Shelter still living on the edge

| 29 Sep 2011 | 07:59

SHOHOLA - “My wife and I live with 23 dogs and 15 cats in an 8 foot wide by 40 foot long mobile home,” said Barry Heim. Heim is the unpaid treasurer and spokesperson for the Pike County Humane Society. “These animals have become our personal pets because they are un-adoptable”. Barry and his wife Janet moved from their home in Birchwood Lakes to the small mobile home on the Humane Society property to act as caretakers of the animal shelter. They relocated so that someone could be there 24/7 in an emergency. The state police and others bring animals at any time, day or night. “If we weren’t here what would they do with them,” he asked. The Humane Society started in one small building in 1978 which now houses just the cats. In 1991 they were left $100,000 from the estate of an animal lover. The money was used to build the second building. A third building was built by volunteers with donated materials and opened in 2003. At times there are as many as 60 animals in the shelter, which was meant to house only about 35. On Lee Road, off the Twin Lakes Road, near Walker Lake, the shelter is a quiet place with few homes nearby. On one unusually warm January Sunday recently it was bustling with activity as parents were adopting puppies for their kids and volunteers were busy doing chores. A portion of their income is brought in by way of adoptions. There are very few puppies and kittens available in Pike County as all adopted animals are spayed and neutered so when puppies do come in they go out very quickly. “If we have no animals to adopt then we take in no money.” Costs overwhelming revenues have led to a recent financial crisis. The shelter is always short of funds and would have been forced to close last September if it weren’t for an emergency $2,000 donation from Pike County. “Although we are giving you this emergency $2000 we will not be able to do it again next year. You will have to raise all your own funds to operate,” Commissioners Chair Harry Forbes then told Heim. “If we close our doors the 1,000-plus animals we take in each year would become a problem for Pike County,” Heim said. Heim has been with the shelter since 1998. All the animal care, building repairs and some new construction is done by volunteers. There are two paid employees and about 20 dedicated volunteers. In 1998 the shelter budget was $23,500 and now it’s $138,000. The number of animals handled then was 50 and now it’s 1,100. The budget increased by 500 percent, but the number of animals increased 2200 percent. “When I first started we only had 175 donating members and we now have over 2,000. It is hard work and we get donations from $1 on up to checks that go into the hundreds”, he said. People in the community have been helping. We recently had a 10 year old 5th grade girl from Montague Elementary School, who was concerned about the shelter closing. She organized a yard sale by herself and took in $270 which she donated to the shelter, he said. Operation costs estimates are difficult. “We once were called by two brothers in the military deployed to Iraq, whose father had died suddenly. They asked if we would be able to provide a place for their two dogs, which they had grown up with. We kept the dogs for over a year until they returned home. They gave us a small donation but it cost us far more to take care of their pets. They were fighting for us. How could we have said no to them”, Heim remarked. “If we have to close and Pike County builds a shelter and staffs it would cost county taxpayers over $400,000 a year to provide the same level of services,” Heim claimed. The county would have to buy land, hire staff, and build a new facility because the deed states that the current shelter can only be used by a non-profit entity, he added. Heim said the Pike County Humane Society needs the help and support of everyone in order to stay open. To help, call 570 296-7654 to make a donation.