TAKE ME HOME - International Regional Magazine Association


TAKE ME HOME - International Regional Magazine Association
Tootsie Roll
Take Me Home
Maverick (left) and friends are in East Smithfield
and Wellsboro, at the Animal Care Sanctuary
By Brendan O’Meara
Smudge & Diamond
Photos by Elizabeth Young
he Animal Care Sanctuary—with its headquarters in East Smithfield
and a branch in Wellsboro, one of the largest and most successful
no-kill shelters in the United States—had its start with a woman who
saw a problem and sought to solve it.
In Lesley Sinclair’s mind, there was criminal neglect taking place in her town
of Toms River, New Jersey, and she found it most troubling.
People visited their summer homes on the shores of New Jersey and they
brought their children and they brought their pets. The problem was that when
these families left they found their pets to be excess baggage and they discarded
them as if they were broken toys.
Sinclair, then an interior designer working in New York City, swept up these
abandoned strays and took them as her own. By doing so she gave voice to the
voiceless and power to the powerless. “I am these animals’ last great hope,” she
See Take Me Home on page 8
The Valley (Sayre, Athens, & Waverly)
Take Me Home continued from page 7
She quickly outgrew the twenty-five
acres she had in Toms River, finding
that the developers of McMansions
sprouting up weren’t keen to her droves
of barking dogs taking bites out of the
property value. The great disciplinary
hand of the zoning board swept her
away. She soon found a tract of land
in north central Pennsylvania in East
Smithfield, which would become
Sanctuary Hill. She made thirty-eight
trips there from Toms River with two
yellow school buses. “The most horrible
days of my life,” she said. “I prayed.”
Sinclair shared her house with
fifty cats hopping up and down from
bookcases and chairs, bureaus, and
tables. Ten dogs meandered among
the felines. There were 100 more cats
in cages in the other half of her house
and another 400 outside in the barn. In
another building she housed 225 dogs
that leapt at the fences of their cages and
barked as loudly as they had barked in
Toms River.
She wrote letters to donors,
handwritten letters, asking for money
to help pay for food and care. She
wished she could hire a veterinarian for
treatment but also to spay and neuter
these animals to stop the problem at its
source. She also needed help.
Sinclair advertised in the same way
one may write looking for a mate, “It is
a joyous yet lonely life. I am alone when
everyone else is with their family. He/
she must be mature, have sown their
wild oats, and be prepared to settle
down to a lifetime’s work of caring
about the animals…not looking for
a wife or a husband—just the love of
This was in 1987. Sinclair died in
1998. Sanctuary Hill became something
Sinclair only dreamed of.
Scott Walker, 570-295-1083
The long drive up Sanctuary
Hill Road ends in a lush, green field
overlooking the mountains. People
walk some of the forty-eight dogs down
the hill and through the woods to
stretch their legs. There’s no rush. This
Animal Care Sanctuary adoption
coordinator Erin Johnson (left) and
Executive DirectorJoan SmithReese give voice to the voiceless.
won’t be a dog’s last walk unless he’s adopted. The Animal
Care Sanctuary won’t euthanize a single animal due to
overpopulation. Some tenants are there for life.
To give you an idea of the volume that Joan Smith-Reese,
executive director of ACS since 2009, and her staff deal with,
ACS admitted 571 animals in 2013 and adopted out 553.
Thirty-six animals were fostered. ACS’s vet clinic performed
3,859 spay/neuter surgeries and made 2,452 appointments
at its clinic. People who need to spay or neuter an animal
can bring their pet in and have the surgery performed by a
qualified veterinarian for a small fraction of the price of a
private practice.
Of those numbers above, Wellsboro admitted 231
animals and adopted out 226. Wellsboro’s animal shelter,
now an outpost of ACS, was once run by the Pennsylvania
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Smith-Reese had just taken the job as executive director
of ACS and was spreading the word about their mission.
East Smithfield is remote and the ACS was thought of
as some cult up in the mountains, not a sanctuary for
adoptable animals. Smith-Reese received a phone call from
the Pennsylvania SPCA, which ran the Wellsboro shelter,
saying it planned on closing, “Would you take the animals?”
Of course, ACS would take the animals. It wasn’t part
of the plan, but the fate of the animals had she not absorbed
them trumped any ideas of “plans.” A few months later the
See Take Me Home on page 11
Take Me Home continued from page 9
Your Host, the Kauffman Family
njoy the
views from
our deck
Pine Creek
and relax
with a drink
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392 Slate Run Road
Slate Run, PA 17769
Pennsylvania SPCA called again saying
it planned on selling the property of the
Wellsboro shelter. It couldn’t. Written
into the deed was a condition that the
land be used for the care of animals. The
ACS rented it from the PSPCA for one
dollar a year and bought the property
for one dollar in the third year. It was
never in the plans to have an outpost in
Wellsboro, Smith-Reese said, but that
was how it happened.
“When we went in it was in poor
shape,” Smith-Reese said. “They had
pulled the plug on the refrigerator with
$50,000 worth of rabies vaccines. I
thought my vet was going to cry.”
The Wellsboro shelter has the
capacity for thirty cats and nine dogs.
