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Beyond the Mission Statement: SPCA of Luzerne County image
Support a Cause
January 30, 2023
Beyond the Mission Statement: SPCA of Luzerne County

In our effort to create Northeastern Pennsylvania’s most comprehensive nonprofit directory, we came across hundreds of amazing organizations. Naturally, we wanted to share their inspiring stories.

In this series, we aim to highlight the hard-working organizations, the good people, the selfless volunteers, the helpers, the healers, the listeners, the comforters and all the great work they do. We hope that, through these stories, you too will be inspired to lend your time, your hands and your hearts. Follow along as we take a look beyond the mission statement.

The Purrfect Animal Shelter

An orange tabby cat named Larry Bird makes himself at home on a worn wooden chair. He’s special and he knows it. As the SPCA’s resident house-cat, if you will, he has the luxury of roaming about an office, safe behind a child-proof gate at the door. Larry acquired his name not because, as you might have assumed, he was an avid bird-hunter in his former life. Rather, his purr earned him the moniker.

That sweet, soft buzzing lull that we all expect from a happy and content cat sounds more like the not-so-soft chirping of a baby bird coming from Larry. And while some cats can be a little stingy with their audible sounds of contentment and joy, Larry is quick to vocalize his pleasure. Friendly and inquisitive, he had no caution in allowing us to love and fawn over him. If the purr is the feline equivalent of a smile, Larry Bird was grinning from ear to ear.


Safe Sanctuary On The Road To A Forever Home


Todd Hevner, Executive Director of the SPCA of Luzerne County

Every animal deserves a place to call home.

Larry Bird is just one of hundreds, rather thousands, of examples of the loving, sweet and friendly animals that make their temporary home at this animal shelter — and many others like it across our area. However they’ve come to find themselves in this place, in need of a forever home, they are waiting, willing and eager for you to make them a part of your family.

For the SPCA of Luzerne County, the slogan, “A second hand animal makes a first-class pet,” is especially meaningful. The non-profit organization, based in Wilkes-Barre, makes it their mission – one of several worthwhile goals designed to help not only our furriest friends but us animal lovers, too – to find a loving, caring home for every animal that comes through their shelter doors.

“I often tell people this organization services people. How we do that is through service to animals.” says Todd Hevner, Executive Director of the SPCA of Luzerne County. “We are in this field, in this organization, because we are those people that, if we can help, we want to help. We just have an affection for animals.”

Founded in 1957, the SPCA continues to uphold their original goal to provide compassion, comfort, and care to domestic animals through shelter and adoption; to educate our community on animal care; to advocate for and protect animals; and to provide cost effective veterinary care.

Chief among those pursuits is animal sheltering. The facility currently has the capacity to house just over 200 animals – typically dogs, cats and small furry things like hamsters, bunnies and guinea pigs. Annually, they take in approximately 3,500 animals.


The Care They Need and The Love They Deserve


Larry Bird comfortably perched on his favorite chair.

The shelter is a temporary haven.

It is a soft place to land for thousands of domesticated pets across Luzerne County who arrive here for a variety of reasons. The animals are safe, fed, have a warm place to sleep and have access to medical care. And they are loved deeply by the army of dedicated volunteers and full-time staff who look after them. But this is not intended to be a forever home.

“There’s no better bargain in the county than to come adopt an animal from this organization. It will come spayed/neutered, microchipped, and with inoculations,” says Hevner.  “If people are looking, or even have an inkling (they want a pet), come talk to us. You just need to be here looking, putting your application in.”

A common misconception about adopting a dog from the SPCA is that only pit bulls are available. While it’s true there are many pit bulls at the shelter, the reality is, that’s a snapshot of what’s in our communities. But that is not all there is. All breeds of dogs regularly come through the door of the SPCA including beagles, goldendoodles and rottweilers, as well as cats and bunnies.

Adopting a shelter pet not only makes room for other animals in need of a temporary home, but it gives a home and a family to an otherwise deserving pet who has found themselves in these unfortunate circumstances.


Elsa May’s Furever Home


Elsa May making herself comfortable in her new forever home.

Like all animals, shelter pets bring joy and happiness to a home.

Elsa May, aka Ellie, aka Ellie Belly, believed to be fours year old, and a pit bull/boxer mix, has found her forever home with Robbie Hutchison and her daughter. After living at the shelter for seventeen months, the adorable spotted face they saw on the organization’s website won them over.

