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December 22, 1997

Front Page


Hooterville reorganizes to help keep doors open


photo by Deborah Stone

by Deborah Stone
   Abandoned, abused or unwanted animals are brought to Hooterville Safehaus, seeking shelter, care and hopefully placement in loving homes. Founded in 1990 by Peggy Barnish, Hooterville is a nonprofit halfway house for cats and dogs. Barnish sought to create a shelter where euthanasia would only be a last resort due to injury or illness. The mission of the Safehaus is to find good homes for the animals that come to its care, as well as educate the public about being responsible pet owners. Hooterville has been responsible for placing over 4,500 animals in suitable homes since it opened its doors eight years ago.
   As with many non-profits, Hooterville has experienced financial difficulties and growing pains. Faced with not enough operating money, an overload of work, too many animals to care for and an underpaid, over-burdened staff, the Board of Directors decided that a reorganization was necessary in order to keep the shelter open. Acting General Manager and Accountant Debbie Humnicky explains, "We've had to restaff and revamp our budget, trying to find areas to cut costs without compromising the standard of care our animals receive and the public has come to expect from us."
   Humnicky emphasizes that Hooterville is not going out of business, but is definitely in need of help. "Our building is old, run-down and simply inadequate in terms of space," says Humnicky. "We lack adequate storage, parking, safe dog walking areas and overall floor space to accomodate the number of animals we receive. The place constantly leaks, is susceptible to flooding and in constant need of repairs." The Safehaus has room for fifteen dogs and eighty-one cats comfortably, yet all too often, they are filled to capacity with additional animals waiting in temporary foster homes.
   The staff are faced with having to turn many animals away because there's no room or resources to care for them. "We average twenty calls a day from people who want us to take animals," says Humnicky. "It is a very stressful situation for the staff to say no, especially when they know what will inevitably happen to those animals, plus, they have to deal with the public's anger at being denied." According to Humnicky, Hooterville is trying to find one or two acres of land to lease or buy with a reasonable down payment. "A tax deductible donation of land would be greatly appreciated," adds Humnicky.
   The vision is to have separate buildings for cats and dogs, ample office space, a supply and gift sales area, an adoption counseling room and space for treating, spaying and neutering the animals. Monetary donations make up over half of the Safehaus's budget. Garage sales, bake sales, raffles and craft bazaars help with small expenses, but require much time and effort. The Board of Directors is looking at other ways to fund raise more efficiently, such as through corporate sponsorship and grants. Volunteers are a necessity at the shelter for without the countless hours put in by devoted individuals, there wouldn't be a Safehaus. "We rely so much on our volunteers," states Humnicky. "They are so important to this place and help in so many ways."
   Anywhere from 25-30 people spend their time cleaning, walking dogs, feeding the animals and giving them attention, doing laundry, stocking supplies, etc. On Hooterville's wish list are more volunteers to answer phones, return calls, type letters, take inventory, help with fundraising and grant writing. In addition, donated services such as grooming, dog training and veterinary care are always sought after because of their expense.
   Hooterville currently has an array of dogs and cats, of various breeds and ages, available for adoption. Medical Supervisor, Deb Gerzsenye, says, "Puppies and kittens can get adopted usually within two weeks, but our adult animals can take months, sometimes up to three years," A few of them, such as "Lady" and "Pepper" have come to call the Safehaus their permanent home. "Due to various medical and behavioral problems, these dogs realistically won't be adopted," explains Gerzsenye. "The staff has become very attached to them and they are part of the Hooterville family."
   The adoption process is very important at the shelter and time is taken to carefully match animals with prospective owners. According to Adoption Counselor, Kathleen Walton, strict adoption rules are often misunderstood. "Sometimes customers get upset and leave unhappy because we have had to turn them down. What people need to understand is that we want it to be a win-win situation for both them and the animals." As a policy, Hooterville will take back any animal that has been adopted from the shelter, if there are problems. With every attempt made possible to find suitable placements, it is inevitable that some situations won't work out. Ten dogs were returned to Hooterville in the past year, making the space issue an even more pressing problem. "We try so hard to impress upon people the serious responsibility of being a pet owner," says Humnicky. "Don't get an animal unless you're willing to make a lifetime commitment to it. Shelters are full of unwanted animals because people don't act responsibly. There is a crisis going on with so many animals in need."
   Humnicky's plea to the public for responsible behavior includes spaying or neutering pets to help curb the overpopulation problem. Above all, she emphasizes to have compassion for these furry friends. To learn more about adopting an animal, volunteering or making a donation to Hooterville Safehaus, call 425-488-4444.