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Humane society raising funds for shelter

| Tuesday, May 8, 2012, 5:58 a.m.

Marcella Sarson loves long walks with 13 dogs who call the Humane Society of Westmoreland County their temporary home.

A retired schoolteacher from the Armstrong School District, Sarson, of Delmont, volunteers at the humane society in Greensburg two to three days a week.

"Some of the dogs have been there for quite awhile so I like to give them long walks," said Sarson, whose duties also include mucking out the kennels and helping with fundraising projects. "It gives me a wonderful feeling to help these animals stay healthy and I get some exercise, too."

The humane society is in the middle of a fundraising campaign to raise money for a new canine shelter. Ground has been broken and the footer and floor drains are completed, said Karen Stepanovich, president of the society's board of directors.

"The shelter is being built to the specifications of the Mateer family, who donated most of the money for the project," said Stepanovich.

The Donald D. Mateer Foundation, of Greensburg, provided $300,000 of the $400,000 needed for the shelter. The society has raised $50,000 through a marketing campaign, said Kathy Burkley, humane society director and board secretary.

Five years ago, the society purchased a 10-acre property behind the Kirk S. Nevin rink in Greensburg. The property included a farmhouse, which was converted into a shelter for cats.

"At that time we weren't equipped to be a dog shelter, but we brought some dog kennels inside that we use to house small dogs and puppies. We also have some outdoor kennels and with just that small facility, we've adopted about 1,400 dogs and puppies since 2002," Burkley said. "We knew, however, that we needed a new shelter for the dogs."

The building will be simple and include two offices, a multipurpose room, lobby, bathroom, a quarantine room and a sick room. It also will have 10 large kennels.

"Because we are a no-kill shelter, some of our dogs are here for a very long time before they are adopted," said Burkley. "A small kennel is not conducive to keeping the animals socialized so they are more adoptable. Our dogs get walked at least four times a day and we try to walk them in a professional manner so they will be good pets."

The shelter now has 24 dogs, including 10 puppies. Adoptions are Internet-driven, said Burkley.

"Many people who are interested in adopting a cat or dog can apply online and that gives me an opportunity to review the applications before they show up at the shelter," she said. "We have to be picky with our applicants. We don't want to put the dogs or cats in a situation where they will be returned to the shelter.

"We have applicants sit and talk with an adoption counselor and sign an agreement with us. We want to make sure that the dog you want is the right one," said Burkley.

Educating the public about the responsibilities of owning a pet is key, said Sarson.

"We always try and encourage people to bring their pets to our low-cost spaying and neutering," said Sarson. The society will not adopt out a dog or cat that isn't spayed or neutered.

Today, the shelter is holding a shot clinic from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the humane society. Rabies shots for dogs and cats are $6; distemper shots are $14. Shots for kennel cough are $10, and a feline leukemia shot is $10.

"We use one room in the farmhouse for spaying and neutering," said Burkley. "We also offer limited low-cost appointments on Fridays for shots, checkups, sleep products, heartworm, and general maintenance appointments."

And while donations are vital to the shelter's existence, volunteers are its lifeblood, Stepanovich said.

"You have to have volunteers to do the legwork, the grunt work. Without those volunteers who come to our functions, you don't have the outreach with the community. They are doing a great service," said Stepanovich.

"We do have visions of the future. We would love to see a dog park on our property and a fenced area where we can let the dogs run. We have obedience classes now but we'd like a building to do the classes. Our board of directors is very energetic. We're excited about everything we're doing."

Donations for the new dog shelter can be sent to: Humane Society of Westmoreland County, PO Box 1552, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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