County Humane Society optimistic about shelter
December 22, 2013 2:00 AM
by RANDY WELLS
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Comet, a Labrador-mix dog, holds an unenviable distinction. He lived nearly a year — much longer than is typical — at the Indiana County Humane Society shelter for abused and neglected animals before he was recently transferred to an animal care facility near Pittsburgh. There, within a few days, he was adopted into a new family.

Leaders of the local humane society chapter believe lengthy stays like Comet’s will become less common once the shelter is moved into its new home along Airport Road in White Township. The spacious, clean and well-lighted new building will be more inviting to people looking for a pet. And the animals should stay healthier and be more comfortable during their wait.

The new shelter, proposed in 2008 and under construction since 2012, is 85 percent complete and its occupancy is within reach. In fact, according to humane society board President Reed Booth-Fairman, the animal shelter could move into its new home if everyone who pledged a donation would simply follow through and deliver their contribution.

2013 is ending on a much more positive note than it began for the local humane society. In the spring, the society’s interim executive director and board president both resigned because of dissention with other board members and disagreements over how to respond to the shelter’s financial difficulties. The shelter was also in the news over a legal allegation that a veterinarian’s name had been forged to a neutering certificate.

“We’ve come a long way in a very short time,” said Booth-Fairman, who stepped up from her previous position as society treasurer to provide leadership for the shelter, drawing on nearly four decades of experience as the former executive director of Indiana County Head Start.

First of all, Booth-Fairman said, leaders of the society resisted suggestions in the spring that the shelter, now located in the bottom of a county-owned barn off Haven Drive, White Township, should close.

“We have operated nonstop, seven days a week,” she said.

The number of shelter employees has been trimmed from 16 to 10 part-timers and one full-time employee; the shelter is operating within its budget; the previous legal distractions have been resolved; for the first time in 13 years the shelter has a local veterinarian providing medical care for animals; and the shelter once again has a full nine-member board of directors — a “cohesive board,” Booth-Fairman said.

The society directors and shelter staff also have a good working relationship with Four Footed Friends, a “no-kill” animal shelter in White Township, and more of the animals from the humane society’s shelter are being transferred there and to other facilities rather than being euthanized.

The local society is also a grant partner with the recently opened Petco pet supply store in SouthTowne Plaza, White Township, and some of the shelter’s cats are on display for adoption each day at Petco.

Equally important, the humane society shelter’s financial situation is on the mend. In the spring the society owed $153,000 for construction work completed on the new shelter. The society has since secured a note through S&T Bank for $107,000 and has now cut the principal it owes to $79,000.

“We are actively reducing the principal,” Booth-Fairman said.

Inmates from State Correctional Institution Pine Grove this past week were painting the interior of the new shelter building.

“We hope we will be in soon,” Booth-Fairman said.

Approximately $1.4 million has been expended so far on the new shelter and the final cost is expected to be about $1.7 million. The society still needs about $150,000 to purchase and install dog kennels to complete the new building. Fortunately, according to Booth-Fairman, that amount of money is outstanding in pledges already made to the society.

Booth-Fairman said she’s heard that some people who pledged money for the new shelter were hesitant to send in their donation checks while the society struggled through the early part of this year. She’s hopeful that now that the society and shelter are operating smoothly again, the promised contributions will start arriving in the mail.

The shelter has operated since 1997 from the lower level of the 60-year-old county-owned barn.

“We very much appreciate the space donated by Indiana County,” Booth-Fairman said. “But this space was never intended to be an animal shelter.”

Scores of cats and dogs live and dozens of shelter volunteers and employees work in about 900 square feet of space in the barn.

The layout of the barn space is cramped and inconvenient. Office workers interviewing potential adopters struggle to be heard over barking dogs just steps away behind a closed door.

The lighting is insufficient and cats, especially, are susceptible to respiratory illnesses caused by the lack of a proper ventilation system in the barn, said kennel manager Lisa Wier, who is also the county’s only Pennsylvania Humane Society police officer.

It takes about $350,000 a year to operate the animal shelter, Booth-Fairman said. The humane society receives $40,000 annually from the county to accept and care for stray dogs. The shelter’s only other income is derived from donations, bequests and fundraisers like bake sales, a flea market and pet photos with Santa Claus. A “Crash-4-Critters” demolition derby in the fall raised $4,000, and another is planned for 2014.

Monthly expenses for the society will be higher when the shelter moves into its new building and has to assume payment for more of the utilities. But Booth-Fairman is confident the modern, pleasant appearance of the new building will attract more people who are searching for a pet.

The new building will not only provide more space, but space designed to be an animal shelter. For the health and welfare of animals, there are separate entrances for human visitors and animals arriving at or leaving the shelter.

There is more indoor living space for the animals, more and larger outdoor exercise areas, separate cat and dog quarantine and isolation areas for animals when they first arrive, a larger medical room and “get acquainted rooms” where animals and potential adopters can interact quietly and privately.

The animal shelter is assisted by about 100 volunteers — many of them students — who help socialize and exercise the animals, provide basic care and help with fundraising.

Booth-Fairman said people who made financial pledges for the new shelter building should feel comfortable now that their donations will be put to good use in the care of neglected and abused animals. And the money that has been pledged but not yet delivered can make the difference between the shelter remaining in the county barn or moving to the new, spacious and more suitable building, she said.

Tax-deductible donations for the shelter may be made to the Indiana County Humane Society, 65 Haven Drive, Indiana, PA 15701.

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