WOODSTOCK — Valerie Patton described an animal rescue as a “very dedicated group of individuals whose mission is to save and protect animals and to educate the community.”

That’s why Patton said she and her team started Sweet Souls Emporium & Animal Rescue in Woodstock after previously working for another local rescue. The rescue opened May 9, but the crew there just held a ribbon cutting with the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce last week. The group is working on being approved for nonprofit status.

“We were too passionate to give up doing this,” Patton said.

The rescue’s space at 301 W. Court St. houses some animals while they find homes for them, either through adoption or through fostering.

The process typically begins with a call or a message, Patton said. Sometimes it’s an emergency while other times the person on the other end of the line just isn’t sure what to do with their pet in a tricky situation.

“We spend a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to go about fixing the issue,” Patton said. “If it’s a pet, we do everything we can to help an animal owner keep their animal.”

The group’s first rescue was a duck stuck out at the Edinburg Mill with a bum leg.

More commonly, they’ll get calls about feral cats, Patton said.

Patton, who serves as president for the organization, said many times animals will need to be trapped and released. She said, though, that many community members don’t know how to do it properly or how to complete the whole process of actually removing the animal from the situation.

Patton and her team have experience with trapping and said they also rely on the help of local veterinarians and humane societies to fix each individual issue.

A rescued animal is then cared for at Sweet Souls while they work to find the best solution for the animal. Patton and her team typically take care of spaying and neutering animals through vets and work to make sure those who adopt or foster are also educated on the process, Patton said.

Some fees are associated with adopting while those who decide to foster will have all expenses related to the animal taken care of, including vet fees.

Before agreeing to adoptions or foster situations, Patton said individuals are thoroughly screened through vet references, personal references and home visits. Further check-ins and frequent updates are part of the process after that. Contracts are signed to ensure an animal is to be properly cared for. If they aren’t, Patton said they can take the animal back.

“We make sure it’s legit,” Patton said. “We don’t want any animals going to a bad situation.”

Their building, which also features vendor spaces to help cover operating costs, also has a food bank set up to help those in need of food for their animals.

“People don’t always know there is help out there,” Patton said. “We want to help educate the community.”

Once approved for nonprofit status, Patton said the group will pursue grants to help with costs associated with vet procedures as well as housing and other related expenses.

Patton said it costs roughly $400-500 per animal housed at the facility.

— Contact Matt Welch at mwelch@winchesterstar.com