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Gilmer veterinarian, group plan animal shelter

By Glenn Evans
March 3, 2013 at 11 p.m.

GILMER - Here's what it sounds like when the stray animal population explodes:

"'Someone dumped a dog on me, I'm going to dump it on someone else,'" Gilmer veterinarian Cherie Nazzal said, quoting one excuse she heard for pet overpopulation that has spurred her and others to lay ground for a new animal shelter.

"It's like people, when they take in a pet, that is a long-term commitment," Nazzal said. "It isn't just to see if it's going to work."

Sometimes pets are dumped by people who tried to make money on them in a Walmart parking lot: " 'We're just going to leave them there,' " Nazzal said.

The veterinarian was aware a similar problem in Gregg County is moving the Longview City Council to build a new animal center there.

"It is so much worse up here," she said. "There is the Bubba mentality up here - 'My boys ain't gonna get fixed.' "

Fixing that manly dog would help break the trend Nazzal maintains is outpacing pet overpopulation in Gregg County. At least, that's the perspective she and a newly formed board for Upshur County Hope House for Pets carries in a deliberate game plan.

First steps have been taken, including weekly informal meetings with her five-member board. Pet-friendly accountants have applied for tax-free status to the Internal Revenue Service, which cashed the $850 filing fee.

A volunteer appreciation/recruitment picnic earlier this month revealed a small army of supporters eager to help put a leash on overpopulation.

And on March 9, Nazzal is inviting the community to help convert the back side of her Animal Medical & Surgical Hospital into Hope House's first intake pens.

"We're trying to be a real, professional organization," said Nazzal, who arrived in Gilmer from Mesquite in 1985 and 10 years ago took over the animal hospital, on Tyler Street (Texas 154) just west of Latch Road, from Chester Studdard. "We want to do this right, so we're not taking any shortcuts. We don't want to get overwhelmed and shut down."

Once volunteers help put up donated fencing and lay concrete for a dozen dog runs behind the clinic, Hope House will begin accepting up to 12 dogs and three or four cats.

"We're only going to take in as many as we can handle at a time," Nazzal said.

The facility will handle more if volunteers step up to foster the animals after a rigorous intake that includes spay/neutering, blood testing, HIV testing for cats, appropriate vaccinations and evaluation.

"We don't want people to sign up for being a foster and take a sick animal in to their healthy animal (at home)," Nazzal said.

A larger fundraiser is planned in May with a Cherokee Rose Pet Show and auction. Donated auction items are sought to bolster a handmade quilt in the works and a time share on the Mexican Riviera that Nazzal owns.

"Or, if I sell it, the money will go to the Hope House," she added.

Nazzal foresees a separate, larger animal center eventually going up.

"One goal is a nice facility - a very positive environment, bright, really good facility," she said. "I want to have a classroom to educate people, starting with kids."

Local animal trainer Sarah Slocum, a board member, has been slated to design an eventual permanent home for Upshur County Hope House for Pets.

"These animals need us, so we're going to be there for them - and the sooner the better," said Slocum, who will be the shelter manager. "We need volunteers to help us put this together. And we need foster parents, because right now we don't have the facility for people to bring them to."

Slocum said supporters are looking for options - maybe a vacant building to convert.

"We're doing everything right," she said. "We're doing everything in the open for the public to see. We're completely transparent."



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