All Paws on Deck:
Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // Janelle Morrison
Did you know that the Humane Society for Hamilton County (HSHC) is where your pet would be taken in the event that it became lost? Furthermore, did you know that HSHC is responsible for receiving ALL animals that are brought in by animal control for the entire county?
HSHC does this ministry for animals seven days a week while operating in an inadequate facility with significant spatial and operational challenges, such as no proper quarantine area, no recovery area for the injured, no on-site surgical area, no outdoor green space for dogs to exercise and a litany of other basic necessities that would drastically improve the quality of living for the animals as they wait for loving homes at HSHC. There is a plan, and HSHC needs the help of Hamilton County residents to execute its plan.
HSHC has evolved into one of the country’s few open-admission, truly No-Kill shelters with the hard work of its dedicated staff, board and volunteers. Several surrounding area county human societies and shelters will often send HSHC the animals in their custody that would otherwise be euthanized. The current facility at HSHC is inadequate, and so the capital campaign to build a new facility has begun.
Step one was to identify and acquire land for the future home of HSHC, and that goal was accomplished due to the extraordinary generosity of the late Sheri L. Ridge. When Ridge passed away, she left a $1 million trust to help multiple charities, and HSHC was one of those benefitting charities.
With Ridge’s gift and the assistance of HSHC supporters, Nich and Ronda Weybright, HSHC purchased property located at 106th and Hague Road in Fishers, formerly the property of Creekside Church.
On March 20, 2017, City Hall was standing room only as the Fishers Council unanimously voted to approve the HSHC’s zoning request to relocate from Noblesville to the city of Fishers. Currently, HSHC is working towards securing approximately 80 percent of the projected $5 million necessary to fund the construction of the new HSHC facility. The timeline for building completion is approximately three years.
“The days of ‘making do’ in our over-crowded facility that is missing fundamental areas necessary to efficiently function simply must end,” said Rebecca Stevens, HSHC executive director. “The good news is our dream of building a new state-of-the-art facility that allows for sunlight on cats’ faces, grass under dogs’ feet, noise control in the kennel, quiet recovery areas for the injured and better disease control to prevent illness is within our grasp.”
Stevens reiterated that most people may not realize that HSHC not only takes all of Hamilton County’s strays and seized animals (and those from surrounding county humane societies), but they also take owner-surrendered cats and dogs.
“Anybody that lives in the county can come to HSHC and surrender their pet, seven days a week, for any reason at no cost,” Stevens explained. “That’s part of the agreement that we have with each municipality. The county ordinance says we have to hold strays for seven days in hopes that an owner will come forward and hopefully claim their pet. There is not enough space at our current facility, and it affects the quality of life issues for these adoptable dogs and cats as they come and wait for homes.”
HSHC volunteer Rebecca Ebert added, “I think that it’s been a disadvantage to be here on the fairgrounds [in Noblesville] because I think people throughout the county assume that we’re just serving Noblesville. I don’t think they realize that we get and treat animals from Carmel, Fishers and all over Hamilton County.”
Stevens emphasized stray pets that come in injured are treated and cared for by HSHC.
“If your pet should ever get loose and/or injured, it will end up at here at HSHC,” she said. “It’s going to be the small team here that will raise the money to pay the emergency pet bill, so that you don’t come in and claim a dead cat or dog instead of one that we saved on our dime.”
Stevens acknowledged the support and generosity of the individual donors that represent the largest source of monetary donations and stressed that there are multiple ways to give, whether it’s a direct donation to HSHC or by attending and supporting one of HSHC’s innovative fundraisers that go on throughout the year. “Now is the time for us to get the word out and reach out to those individual donors who will help to give us that one big push down the hill, so that we start to gain some momentum on reaching our goal.”
Pets Healing Vets Program and The Ruff Ride
One of HSHC’s remarkable programs is its Pets Healing Vets program that is designed to improve the emotional well-being of Hoosier veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) by pairing them with carefully selected shelter dogs or cats. Pets Healing Vets is the only program of its kind in Indiana as it pairs Hoosier veterans and shelter animals and offers assistance with food, veterinarian bills, training and any other needs that the veteran may have regarding his/her companion dog or cat for the life of that animal at no cost to the veteran.
To help fund Pets Healing Vets, HSBC hosts fundraisers like The Ruff Ride, a weekend fundraiser that kicks off on Friday, June 22 from 6-9 p.m. and Saturday, June 23 from 11:30-1:00 p.m.
Missy Wright, manager of Community Outreach, tag teams HSHC’s Pets Healing Vets program along with Megan Gonterman and Stevens.
“Our goal is to get as many veterans in the program as possible,” Wright said. “Once we have a veteran in the program, we engage them and remind them that we are here to help them with pet food, nail trims, pet deposits at apartments, doggy daycare and medical costs – emergency as well as preventive. We are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that we are there for that veteran. The biggest anxiety with pet ownership is the financial side of it. That’s what makes our program different and why the support is needed because we have 31 veterans currently in the program and growing, and we pay for the dog’s training at Paws & Play in addition to all of the costs that I mentioned. If the average cost per dog in our program is $1,200 per year, at 31 dogs, that’s $37,200 a year just in the care of these animals we have in the program.”
Meet John Iversen and Jameson
Iversen, a U.S. Army veteran, and his companion dog, Jameson, were paired after Iversen’s first companion dog, Cleo, passed away after a long, happy life in Iversen’s care.
“My counselors thought it would be good to incorporate an animal for my therapy, so Rebecca helped to pair me with my first dog, Cleo, and this was before the Pets Healing Vets program was created,” Iversen said. “Cleo and I were together for a very long time, and when she passed, I came into HSHC and read about the program, Pets Healing Vets. One of the dogs that I was looking at online was this guy, Jameson, and we got paired together.”
Iversen openly shared what having companions like Cleo and now Jameson has done for his recovery and how the support of his companion dog has enabled him to go out to festivals and public events, whereas before, he was not capable of going out and enjoying those things.
“I knew that I wanted to take Jameson to the level of being a service dog, so that he could go with me to all these places comfortably and with the support that was needed for me to do that,” Iversen shared. “I received all the help that I needed with that between Rebecca, Paws & Play, the trainers and all of the different people at HSHC. I can come here to ask questions and get the guidance I need. They’re not like ‘Okay, you’ve got your animal. Here’s the packet of information and bye. We’ll see you out the door.’ I can come in with a question, and someone will actually make the time and talk with me. This is like being in a militaresque-type family. You know that someone has your back. You get this support network instead of feeling kind of like you are twisting in the wind.”
For more information in HSHC, its programs and calendar of events, visit hamiltonhumane.com.