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Published: Thursday, 7/8/2010

Fulton Co. aims for new Humane Society

BY ALIYYA SWABY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Stray cats and dogs in Fulton County soon may have a place to call home.

Community members plan to hold a fund-raiser Friday and Saturday for a Fulton County Humane Society, which closed down almost a decade ago for financial reasons. Fulton County is one of a handful of counties in Ohio without a humane society.

More than 60 people have volunteered for the cause, which aims to raise $250,000 to buy and renovate facilities, said Renee Bernheisel-Clark, fund-raising coordinator for the group that formed in August.

Ms. Bernheisel-Clark stressed that it is entirely a community effort with no government funding.

The group's first "Operation Paw Pride," featuring food, entertainment, raffles, and children's activities, will be from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Fulton County fairgrounds.

The next Friday, the group plans to hold a fund-raising comedy-hypnotist show at Swan Creek Community Church in Delta.

Since its first fund-raiser in April, the group has raised about $26,500, including $1,500 from dog washes and donation jars as well as a $25,000 anonymous pledge, Ms. Bernheisel-Clark said.

Having a humane society in the county would allow better control of the large number of stray animals, many of which wind up dead at the side of the road, Ms. Bernheisel-Clark said.

"There are rescue groups that try to adopt dogs out, but they're very specific," she said. "There's one just for Great Danes."

The county has a dog pound, but no organization that takes in cats.

Fulton County Dog Warden Peter Skeldon said he would welcome a humane society to deal with stray cats, though the Fulton County dog pound still would have to be notified of stray dogs.

The previous Fulton County Humane Society had a good working relationship with the dog pound, Mr. Skeldon said.

The group is hoping to buy land and facilities from Springhill Boarding Kennel which is for sale, Ms. Bernheisel-Clark said.

Sondra Metts, chief executive officer of the humane society group, said members are modeling their efforts on similar projects in other Ohio counties.

They plan to hire four part-time employees and a few other administrators after setting up their facilities.

But this might not be a reasonable estimate, said John Dinon, executive director of the Toledo Area Humane Society, which has 28 mostly full-time employees to handle an 4,000 animals annually. He has been in contact with Fulton County Humane Society organizers and informally offered them help and advice.

"I think it will probably be overwhelming for them at first, depending on how many animals they'll get," he said. "But they have to start somewhere."

Ms. Bernheisel-Clark said the Fulton County Humane Society plans to eventually build a dog park, where members can socialize with their dogs, and a limitless cage system, where dogs can run around outside their cages during the day.

Mr. Skeldon said, however, that he considers the group's goals to be unreasonable, especially since it is so far from its financial goal.

He suggested organizers instead rent a small space to handle 30 animals, which would show people they are committed and could prompt more donations.

But Ms. Metts said since most of the money is pledged and not in cash, Mr. Skeldon's idea probably would use up the little capital the group has, especially with operating costs.

Organizers want to finish fund-raising by next summer, a date that has been pushed back repeatedly. "It's been a learning curve," she said. "We're making mistakes and trying to correct them, but we want to do something."

Contact Aliyya Swaby at:

aswaby@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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