While the Greater Derry Humane Society (GDHS) has closed, two dedicated volunteers and dog-lovers are testing the waters to see if the organization can be revived. An announcement on the group’s Web site read, “We are saddened to announce the closing of GDHS, Inc. We appreciate and are very thankful for all of the support we have received from the community over the 25-plus years we have been in operation.”
The nine-member board of directors met last week and voted to disband.
The organization was formed 27 years ago by Lawrence Road resident Barbara McCarthy, who ran the operation out of her home. Because it had no freestanding shelter, the dogs and cats they took in were cared for in foster homes until adopted. The all-volunteer organization offered the same programs as humane societies with paid staffs and bigger budgets, including animal rescue, dog training, education, pet therapy and support of animal-friendly legislation. The current Web page features a piece on animals and pool safety, advice on low-cost spaying and neutering – and a call for volunteers.
Paula Dunlavey is the architect of the Web site and a dog-lover who became involved with GDHS when she retired. “I always wanted to foster dogs,” she said. With volunteer work one of her retirement goals she found herself designing and maintaining the Web site, helping with the newsletter, and eventually on the board. Her husband, Marty, joined her when he retired. They are current board members, with Marty serving as vice-chair.
But they began to see a decline in volunteers. She’s a little fuzzy on the numbers, noting that some people never came to meetings but were willing to “foster,” and she came up with a ballpark of between seven and 10 active members. There are also a few volunteers who foster animals with special needs or situations, she said.
It’s not enough to run an organization on that scale, she noted. McCarthy tried to find someone to handle the administrative chores, but could not. “Barbara tried to get people involved,” Dunlavey said.
She and Marty fostered five or six dogs, all of which got adopted. They kept two of them. “That’s Willow and Penny, the loves of my life,” she said. Sometimes they kept dogs for a few months if they had behavior problems, she said.
She said McCarthy was always careful who adopted a dog or cat. “She did not want to see them coming back,” Dunlavey said. The Dunlaveys aren’t sure how many cats remain with the agency, but they know the three remaining dogs by name. There’s “Stevie Wonder,” a Papillon that is blind due to overbreeding.
“He was born without eyes,” Marty Dunlavey said. “He was in one of those puppy mills.”
There’s Oliver, an Old English Sheepdog that has been given a makeover. “He had so much ‘matting’ when he came to us,” Marty Dunlavey said.
And there’s Corky, a Chihuahua/pug mix. “He’s not actually ours, but we’re helping another agency out by posting his information,” Marty Dunlavey said. “He can find his way around. You’d never know he was blind.” She and Marty were also involved in the education portion of the agency. They took their dogs or other people’s dogs into schools and senior facilities, to teach animal care and to put a smile on people’s faces. “It was so much fun,” she said.
At Birch Heights, which allows residents to have pets, they helped with problem-solving and advice, she said. They did pet therapy in seven or eight facilities, one as far away as Rochester.
McCarthy is handling the closing of the organization, talking to legal counsel and the state veterinary department and figuring out “what it takes to dissolve a nonprofit,” Dunlavey said. She’s also handling the finances, including the $30,000 in the group’s bank account, which will most likely be given to another nonprofit.
And meanwhile, she and Marty are mulling what it takes to start anew. “We have the Marion Gerrish Center room until the end of the year,” Dunlavey said, referring to the room they rent for their monthly meetings. “We are going to get together Sept. 3 and sit and talk.” “I want to restart it,” Marty Dunlavey said.
The problem is volunteers, as always – and money. They will be starting over from scratch, he said.
But if there’s a chance at revitalization, the Dunlaveys want to make it happen. Their meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 3, at 7 p.m. in the Marion Gerrish Community Center. All interested parties are welcome. For more information, call them at 437-6032.