Pike County Humane Society's shelter full, coffers empty
Donations are down, even as the need increases
Barry Heim was just 8 years old when a terrifying act of abuse left scars on his heart and put him on a mission for life.
He grew up with an abusive, alcoholic stepfather who made life in his home very difficult. Heim's comfort was his dog, a beagle named Buttons.
One day his stepfather came home drunk, went to a neighbor's house and borrowed a gun.
He called Heim and Buttons outside, tied the dog to a tree and then shot it in the head, twice because the first bullet did not kill the pet.
"I screamed hysterically and begged him not to do it," Heim said. "He made me dig a hole and bury him. I loved that dog. He told me to cry, get it out of my system and forget about it."
Heim didn't forget. Instead he has dedicated his life to caring for animals that others have given up on.
Today he is an animal cruelty investigator and the executive director of the Pike County Humane Society in Shohola.
The shelter has less than three weeks of operating funds left. It requires $27,000 a month to run, and Heim says there is only $13,000 left. A money shortage has continually plagued the Pike County Humane Society, in part because of its unique style of operation.
It is not the first time Heim has announced the shelter is near closing.
Regardless, the need has not gone away. The shelter is full, with some 85 cats and 46 dogs.
"It seems like people aren't concerned about animals," Heim said. "I want to cry, to tell you the truth. It's only by the grace of God that we've kept going this far."
Donations and animal adoptions have dwindled since the foreclosure crisis hit Pike County.
The Humane Society used to receive a $15,000 annual grant from state dog licensing fees. But there were no grants in 2013 or 2014.
Instead, the state now reimburses the shelter $40 for each unclaimed stray dog that is adopted to new families, not the ones returned to original owners. So far this year (up to June) there have been 58 unclaimed dogs adopted. That amounts to $2,320, a major decrease from the previous grants.
In addition, donations are down $50,000, Heim said.
Although it serves the entire county, many municipalities do not donate to the shelter, Heim said, and then recited donations by memory on the spot.
So far this year, Dingman Township donated $4,000; Lehman, $4,000; Milford Township, $500; Milford Borough, $500; and Matamoras, $300.
Heim says Pike County commissioners, Westfall, Greene, Delaware, and even Shohola, where the shelter is located, give nothing.
Heim is not getting rich operating the shelter, either. He lives in a small trailer home on the property so he can be available around the clock. He left an engineering job 15 years ago that paid more than $60,000 to take the job leading the shelter. He now earns $34,000.
The shelter once had a staff of nine, but to lower costs, there are now seven employees.
Pike County Humane Society is different from most shelters. Instead of caging animals until adoption, they are placed in a more comfortable setting.
The yard is divided into large, fenced areas where dogs can run and bask in the sun for hours or lay under a shade tree. Dogs are pack animals, so they like to be together instead of separated into individual cages, Heim said.
New dogs, and dogs that don't get along, are separated by fences, where they sniff and often become friendly enough to be put in the same run.
A few friendly dogs with mellow dispositions walk around freely inside the shelter. Small dogs and large dogs take turns in the yards to avoid conflicts.
Cats are in an air-conditioned home-like setting — two rooms with a bed and kitchen counter. There are lots of places to nap or rub noses with other felines. A window opens to a large outdoor cage, so cats can let themselves outside, climb on perches in the fresh air and look down on the dogs in the yard.
The shelter has a remarkable 94 percent save rate, according to Heim. That means no animal is euthanized due to lack of space or length of stay.
Animals that arrive injured are given costly medical treatments. Quality of life is the criteria Heim uses to determine an animal's fate, and unless an animal is very sick, he tries to give every animal a good quality of life.
One dog named Leo has a sweet disposition and a pretty face, but the fur on Leo's back is missing in patches due to an old skin problem. Leo is healthy now, but cannot grow new fur in those spots. Leo has been available for adoption for years, but there are always more attractive dogs to choose.
At this shelter, the clock will not run out for Leo. This kind of care takes money.
Heim says he has access to plenty of animal food, but he needs money to keep the bills paid.
"If we close, where will all these animals go?" he asked, and bent down to pet a large old dog sitting at the gate under a tree.
The dog was dropped off last week because his owner moved to a nursing home. He has been sitting there waiting for his owner to return.
Lots of animals come to the shelter with a sad story, but Heim is reassuring. "Time heals," he said.
But time is running out for the Pike County Humane Society. To make a donation, volunteer or to adopt a pet, call 570-296-7654.