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For the love of animals

By Staff | Jun 30, 2011

“One hand

Reaches out

And pulls a lost soul from harm

While a thousand more go unspoken for

And they say what good have you done

By saving just this one

It’s like whispering a prayer

In the fury of a storm.”

For Linda Henriksen and the staff of The Olive Branch Animal Rescue and Refuge, Inc. (OBARR) in Sistersville, these lyrics sum up their mission to save the animals in need. . .one at a time.

OBARR is a not for profit “no kill” organization dedicated to providing “a better quality of life” by putting an end to the cruel abuse, suffering and neglect of all animals. Donated by a benefactor, Olive Barth, the OBARR property consists of 174 acres of rolling hills located two miles from Sistersville, and serves as a temporary home for 65 dogs, 101 cats, nine horses, eight pigs and two goats.

The organization’s mission is carried out by a staff of eight. “We have a good crew,” commented Henriksen, who serves as the president of OBARR. “But we need volunteers to help out, too, especially in the summer months.”

All funding for OBARR is made possible through the generosity of those who truly carefor the well being ofanimals that need to find homes, have been neglected,abused and/or abandoned. This task does not come without a price, though. In fact, Henriksen estimates the total monthly operation cost be be $20,000, not including funds used in emergency situations.

“People are under the impression that Olive left us millions,” Henriksen explained. “But all of her things are in trust and nothing was left specifically to the Olive Branch. She noted, however, that the estate has been gracious to the organization, donating often. “It’s not enough to operate the organization,” she said.

Another misconception is that OBARR is the county’s animal shelter. “We are a non-profit rescue organization, Henriksen said. “We can only take as many dogs and cats as we can afford to take care of – there’ no way we can take in every stray.” Still, the OBARR staff commonly finds animals abandoned at the gate or tied to the fence.

For this reason, the Tyler County Commission donates to OBARR to help offset the cost of caring for strays. On a quarterly basis, Henriksen gathers the medical bills incurred from vetting the stray animals found in the county and presents them to the commissioners with a summary of the charges, and they “give as the budget allows.”

But OBARR does not depend solely on donations and endowments. The organization also operates a storefront located at the Florentine Arts Center in New Martinsville. They sell pet supplies, flea treatments, collars, dong bones and more. All proceeds from the sales, less the state mandated sales tax, benefits OBARR.

Some of the money raised will be used for construction on the property, which will accommodate the large animal population. One project in the works is a puppy center. “We need around $60,000 for a basic construction,” Henriksen said. “We are looking to expand on a lot of (other) things, as well.”

Part of this expansion community involvement.

OBARR strives to educate the community on pet care, with a focus on young people. “There’s a correlation between animal abuse in young people and being a physical abuser as an adult,” Henriksen pointed out.

They are also looking to set up a “read to a pet” program for students. “Some studies show that children with reading disabilities read better to pets,” Henriksen commented.

They also want to educate the community on the importance of altering their pets.

In 2005, West Virginia passed a law that all animals from rescues,shelters etc. must be spayed or neutered when adopted.If for some reason the animal is not neutered or spayed, for instance a puppy that is not old enough for the procedure,OBARR requests that verification be sent to the them within a specified amountof time depending on the age of the pet.

If no verification is sent, OBARR reserves theright tocheck for neuter or spaying, and if procedure hasn’t been completed they may take the pet back for the procedure at theowner’s expense. Henriksen further explained, “Most prospective pet owners ask ‘why?’ to this procedure. It is the Olive Branch’s attempt to deal with the severe problem of constant breedingwhich causesthe animal overpopulation that we currentlyhave.Also the Olive Branch feels thatwe must do whatever we can to help the millions of animals that are abandoned and euthanized every day.”

In the same vein, OBARR occasionally offers aid to pet owners who cannot afford to spay or neuter their pets. “We help at least two families per month,” Henriksen said. “The Wetzel County Animal Shelter has helped at times as well. According to Henriksen, the financial aid is offered based on need, with OBARR assuming a portion or all of the cost for the procedure.

