By Kathy Antoniotti
Beacon Journal staff writer
Many animal rescue workers can tolerate the work only slightly longer than a dumped animal can survive on the street.
Each day, workers hear horror tales that are brought to One of a Kind Pet Rescue clinic with the abused and abandoned pets in need of care and a new home.
People tend to burn out quickly in the job, said Georjette Thomas, director of organization advancement for the agency.
''The average for most people is only 2 and 1/2 years,'' she said.
One of a Kind Pet Rescue, whose mission is to rescue animals from imminent danger of euthanasia, takes a pro-active approach by attacking the problem of homeless pets one animal at a time.
It is succeeding by offering affordable, low-cost spay and neuter services, and in some cases at no-cost to those who can't afford it.
With an extensive spay and neutering program, ''We can change the amount of all rescues in our demographic — animals going into animal rescue — by approximately 70 percent in seven years,'' Thomas said.
''That's a Humane Alliance [national] statistic, and that's the key. That's the story,'' she said.
In the two years since the clinic on West Exchange Street opened, it has spayed or neutered about 14,000 dogs and cats, she said.
It has saved 1,200 animals from euthanasia and in 2008 put 910 animals into adopted homes. On track to increase adoptions by 10 percent in 2009, the agency will have placed more than 1,000 animals in homes by the end of the year, Thomas said.
Ryan Hartzell, general manager of the Barley House in downtown Akron, said he learned of the nonprofit agency two years ago when his brother found five abandoned puppies by a roadside. He took the spotted, Dalmatian-type dogs to his parents' Akron home, where they cleaned them before turning to One of a Kind for help.
Each puppy found a home through the agency, with Ryan and his girlfriend, Marianne Shook, adopting one.
''He weighs 75 pounds now and is probably the most well-behaved dog I've ever owned,'' Hartzell said.
The couple have been foster home volunteers for the agency ever since,
Hartzell also helped by arranging an ongoing fundraiser at the Barley House on South Main Street. On the second Thursday of each month from 6 to 9 p.m., 15 percent of the sales of food and nonalcoholic beverage is donated to One of a Kind.
That generally translates to only a few hundred dollars each month, but in animal rescue, every one of those dollars counts, said Lisa Holland-Toth, One of a Kind Pet Rescue's founder.
Stepping in to help
Holland-Toth had been known for her philanthropic deeds long before she discovered a gaping hole in Summit County animal rescue in 2005.
Pregnancy Care, the Salvation Army and Our Lady of the Elms have each come to depend on her generosity.
But throwing money at a problem that has plagued the Summit County community for decades is not in her nature. Holland-Toth gets her hands into the daily business of rescuing and altering animals, too.
Her mission began five years ago with a missing cat. For several days, Holland-Toth and her husband, Michael Toth, searched for the cat that escaped when a visitor left a door open. Each day, Toth went to the county pound to look for it.
''At the time, the conditions at the pound were horrific,'' she said.
Holland-Toth said she was checking the pound one day and saw several litters of kittens and a dog waiting to be euthanized.
''I gave them all the money I had in my purse [about $90] and took them home,'' she said.
When a doughnut shop closed that was attached to a gas station formerly owned by her father, Holland-Toth rented and renovated the space. She opened One of a Kind Pet Rescue.
She soon realized that while she had the resources to start the adoption center, her funds are finite, and the agency needed to find a way to support itself. She opened a retail shop of animal-related items adjacent to the adoption center. Although all the profits go to animal rescue, they don't make enough to cover the costs of running the center, she said.
Holland-Toth also discovered that no matter how many animals were rescued, the numbers of unwanted, abandoned pets would continue in a never-ending stream unless the problem is controlled at its source.
''One unspayed cat and her unspayed offspring can produce 365,000 kittens in just seven years. A dog and her litter can produce 67,000 puppies in just six years,'' Thomas said.
Breaking the cycle
Determined to stop the proliferation, Holland-Toth opened a spay and neuter clinic. Since then, every animal that is adopted from One of a Kind is altered and fully vetted with basic age-appropriate vaccines, she said.
''Only 12 percent of owned animals are adopted through rescues. If we could just increase that to 15 percent, no animals would be euthanized in this county,'' Holland-Toth said.
One of a Kind Pet Rescue employs one full-time and three part-time veterinarians performing spay and neuter services and administering medical attention four days a week. In January, the agency will begin a low-cost vaccine clinic.
''These clinics serve three purposes. Because nearly 86 percent of animals presenting at the clinic have never been vetted, this gives us an opportunity to educate pet owners on the health benefits associated with spay and neuter and get the pet scheduled for surgery,'' Thomas said.
Vaccines administered before surgery lower the incidence of animals entering the clinic diseased on surgery day, and pet owners will be encouraged to develop a relationship with a veterinarian in their community.
They will not be permitted to return to the clinic for wellness appointments, she said.
Thomas said the nonprofit agency must find financing for the plans that include finishing and furnishing a new adoption center and retail shop that will open next year.
The Assisi Foundation, headed by the Toths, recently purchased the former Fairlawn Bowling Lanes on West Market Street, just west of the current adoption center. The building is scheduled to be razed next month, and groundbreaking will begin for a new building in March.
It is expected to open before Christmas next year, Holland-Toth said.
The foundation will ''gift'' the building to the agency as long as it remains in the animal rescue business, Thomas said.
''We know a lot of people are hurting financially. We have some benefactors that are willing to help us get through the first few years of growing, but we're trying to come up with a way to pay for the labor to keep it going,'' Holland-Toth said.
In the emotionally charged world of animal rescue, few people can listen to the heartbreaking stories day after day and still search for funds to pay for the animals' care until they find a home.
''The pain is so deep in my heart that I can't not do it,'' Holland-Toth said.
''It's the pain of how our society treats domestic animals so horribly,'' she said.
''Animals will reward you for life for just the smallest kindness you show them.''
On the Web: http://www.oneofakindpets.org/
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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