Animals In Distress PA
P.O. Box 609Coopersburg, PA 18036
THE FIRST ANIMALS IN DISTRESS “SHELTER” Many people thought the idea of not killing animals was impossible to implement. Many said that the founders were well meaning but impractical. Certainly, the founders had little money, no kennel building, and dozens of animals needing help. They relied mostly on volunteers who fostered animals in their homes. Realizing that they needed a place to house animals where the public could come to see them, but having no funds, the founders decided to rent an old garage-type building in Emmaus, next to what is now the East Penn Animal Hospital. The animal hospital had once used the building for boarding pets during the summer. Cages containing both cats and dogs were stacked in the building, and volunteers took turns coming in to clean cages, walk dogs, and feed everyone. The first home of Animals In Distress, however humble and temporary, was established! THE RACE STREET FACILITY IN ALLENTOWN Local media told the store of this brave group of people. Modest donations came in, but not anything near the amount needed to pay rent, utilities, food and vet bills. Then disaster struck when the building was sold to Pizza Hut, who told Animals In Distress founders that they would have to find another home – and find it soon. Frantically, the founders looked for a property. They had no money, they had no idea what was involved in getting zoning and other approvals, they had no building fund, they had no corporate donors of any size, they had no resources except an indestructible determination to keep their dream alive. They told their story to the public, and the residents of the Lehigh Valley responded. Publicity and a special appeal brought in enough money to put a down payment on a dilapidated 2.2 acre, old farm house property on Fashion Drive off Race Street, behind what is now the Lehigh Valley International Airport (then ABE Airport). A mortgage was secured for the funds necessary to acquire the property and to construct a 20 x 100 foot concrete block building that would house both cats and dogs. There were 16 concrete dog runs, a small dog room for animals in cages, and a small office. Volunteers did much of the construction work. Building materials were solicited and used items were sometimes all the group could obtain. For example, the oil-fired furnace in the kennel was already 30 years old when it was donated to be installed in the concrete kennel building! The barn was in terrible shape, with a 16 inch sag in the center. What eventually became the Cat Social Room was an open, dilapidated carport underneath what was an unfinished apartment. No other buildings existed at the time. When volunteers had finished painting and preparing the new kennel, the animals waiting in foster homes were brought in and quickly filled up the empty spaces. Cats in cages, dogs in runs and cages, a small office, a small feeding area – finally, the shelter had a place of its own. The struggle for funding continued. Saving lives is always much more costly than killing the animals, and vet bills mounted very high. Utility, vet, maintenance, and mortgage bills were overwhelming, and the young organization struggled very hard just to survive. And still the animals who needed help kept coming, in greater and greater numbers. Then disaster struck: the grounds suffered a severe flood. The Army Reserves were called in to help remove the animals from the shelter. Soldiers wearing ropes around their bodies waded through the river that tore across the parking lot, carrying animals from the building to the temporary safety of the Reservists’ trucks. This flood was the worst of several flooding incidents that occurred over the 23+ years that Animals In Distress was at this site. Years later, a hydro-geologist discovered that the shelter property lay in a flood plain and received the drainage of 7 square miles when the ground was saturated. In addition, an underground river would surface and drain through the property, compounding the flooding. The hydro-geologist, who volunteered his services to assess the property, concluded that the situation was not able to be corrected since Animals In Distress only owned the 2.2 acre tract and did not have enough land on which to redirect the flooding away from the buildings. In the meantime, the founders were struggling to pay the bills. They initiated several fund raising events and hired a small paid staff to care for the animals. However, demand for the shelter’s services was enormous, since everyone liked the idea of saving the animals rather than killing them, and the shelter facilities became very crowded. After several outbreaks of various cat diseases, which caused veterinary bills to skyrocket, a small modular building was purchased to provide an isolation area in which to keep incoming cats so they could be quarantined until being declared disease free. During the 1980’s, the shelter facility was gradually improved due to donations and volunteer labor. Exercise yards, a puppy playpen, Cat Social Room partitions, and barn renovations were all made possible because of the donations of individuals. Eventually, the apartment above the Cat Social Room was refinished and made into a Feline Leukemia Room, an FIV Loft, and a Wild Cats Room. Efforts to control the flooding were tried but remained relatively unsuccessful. Various efforts were made to improve the buildings, but the problems with the property made improvements very expensive and questionable. In addition, in the mid 80’s, money was insufficient to pay the bills. The situation was critical. Decisions were made to expand the mailing list and to do more fund raising. Our longstanding partnership with radio station WAEB 790AM and Bobby Gunther Walsh produced the annual Radiothon, which continues to this day and has become our single largest fund raiser. Gradually, the shelter increased its funding – not enough to do much more than pay its bills, but at least that was a move in the right direction. The strained and stretched financial picture reinforced the group’s decision to rely solely on unpaid volunteers for all administrative, fund raising, and non-animal care duties. The only paid staff – and the staff were not paid very much – were those who fed and cleaned the shelter pets every day, a decision necessary because most of the Board and volunteers were at their full-time jobs and could not provide the consistent care required to keep 300+ animals clean, fed and medicated. PROGRAMS AND SERVICES The shelter also started several programs that had a major impact on the pets in the community. For example, the low cost spay/neuter program provided important services to thousands of area animals, reaching an all-time high of 1600 animals going through the program in one year. The shelter also implemented a dog behavior rehabilitation program in the mid 1980’s and made seminars and classes available to the public. The whole field of animal behavioral science being applied to companion animals like cats and dogs was just beginning to gain momentum, and Animals In Distress embraced the knowledge that would allow them to rehabilitate animals rather than having those animals deemed worthless and unadoptable. The hope of the dedicated Board members and volunteers was that they could help more animals if they learned the modern and new ways of behavior modification. The shelter’s seminars in dog behavior included understanding and solving problems in Housebreaking, Jumping, Barking, Biting and similar topics. The shelter also developed and hosted a series of half hour weekly television shows on Twin County Cable Television. Each show consisted of interviews with guests in various animal-related fields, training and behavior tips, and featured shelter cats and dogs.