Volunteer recalls Humane Society's positive impact and ponders future

SALEM -- When Kelly Yuras first visited the Salem Area Humane Society shelter last October, she was in tears.
She did not know what to do with her cats, Ruffeo and Phoenix. She and her husband, Scott, and daughters Jessica, 8 and Kimberly, 7, had just moved to the area from Texas, and could not find an apartment where the landlord allowed pets.
The family had just spent 18 months separated from Scott, an Army sergeant. Scott was assigned as recruiting officer for the Salem area, and the family was finally together again.
The family did not want to give up the cats. They were strays adopted while in Texas, and quickly became part of the family, Kelly said.
Helped newcomer: She said shelter volunteers calmed her fears and said they would find good homes for the two cats if need be. They agreed to allow her to board her cats while she either found a home for them herself, or found different housing that would allow pets.
"I think my tears got to them," Kelly said. "They don't board animals often. They told me all I had to do was visit them once a week and feed them."
She said the cats adapted quickly to their new surroundings at the shelter. She would put them outside and they would play, run, and lie in the grass soaking up sunshine, and they never strayed far from the shelter.
By January, Kelly was volunteering daily. She was among a contingent of volunteers and others who attended a hearing Thursday in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court where attorneys agreed the shelter will be sold.
Kelly and her family just moved into a rental home last week that allows pets. She said as soon as the dust settled, Ruffeo and Phoenix took possession of the center couch cushion, curled together and promptly fell asleep.
"I don't know what I would have done without this place," Kelly said. "I don't know what our babies [the cats and dogs at the shelter] will do without us."
For years, the shelter has relied on about $20,000 it received annually from the Atchison trust, established in 1959 to benefit animals.
Running on donations: But Judge C. Ashley Pike of Columbiana County Common Pleas Court suspended dispersal of the trust fund money nearly two years ago. Since then the shelter has been operating on donations of cash and supplies, and staffed by volunteers.
On Thursday, several people stopped in to make donations of cat and dog food, newspapers and office supplies, and to learn the results of the hearing.
"They aren't going to take this away from you, are they?" asked one senior citizen, a regular visitor. She drove 22 miles from her home to bring a box of dog biscuits and a ceiling fan.
She said she had been going to garage sales to find fans and other items the shelter could use. Before she left, she dropped some coins in the donation box.
"If we had money, we could do a lot more things," said volunteer Cindy Harris. "We could put up sound barriers to cut down on the barking noise. Instead, we scramble just to buy kitty litter."
Judge Pike's decision to suspend the trust fund money was in response to claims from some shelter officials that funds were being misspent and that animals were receiving improper care.
Changed operations: Since then, the humane society has altered its operations to ensure fiscal responsibility and proper animal care, shelter officials have said.
The agency wants the judge to order the trust fund payments to be restored.
But the humane society is asking the judge to award it the trust fund dollars, saying it wants to use the money to undertake animal welfare efforts.
"There were some problems, but it's not at all the way it used to be," Harris said. The shelter is no longer accepting dogs or cats. Anyone wanting to adopt pays a $60 fee which covers the cost of spaying or neutering, and shots.

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