them.
During her undergraduate career, she participated in an internship at Best Friends Animal Society in Utah for a summer where she was able to help educate others in animal welfare and care. And for the last two years, she has worked at Woofs, a pet food and supply store, where she is able to help pet owners choose the most nutritional food options most suitable for their dogs or cats.
Click here to read about Rashad Bates, another WVU student graduating Dec. 20.
“Working hands on with helping a pet get the right food or making sure they received adequate medical care has shaped me as a person,” she said. “It’s necessary to care for these individuals who don’t have a voice – but they have needs, too.”
Her crowning achievement, though, has been her work with WVU PAWS (Pets Are Worth Saving), where she is president. The group works with animal rescues and other fundraisers to help area animals. The group has raised thousands of dollars to help local pets in need and has spent even more hours volunteering their time.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to see these pets’ lives improved – or even saved – in some cases,” she said. “That’s what makes me tick. That’s why I’m doing this. It’s something I need to do.”
Click here to read about Alicia Lauderman, another WVU student graduating Dec. 20.
Upon graduation, Belcher hopes to carry this compassion with her to a large city working as an adoption coordinator or human educator with her white toy poodle, Bonnie, in tow.
“If I can help others help animals for the rest of my life, that would make me happy,” she said. “If I can be a catalyst to help pets, that’s all I need.”
By Candace Nelson
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