Keeping the Faith Animal Shelter Board President Sara Gmutza-Balling stands outside the future site of Keeping the Faith Animal Shelter on Connellsville Road in Lemont Furnace, Pa. (Herald-Standard photo).
By Alyssa Choiniere
LEMONT FURNACE, Pa. — An animal shelter that aims to serve the community is gearing up to open its doors after selecting its future home here.
Keeping the Faith Animal Shelter Board President Sara Gmutza-Balling and her sister, Vice President Erin Haggerty, often rescued animals as children and grew up to become veterinary technicians.
“She and I have both been animal lovers all our lives, and we’ve rescued every animal we could as kids and adults,” Gmutza-Balling said.
Gmutza-Balling worked with Fayette Friends of Animals and learned more about how to run a shelter and the needs of the community there. Opening the shelter has been a longtime goal for the sisters.
“My sister, Erin, and I have always wanted to do this. I mean, (for) decades,” Gmutza-Balling said.
They brought their two sisters-in-law on board and began actively pursuing the plan shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic. She said when the pandemic hit, they pivoted toward working on the lengthier parts of the process, like attaining their nonprofit designation.
Over the summer, Gmutza-Balling’s husband suggested they look at a property for sale along Connellsville Road.
“We walked through, and it was almost as if it was built for our business plan,” she said.
She said they are Christians and prayed about their plans. When they focused their goals on community service, more ideas kept coming to mind.
“We need to be a community service. We need to be there for the community, to help the community out,” she said.
Among the services they offer will be free long-term boarding for pets. The service will be offered in many situations, but could include veterans on deployment, people who are displaced due to a fire or job loss and victims of domestic violence.
Gmutza-Balling said one of the reasons that victims stay with an abusive partner is because they do not want to leave their children or their pets behind.
“A lot of people were saying ‘This is huge. A lot of people could use this’,” she said of long-term boarding.
They plan to board the pets in foster homes.
Gmutza-Balling said they intend to partner with local veterinarians to offer their services as an alternative to “convenience euthanasia.”
She wants the no-kill shelter to provide their services free of judgement, acknowledging that a person surrendering a pet may be heartbroken and lacking any other option, and that those outside the situation do not know what brought a person to the shelter.
In addition to housing dogs and cats, she said they will also shelter “pocket pets,” like rabbits, gerbils and hamsters, in addition to reptiles and birds. She said no other shelters in the area currently accept those pets. In the future, they plan to also open a horse rescue.
They also plan to launch a database to connect shelters to see where there are openings and what pets are up for adoption. For example, if a family wants to adopt a male dog who is good with children, shelter workers can access the database to see what pets are up for adoption at area shelters. Likewise, if they run out of room, they want to streamline the process of finding another place people can take the pet.
“’I can’t help you’ just isn’t an option for us,” she said.
They designed a floor plan with space to house cats, kittens and pocket pets upstairs, and 25 dogs downstairs. They plan to build an indoor play area with AstroTurf for dogs to play during inclement weather. They will also have a holding area to monitor pets for any signs of illness and a quarantine area for those who are sick. The cat area will include a section for leukemia patients.
They will also give away pet items in a pantry.
Keeping the Faith is holding monthly rummage sales to help support the shelter and complete the building. They hope to move in within one year.
Gmutza-Balling said they are planning to use donations toward perimeter fencing, kennels, updated plumbing and drainage. They also have a security system and sprinkler system on their wish list.
Alyssa Choiniere is a reporter for the Herald-Standard of Uniontown. Helping the Helpers is a joint effort between the Herald-Standard and the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Email her at [email protected].
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