It can take in what it can until it reaches
capacity. The two facilities work in
“If the animal control or dog law
people bring a dog and we can take it,
we do, and it will stay there,” Smith-
Reese said. “If there’s an overflow, we’ll
take it [in East Smithfield]. We have a
transport once a week back and forth
because our vets are over there and here
so they can treat the animals.”
Wellsboro’s shelter needed a lot
of work. “It was dirty, it needed an
overhaul,” Smith-Reese said, “and the
people in Wellsboro were really angry
because all these years they sent money
to Philadelphia for their SPCA. When
they saw the condition of the place
and that it closed, we gave that a lot of
So she spoke with the newspaper
and spread the word to the community
that when the shelter re-opened it
would be community based. People
arrived in droves, sixty to seventy
people, to trim leaves, mow the grass,
paint. It still has many needs, but it has
become a worthy satellite to the space
station in East Smithfield.
Erin Johnson is ACS’s adoption
coordinator. She spends much of her
time screening people to ensure that if
one of her cats or dogs goes out, it has
little to no chance of coming back. No
hard feelings, but an adopted animal
incapable of reproducing is a beautiful
sight, another success story.
“I just had someone in here who
wanted to surrender their eleven-yearold, very sick Jack Russell,” Johnson
“Oh, my, God,” Smith-Reese said.
“Did you strangle them?”
“Verbally, yes.”
“It’s amazing. People will say, ‘I’ve
had this dog for fourteen years and
we’re moving to Florida and we want
to surrender it.’ I’m not kidding.
“This one woman’s going to Hawaii
and said, ‘I need to know what my
options are.’ I said, ‘Your option is to
bring the dog with you.’”
Voice to the voiceless, power to the
See Take Me Home on page 14
Take Me Home continued from page 11
Such is the maddening part of
working at ACS. People often dump
animals off because they’ve grown
inconvenient, a commoditized toy they
outgrew and want to toss aside. On the
other hand, sometimes animals come
to them because a woman was killed
in a car accident and left behind a dog,
or a grandmother passed away leaving
her two cats uncared for. Perhaps the
surviving family rents their home, and
the landlord doesn’t allow animals.
“Literally, you can’t have a guinea
pig around here,” Johnson said. “If they
rent, that’s the first phone call I make.
Three non-family references. It’s hit or
Johnson started over three years ago
and has adopted out roughly 700 dogs
and 500 cats. She tries to keep the dog
kennel to forty-eight dogs, fifty tops.
When she arrived there were over eighty
dogs. “We sense a shift in the vibe of
the kennel when it’s over fifty,” Johnson
said. “The animals aren’t getting out
as much. Playtime in the yard is cut
in half. You feel it when you walk in.
Even though we can house double, that
doesn’t mean we should.”
The cats number in the 450 range.
They live in communal cages in the
cattery. They run free in the cattery
when staff cleans the communals. “We
live to clean,” Smith-Reese said.
A group of donors helped build the
“catio” (pronounced like patio). It’s a
screened-in porch with different shelves,
levels, and toys for the cats to have an
outdoor experience. Trish Steves, who
has worked at ACS for seventeen years,
said, “We wanted a safe place for them.
Our cats usually don’t go outside. Some
didn’t get to experience fresh air so we
got this built. It’s nice to see some of
them that haven’t experienced it to lay
out in the sunshine. They can watch a
bird for the first time or a bug.”
The vets and behaviorists screen all
the animals to profile them accordingly.
Potential adopters will know if a dog is
housetrained or good with other dogs,
cats, and children.
Life is Beautiful.
Enjoy the Details.
Call us today at 1-866-995-EYES (3937) to arrange
Vision & Hearing screenings.
Allenwood • Bellefonte • Bloomsburg • Danville
Lewisburg • McElhattan • Middleburg
Sunbury • Wellsboro • Williamsport
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Mountain Home
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27 Whispering Pines Ln. Galeton, PA
mistreated and discriminated against).
High school students take a course
that covers many topics from ethics to
legalities surrounding animals.
The animals are safely harbored at
ACS. Leslie Sinclair’s vision is reflected
in every action.
“I think she would be thrilled,”
Smith-Reese said. “Thrilled with the
adoptions. She would hand-write
letters to the donors, ‘I wish I could
have a vet in a mobile home to do spay/
neuters.’ I discover these things long
after we’ve done them. It’s like she’s
watching and telling me what to do.”
Mountain Home contributor
Brendan O’Meara, of Saratoga,
NY, is the author of Six Weeks in
Saratoga: How Three- Year-Old
Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the
Boys and Became Horse of the
One of the mobile trailers at
ACS acts as a home simulator. There’s
furniture and kitchen appliances
that behaviorists can use to give new
meaning to a dog’s house training. It’s
simply a way for dogs accustomed to
being outdoors (possibly tied to a tree
for years like one German shepherd)
to learn there’s nothing to fear about
a dishwasher.
A few yards from this trailer is
another where the interns work. They
come from all over the country and
range from animal science majors to
ACS also hosts different types of
programs for school children of all
ages. The youngest of the young get to
learn how to handle animals properly.
In the middle grades ACS introduces
“bully breeds” like pit bulls to dispel
the myths so commonly associated
with them (thus allowing educators
to spin that toward how children are
Take Me Home continued from page 14
The good life: the “catio” gives the cats at the Animal
Care Sanctuary a taste of the outdoors—without its
inherent dangers.

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