Aside from programs, projects and fundraising ideas, finding ‘forever’ homes for the animals remains a primary goal of the OBARR staff. They ask for a set donationfeefor adoptions to help support the organization and offset the cost of overall care which includes, vet bills, neuter/spaying, medications, and food. The cost to adopt a cat or kittens is $50; the fee for dog and puppies is $175. The adoption fee is non-refundable.

“Some people say $175 is a lot of money to pay for an animal,”Henriksen remarked. “But all animals are completely vetted upon adoption.” This involves spay or neuter for animals over six months of age, age appropriate vaccinations, the application of Frontline Plus for fleas and ticks, de-worming, heart worm testing, Feline Leukemia testing for cats, micro-chipping of dogs, and a health certificate.

“We are still one of the lowest in regard to adoption fees,” she noted.

As always, OBARR strives to continue to observe its “no kill” status. “At this time theonly animals that would be euthanized are those that would be beyond medical help,” Henriksen explained. This goal, however, comes at a cost, one that requires the support of the community.

“We receive a lot of flack for our no-kill policy. Who are we to judge that they should be euthanized?” Henriksen asked. “The poem ‘Just A Dog’ explains it all.”

She read, “From time to time people tell me ‘lighten up, it’s just a dog,’ or, ‘That’s a lot of money for just a dog.’ They don’t understand the distance traveled, time spent, or costs involved for ‘Just a dog.’ Some of my proudest moments have come about with ‘Just a dog.’ Many hours have passed with my only company being ‘Just a dog,’ and not once have I felt slighted. Some of my saddest moments were brought about by ‘Just a dog.’ In those days of darkness, the gently touch of “Just a dog” provided comfort and purpose to overcome the day.”

“If you too, think it’s ‘Just a dog,’ you will probably understand phrases like ‘Just a friend’, ‘just a sunrise,’ or ‘just a promise.’ ‘Just a dog’ brings into my life the very essence of friendship, trust, and pure unbridled joy. ‘Just a dog’ brings out the compassion and patience that makes me a better person. Because of ‘Just a dog’ I will rise early, take long walks and look longingly to the future.”

“For me and folks like me, it’s not ‘Just a dog.’ It’s an embodiment of all the hopes and dreams of the future, the memories of the past, and the pure joy of the moment. ‘Just a dog’ brings out what’s good in me and diverts my thoughts away from myself and the worries of the day.”

“I hope that someday people can understand it’s not ‘Just a dog.’ It’s the thing that gives me humanity and keeps me from being just a man or woman.”

So the next time your hear the phrase ‘Just a dog,’ smile, because they just don’t understand.”

“The author of thisheartfelt poem is unknown,” Henriksen said, pausing for a moment. “But I cannot express how much this poems means to me. What better way to let people know about the unconditional love andjoy that ‘just a dog’ can give.”

She continued, “A lot of people don’t like me. I don’t care. When I put my head on my pillow at night I know I’ve done the best I could do for the animals.”

“Some people say, ‘Oh, it’s just a dog’. But I have become a better person because of ‘just’ dogs and cats,” she said. “Our purpose is to help one animal at a time. Every animal has a right to be given a chance.”

Henriksen is not immune to the sadness surrounding the abuse and neglect of animals in Tyler County. “One day I was really discouraged and I wanted to quit,” she said. “But then Mary (Fore) showed me a video of our successful adoptions. I was reminded to forget the focus of people – what they think and what they feel. It’s all about the animals we have taken in who now have happy homes.”

OBARR is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. After business hours or on Sunday, volunteers or those who want to see the animals should call for an appointment.

For information regarding adoption a pet or to volunteer at the Olive Branch Animal Rescue and Refuge, Inc., call 304-652-1010, email info@olivebranchwv.org, or visit their Web site at www.olivebranchwv.org.

Donations may be sent to the Olive Branch Animal Rescue and Refuge, Inc., P.O. Box 183, Sistersville, WV 26175.