OTTUMWA — It was a dog that served as inspiration for Serena Burton to form what is Ottumwa’s Heartland Humane Society in an abandoned pet store in the mid-1990s.

Burton grew up in suburban Chicago where, along with a few other women, she volunteered one morning per week at an animal shelter. She described the experience that prompted her to open the shelter out of affection she had for animals.

“One day, I noticed that there were kids out and a dog was running, of a German shepherd mix, and I was worried he would be run over so I caught him and called the police, who were able to take him in,” she said.

Burton mentions how after remaining distressed after she contacted the police. “I called to see whether anyone had claimed him, and then the police mentioned there were only four days left. I said, “What do you mean four days left for what?”

Back then, before Ottumwa had the shelter, lost cats or dogs were taken to a veterinary office to board for five to six days where only the owners could adopt the dog back, and if no one came within that time spa to the animal’s aid, it was euthanized. It was a sad case as many families, when they went on vacation, had no idea their pet had been taken and by the time they were back, the pet just wasn’t there anymore.

Burton soon realized that all these pets were being put down while a shelter could offer many options to homeless animals. A small group of two or three met to create a better outcome. She spoke about getting to the opening process with a sense of heartfelt memory.

“We would brainstorm ideas and watch a film with an animal-related subject during the week, helping others vet situations, fostering some pets until we got to a point where the shelter was going to be possible with only $10,000. We rented a former pet store near the bowling alley which came already with a cat room, bathing and storage room, where we were the ones who initially staffed and personally took the pets on outdoor runs; and shortly after opening, we were able to hire a manager to adopt and meet with the public,” she said.

Now in the present stage of the flourishing shelter, adopters have come from as far as other states which, with social media, it’s easier to adopt a canine addition online. Burton commends the community for its support, “We have had terrific local support from our community; their donations keep us alive, and we have no government dollars provided to us. We have adopted 400-500 dogs and cats per year,” she said.

Burton has 10-15 volunteers who commit regularly and three to four community service volunteers, but overpopulation is a time when the Heartland shelter must deal with reality.

“We have to stop accepting animals when we’re full, and limited space in isolation causes a backlog. We try not to turn anyone away, maybe placing them in a foster home until they come into the shelter. We do not euthanize unless the animal is ill or has a severe behavior problem.”

She highlighted the need for pet owners to have knowledge of the breed and care that pet owners must provide before an adoption is made at the shelter.

“The invisible fences are nice, and a traditional fence is good. Dogs need time spent walking and running in the park with their owners,” she said, noting the love we have for animals is so incredibly deep that no other human bond can tear it. Even when you are left by yourself, she said, a pet won’t ask for much: only food, shelter and a bit of love and caring to depend on.

If you would like more information about adoption and care for dogs and cats, contact Serena Burton at the Heartland Humane Shelter at 641-683-9278.


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