In 1996, the Humane Society of the U.S. launched National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week, to be observed the first full week of November.
“Essentially it's a haven, which is in our name,” said Dr. Gail Counts, who operates Sierra's Haven Animal Shelter at 80 Easter Drive, in Portsmouth. “It's a safe place for animals who are thrown out, who are homeless, have been neglected, and for any reason end up without a family taking care of them. It's a safe place for them to be.”
Sierra's Haven continues to grow in the facilities they provide for the animals they shelter.
One of the newest additions is a cat run. Cats can go through an egress from the shelter into a fenced-in play area, with cat houses, climbing toys, and even a pond where “Tuffy,” was attempting to catch a fish on a pleasantly cool fall afternoon Wednesday.
“We also have another program going on, which will be a clear plastic square that will connect the kitten room with the outside kitten space, so they will be able to go overhead and people will be able to see them go into the kitten room back and forth,” said Alexandra Isaac, who works at the shelter.
Sierra's Haven is a shelter where dogs and cats can be adopted to a qualified loving home.
“Our goal is that we are able to keep anything that is adoptable alive until they can find a forever home,” Counts said. “The biggest problem in Scioto County is that there is no place for cats like this, except here.”
Counts said that is why the shelter has 200 cats and 50 dogs they care for every day.
“I wish people would just come out here and sit and pet them,” she said. “They love to be loved and petted, and we need volunteers from the community who want to come out here and just give them love. They have an enclosure where they can run and play. This is not your typical shelter.”
The staff at Sierra's Haven say they are proudest of the fact they keep no cats in cages. If you sit in the waiting room long enough, you will make new friends. Cats and dogs alike roam throughout the shelter, and adopt each other as family members.
A litter of recently-delivered huskie mixed puppies get excited when visitors come into the run area. Each dog is taken for a walk daily, and is given fresh food and water, as well as a much-appreciated blanket at the end of the day to bring comfort and security.
Counts said some people have a hard time dealing with is the screening process and the fact there is a cost involved.
“A lot of people have criticized us for charging to take in a pet, but we run totally on donations, and we don't get any funding from outside sources at all. So what do they expect us to run this place on?” she said. “We ask for a hundred dollars for a dog, and we have that in it when they walk in the door.”
Counts said the expense of running a shelter may be mind-boggling to some people.
“Our monthly expenses are $10,000, and we have approximately 50 dogs and 200 cats. So if you divide 250 into 10,000 it's pretty close to what it takes us to run the shelter, keep it open, pay employees, vaccinate, spay and neuter, treat, heartworm tests, feline leukemia tests, everything we do with an animal once it walks in the door. And $100 doesn't even come close to covering that,” she said.
Counts said people sometimes bring in six puppies at a time, and the shelter asks for $30 when they bring them in.
“We had a litter come in a while ago that had already been exposed to Parvo (the Parvovirus). Two days after they got here, they broke down with it. And we have to treat them, and everybody knows how expensive it is to put in I.V.s, keeping them in isolation, and treating them to try to get them through. Parvo treatment is ungodly. We never know what the animals are exposed to when they are brought here,” she said. “If they are exposed before they get here we have no control over that.”
Counts said when anyone comes in to adopt a pet, they are given time with the pet of their choice where they can interact with it. Then they go through an interview process where they are asked about home surroundings, what their intentions are, how they're going to keep the pet, “because we want to make sure that when an animal leaves here, it leaves to a good environment. We don't want to adopt a dog out that is going to be tied to a tree and never touched,” Counts said.
Isaac said the shelter also has a spay and neuter program for low-income people.
“For people who cannot afford to go to the vet, we neuter male cats for $5, and male dogs for $10, and we spay female cats and dogs for $10, and we give rabies shots for $5,” she said.
“All they have to do is show proof of income, pay us and we schedule the surgery,” said Counts.
Counts said Sierra's Haven is participating in a program called “Iams Home 4 the Holidays.”
She said the Iams company conducts the program every year from Nov. 5 through Jan. 3.
“It's a nationwide thing to see how many pets can be adopted for the holidays,” Counts said. “We also need dog and cat supplies, and canned pet food. We are part of a program in which we get dry cat and dog food, and just pay the shipping, but for those animals who can't eat dry food, we need the canned food.”
Sierra's Haven at times looks like it is run by the cats and dogs, as you move through the various rooms, but to dog and cat lovers, that's probably they way they expect it to be.
FRANK LEWIS can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232.