This is the slow time of year at the Virginia Miller Animal Shelter, the no-kill animal shelter on east US-40 highway that currently is home to five dogs, nine cats, five newborn kittens and, until last week, a rabbit named Cookie.

“We have some open spaces right now,” said shelter manager Betty Hansen with Humane Society of the High Plains. “In March the cat litters will start coming in and we’ll be very busy.”

On Wednesday morning, part-time employees Christian Burd and Albert Kraus were cleaning out the animal stalls, a job they do every morning. The shelter opens later in the afternoon for anyone wishing to adopt or bring in a lost or abandoned pet.

Indy, short for Indiana Jones, a 6-month-old black kitten with white paws, was underfoot in the lobby on Wednesday, while his sister, Percy, napped nearby on the top tier of a tall cat tower.

“These guys had been found at the dump,” Hansen said of the kittens. “We thought they deserved something better. They were just 8 weeks old.”

The duo is now part of the four-member cat squad kept by the staff as permanent residents at the shelter. Trainees, Hansen said, they replace 16-year-old Mattie, a large, fat orange cat who died in September. They join Isis and Kimba, 10-year-old brother and sister.

Staff are on site seven days a week, with the shelter open to the public six days a week, from 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The shelter is closed on Mondays.

Helping keep the doors open are the many fundraisers the Humane Society hosts throughout the year. The biggest one is the Soup ‘R Bowl, coming up from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday at the Unrein and Schenk buildings at the Ellis County Fairgrounds. Proceeds cover 25% of the shelter's budget, paying the medical needs of the 1,250 animals sheltered each year, Hansen said.

Now in its 23rd year, Soup 'R Bowl is always the weekend before the Super Bowl. Last year, the fundraiser drew about 700 people, Hansen said. Attendees pay $7 to sample more than a dozen homemade soups and get one cupful of soup, then vote for their favorites. The winning chef takes home the golden ladle.

“Every year it gets bigger,” Hansen said. “A lot of people come out to socialize, have some soup and see their friends.”

The next fundraiser is in May. A golf tournament, it’s the first one ever for the shelter. Another first was Paws & Pints last fall at Defiance Brewing Co., with stations for making dog toys and taking portrait photos, bandanas for each dog, socialization and beer.

“It went really well,” Hansen said. “We had a lot of people come out. We’ll do that again.”

The 12-member board of directors for the shelter is working on new fundraising ideas, she said.

About 97% of the animals rescued by the shelter are dogs and cats, but there is the occasional bird or rabbit. Cookie was discovered in the shelter doorway one morning.

“Somebody left her, she was entirely domesticated,” Hansen said. “She was very skinny. When she came in she looked like she’d had some babies.”

She was also very loving, Hansen said, indicating she’d had a family.

Hansen has worked at the shelter for more than two decades in one capacity or another. Burd, a philosophy major at Fort Hays State University, has worked there for more than six years. On Wednesday he had just finished cleaning out the room housing the mama cat and her babies.

“They just opened their eyes about four days ago,” he said.

Burd hopes to continue working at the shelter even after he finishes school.

“You get sucked in,” he said.

“This place kind of pulls you in,” Hansen agreed. “I’ve been here 25 years.”

“Once you’re in the business,” Burd started, and Hansen finished, “It’s hard to walk away.”

“This is like my second home,” Burd said.

In the front office, Jessica Fried printed out a list of the chefs signed up for Sunday’s Soup ‘R Bowl: David Spade, Platinum Group; Desiree’ Ruth, Sunflower Bank; Jennifer Hemphill, Next-Tech Wireless; Greg Sanders, Post Rock Pet Boarding; Carissa Kotschwar, PopT; Wendy Williams, Sizewise; Wes Rathbun, 8th Street Liquor; Laurel Klaus, Bank of Hays; Kathy Casper, Insurance Planning; Doug and Cathy Pfannenstiel, Auto World; Dustin and Jessica Moffitt, Prospectively Healthy; Car Zone; and Mark Meier, Hays Veterinary Hospital.

Tickets are $8 at the door or $7 in advance at Cerv’s; Petsense, 2508 Vine; Barkley Suites, 2202 Vine; Fur is Flying, 700 E. 8th; Big Creek Veterinary Services, 2807 US-183 Bypass; Hillside Veterinary Clinic, 5250 Vine; and the Humane Society, 2050 E. US-40 Highway.