After 11 years together, the death of their beloved pitbull, Moose, led the Hutchinson’s to make room in their hearts and their home for Ellie. They are treasuring “watching her become the sweet dog she was always meant to be,” says mom, Robbie.

“Shelter pets have an undeserved reputation as being ‘broken,’ but they aren’t. They are good pets who just want to love and be loved,” she says. “The employees and volunteers at the SPCA are our heroes for allowing us the privilege of sharing our lives and home with this absolute princess.”


Helping To Control The Pet Population


An overpopulation of unwanted animals is a longstanding concern that the SPCA is addressing.

As any pet owner knows, the added cost of veterinary care can be a huge financial burden. One that a large population of our area cannot afford, especially in today’s economic times. Financial access to spay/neuter through the SPCA is absolutely imperative to the organization’s purpose to reducing the overpopulation of domestic companion animals, stray pets, and unwanted liters.

“That’s ultimately what’s going to take the population inside this shelter, inside Blue Chip, Griffin Pond…it’s what going to really drop our numbers. So that is our ultimate goal.  Access.”

Stray cats are a huge problem in Luzerne County. And while deemed simply an inconvenience for adults, they can be quite dangerous for children. Over a span of eighteen months during 2021-2022, the SPCA’s Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate, Return program fixed 902 cats in Wilkes-Barre. That’s tens of thousands of kittens that weren’t born. And Todd says they are just scratching the surface of the problem.

“Here we are 66 years later and we still have a (stray animal) problem. And the problem hasn’t gotten any smaller. In fact, if anything, its ballooned out. If we reduce the number of both mating pairs or those that have the ability to produce offspring, those numbers…will begin to come down. This isn’t an overnight program.”


To Serve and Protect Innocent Animals


SPCA Humane Society Police Officers Vickie VanGorder, Wayne Harvey and Grace Barnell

Humane Society Police make it their mission to defend mistreated animals.

The ultimate goal of the SPCA would be to work themselves out of business. To ensure that every animal has a loving home with access to veterinary care. However, there will always be one major problem that requires their service: animal cruelty. Annually, the Humane Society Police field between 700-800 calls.

On a typical busy day, Humane Society Police Officer Wayne Harvey, who has been on the job for 21 years, pauses to discuss the benefits and challenges of his very important work.

Today, a call would take him to Hunlock Creek for a deceased dog on the side of a road. Last week, his team, including Vickie VanGorder and Grace Barnell, took possession of a horse off a farm. The owner, he says, has been cited several times for cruelty to animals. That day, they arrived with a warrant due to the condition of the animal. It is believed the horse was gored by a bull and left without medical care.

“I see as much if not more cruelty now than when I started back in 2007. But I made one animal’s life a little bit better. I saved it,” Harvey says about the horse he helped rescue.

Their work extends beyond taking possession of animals and issuing fines. First and foremost, they try to educate pet owners on how to resolve problems. Two of the most common complaints include animals left outside for extended periods of time without shelter and animals without food and water. As opposed to administering citations, the officers work with pet owners to ensure they comply with ordinances, including providing donated food and medicine when possible.

“If I can save one. Alleviate suffering of one animal, then I think I’ve done something special,” adds Harvey.


Share Your Time, Talent and Treasure


Volunteer Paula Powell with pit bull Dollar

Community help allows the SPCA to continue serving local domestic animals.

The SPCA is a stand-alone entity funded entirely through grants, foundation funding, contracts with municipalities and private donations. And while they need the communities across Luzerne County to help them, they want even more to be of help.

“I would love the community to make us your first call if you have an animal related issue. Call us. We may not be able to help the situation directly, but more often than not, we are going to be able to provide you with resources that can help the situation. Call the SPCA. We are a wealth of information and resources that go beyond sheltering and adoption,” says Hevner.

Volunteerism is a driving force for good within the organization. Helpers like Paula Powell, who started volunteering her time in 2021 by walking dogs, cleaning cages, making treats, and taking animals out into the community to be seen, helps keep the animals well cared for and happy until they find their forever family.

Loaning your talents to the SPCA is another integral component to keeping the nonprofit afloat. Sharing your skillset can go beyond volunteering your time working directly with animals. Whether you’re an electrician, a graphic designer or a contractor, your skills are an important resource that helps immensely.

Finally, financial contributions are the lifeblood of the SPCA, allowing them to continue forwarding their mission. Donations make it possible to keep the lights on, animals fed, veterinary care available and spay/neuter programs running. “We exist because of the community that supports us,” Hevner emphasizes.