The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

June 22, 2009

My Turn: Animal shelter is a gift to the area


This week's "My turn" column is by A. Brent Truitt, treasurer for the Heart of the Catskills Humane Society's board of directors.

Since moving from the city six years ago, my wife, Jennifer, and I have been so impressed with all that this area has to offer _ unrivaled natural beauty, welcoming friends and neighbors and more tent caterpillars than you could ever want (just kidding).

We often say that making the move was one of the best things we ever did. And, soon after the move, we discovered one of the most special gifts of the area _ the Heart of the Catskills Humane Society, or HCHS, in Delhi.

Not long after settling in, we started volunteering at HCHS by walking dogs around the shelter's beautiful grounds. Within a year, we were asked to serve on the board of directors, and we both gladly accepted the invitation.

Since 2004, we have both served as directors, with my serving as treasurer and Jennifer heading up the shelter's marketing and direct-mail campaign efforts.

One of the things that originally struck us as special about the shelter is that it is a happy place. Many folks stay away from shelters, expecting them to be depressing holding pens filled with sad puppy and kitten faces. Nothing could be further from the truth at HCHS.

Working with scant resources, shelter staff and volunteers have created a beautiful haven where dogs, cats and their human visitors can enjoy themselves in a loving environment while they await their forever homes.

Dogs enjoy daily outdoor exercise within carefully structured "play groups" with compatible canines while cats lounge in hammocks made by volunteers or watch birds from the outdoor cat gazebo.

Even the store manager at Kingston's PetSmart, which selected HCHS to run its on-site cat adoption center, observed during his initial inspection of the shelter that "this isn't just a shelter; it's a spa for cats and dogs."

Another special thing about the shelter is that it does much more than provide care and shelter for more than 275 stray and unwanted animals every day. It also reaches out to the community through numerous programs, including public low-income spay-neuter vouchers, humane education programs, a "Senior Pals" adoption program and the barking books literacy program.

Through programs such as these, the shelter touches the lives of people and animals who never enter the shelter's doors.

Yet another thing that makes the shelter so very special is how much it does on so little. As treasurer, I have a unique perspective on just how challenging it is to keep the shelter's doors open.

It costs more than $1,400 each and every day just to operate the shelter, from employee wages and pet medications to the ever-increasing costs of utilities and supplies.

The shelter is not funded by any government or any national organizations, like the Humane Society of the United States or ASPCA. Instead, the shelter has to work hard for every penny it takes in.

While it does have contracts with the county and 19 towns and villages, it provides services (taking in stray animals that the government would otherwise be required to shelter) in exchange for those funds, which account for about 11 percent of the yearly budget.

The rest comes from such things as contributions and membership dues, major fundraisers such as the annual Dog Walk and Spring Dance and Auction, and adoption fees.

But even that is not enough to pay for big-ticket items such as expanding cat rooms and kennel space, or installing a quality ventilation system. For those things, HCHS has to rely upon generous donors who have named the shelter in their wills, and on the largesse of local and national organizations that have awarded HCHS grant funding. Without bequests and grants, the shelter could not have afforded the improvements it has made in recent years.

Above all else, though, what makes the shelter most special are its furry residents. The shelter staff always goes the extra mile in caring for and training our animals, and conducts temperament testing and screening to ensure that the right pet is matched with the right adopter. People always tell me how amazed they are at how well-adjusted our cats and dogs are when they leave the shelter.

Now, after five years of volunteering with the shelter, Jennifer and I are fortunate enough to have five shelter alumni in our home _ two dogs and three cats (not to mention the continuing rotation of foster cats in our basement).

We feel privileged to be a small part of a place as special as HCHS. The shelter's newsletter once included a quote by Gandhi: "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."

If HCHS is any measure, this little corner of the nation is truly great.

To write for "My turn," contact Daily Star Publisher Tanya Shalor at tshalor@thedailystar.com or 432-1000, ext. 214.