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“The Humane Society of Yates County, Penn Yan, New York”

Julie Morris, Sr. VP, ASPCA National Shelter Outreach


Keeping the Faith
A rural community builds a shelter.

By Julie Morris

Yates County, in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, is a picturesque spot that makes up in beauty for what it may lack in modern amenities. Before 2002, there had never been an animal shelter in this rural, low-income county. But all of that changed last June when a full-service shelter opened its doors in the town of Penn Yan. What began as a dream by the Humane Society of Yates County (HSYC) is now reality, and the organizers’ optimism for the future is reflected in the name that they chose: Shelter of Hope.

The Humane Society of Yates County, incorporated in 1908, has a long history. In 1913, the society received a $3,000 trust fund established by a local man named Mason Baldwin, and interest on the fund helped support animal cruelty investigations. In the 1930s, an additional legacy of $20,000 was realized. By the 1940s, a number of community members had reenergized the organization. One of those members, Alice Van Buren, is still active in the organization today and was given the honor of cutting the ceremonial ribbon when the Shelter of Hope was dedicated on June 1, 2002.

Coming Up With the Money

In 1999, animal-loving county residents launched a capital campaign for the shelter. Their aim was to raise $200,000. They purchased a “fixer upper” house on four acres and began work in earnest. Board member Rolf Zerges was instrumental in the project, working with other volunteers, businesses, citizens and foundations. In 1998, the campaign boasted a bank balance of $25,000. Five years later, the HSYC has assets of more than $400,000, including the sparkling new 3,700-square-foot shelter and community education center.

The ASPCA National Shelter Outreach department recognized how deserving the HSYC was of applause and assistance. It provided two Partners in Caring grants, adding to grants from PETsMART Charities, the DJ & T Foundation and others. Jim Tedford, the executive director of the Humane Society at Lollypop Farm (Rochester, NY), and his staff provided moral support and guidance and donated all the cat housing. A single volunteer, Bob Larder, raised a stunning $20,000 over four years by collecting bottles and cans for recycling. Although currently $140,000 in debt, HSYC is optimistic that generous community and foundation support will continue.

The Payoff

What You Can Do

HSYC’s aim is to place every adoptable animal while providing high-quality care at the shelter. Future plans include additional outside exercise runs and a fenced-in area for working with the shelter dogs on agility equipment during their stay. To donate, or to consult with Rolf Zerges – at no charge – on building a Shelter of Hope in your community, contact the Humane Society of Yates County, P.O. Box 726, Penn Yan, NY 14527; or visit

The faith of these organizations and individuals has more than paid off with a successful new shelter. Although volunteers are the backbone of the Shelter of Hope, two employees handle daily operations. The onetime fixer upper is now a renovated home decorated in country style. The building houses an animal boutique called the Wags to Whiskers Shoppe, community education rooms, a get-acquainted room for prospective adopters, an animal clinic and quarantine rooms, a pet grooming area, a climate-controlled adoption center and administrative workspace. The most important aspect, of course, is the attached, newly built shelter with a 30-cat capacity and 16 dog kennels. The facility has many recreational amenities, such as an indoor-outdoor cat play area and an outdoor exercise area for dogs. That’s all without mentioning the fabulous trompe l’oeil painting on the side of the building that was painted by local artist Linda Lesko. It adds a crowning touch to this beautifully restored home that is now a top-notch shelter.

“Creating the Shelter of Hope over the past three years has been a real partnership,” says Rolf Zerges. “Local citizens opened their hearts and their pocketbooks; area businesses contributed materials and labor; and now, for the first time, Yates County can be partners with animals in need.”

Julie Morris is the senior vice president of ASPCA National Shelter Outreach.

© 2003 ASPCA

ASPCA Animal Watch – Spring 2003

Courtesy of

424 East 92nd Street
New York, NY 10128-6804

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