Who will rescue the rescuers?

Hearts of Life, still dealing with storm damage, now must find a new home

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor

May 1, 2008 - Over the last few months, Hearts of Life Animal Rescue and Adoption, the "no-kill" shelter for abandoned pets, has taken a real beating, literally and financially.

First were three bad storms and a tornado that not only battered the shelter but caused significant damage, taxing Hearts of Life's already tight budget.

The wind tossed around some of the dog houses -- with dogs still in them -- and tore up the fences and panels on pens, requiring dogs be housed elsewhere on the property. Flooding ruined the stockpile of cedar chips used to line the pens and houses. Panels urchased for expansion had to be used instead for repairs.

Then there's the water damage that at one point required help from county firefighters to rescue the dogs. Volunteers had to shore up areas where the animals were located to keep them from flooding.

The non-profit group operates on donations and the $65 adoption fee per animal they charge, and replacing fencing and dog houses really added up.

"We are definitely nonprofit," Foster said. "We don't want to raise our fee, we want people to be able to adopt the dogs for them to have homes. We charge a $65 adoption fee. The vet charges us $85 to spay or neutered each dog, so we lose $20 on every dog and that's if it's a perfect dog. Most of the dogs come off the street. We try to get them healthy before we adopt them out. We have to pay for medicine, food, shots."

While the city of Sulphur Springs has its own shelter, and another non-profit group PPAWS (Promoting Pet Adoptions and Welfare in Sulphur Springs) helps find homes for animal inside the city, Hearts of Life serves all of Hopkins County, and they're serious about the no-kill policy.

"The city shelter is a kill shelter. With us they're here for life or until they get adopted. We care for them, get them their shots and make sure they are fed. We don't euthanize," Foster said. "Our main goal is to save the lives of dogs and cats. The more we can adopt out the more we can save. With no more fund or manpower we can't take any more right now. It's sad, but we just aren't able."

Most recently, Hearts of Life officers were notified that they'll have to find a new base for operations and have everything removed from the property by June 1. That's a daunting task for anyone, but it's especially difficult for the rescue group due to the special needs that go with caring for large numbers of dogs and cats.

Ideally, someone would donate as much as 5 acres and a building for the 69 dogs and 18 cats the organization currently houses, as well as room for more if needed and some sort of office space. The property would have to be relatively isolated due to the noise created by so many canines in such close proximity, according to Hearts of Life Director Donny Foster.

But that hasn't happened, and until something does, Hearts of Life is temporarily moving all of the dogs and cats to Foster's property.

"This is an emergency move. We knew it was possible to lose the dairy we were in, but we weren't ready," Foster said Wednesday afternoon. "We'll put them on the 2 acres on my property in the back until we can get another place to go to. We'd like 5 acres but could probably settle for anywhere between two to five, with a structure."

Veterinary bills are mounting, too. The cost for a rescued cat that had difficulty giving birth was $500 alone, not counting food, vaccinations and other care for her and her kittens.

They still are in need of dog house to shelter the canines in inclement weather and extreme temperature. Cedar chips are also needed. And of course, donations of dog and cat food and supplies are always welcome.

So far, Hearts of Life has has a couple of people donate their time to help with the move to Foster's property.

"We've had a couple of people come out and help," Foster said. "If we could get three to five people here, we could get it all moved in one day. We've gotta get it done. We hope to work on it this weekend."

Most of the cats have been moved to an air conditioned building and some of the dogs have also been relocated. More help is still needed to move pens, help feed the animals and attach roofs to dog pens.

Hearts of life has a variety of cats and dogs of all sizes, types and colors available for adoption. And if they don't have what you're looking for, they generally are able to refer potential pet owners to the city animal shelter or other local pet services who will have the desired critter.

Anyone with extra time, a pair of willing hands or extra funds will be put to good use. No effort nor amount, big or small, will be turned down. And, anyone with experience at grant writing would be especially welcome by Hearts of Life.

"Whatever time they've got we'll take it. Most come on weekends, but we can use help during the week and day, too. Whatever time, we try to work our schedule to make it work," he said.

He added the group is also looking for someone with expertise in grant writing.

"We've attempted a few times but have not received any grants," he said. "There are specialized grants, I'm just not [skilled enough] to do it."

Anyone interested in donating their time can call Hearts of Life at 903-885-5102. The same number applies to donate supplies, money, property or other items. Callers are asked to leave their name and a call back number on the answering machine, which is checked daily.

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