- Associated Press - Monday, March 30, 2015

GREENCASTLE, Pa. (AP) - Recycling is second nature to George Statler, founder and operator of the nonprofit Mountainside Pet Rescue along Upper Horse Valley Road.

He can remake and make do with cast-off material like few others can.

Evidence of thrift is seen in the structures that have been built as shelters, storage rooms or office: A door here, a window frame there, corrugated metal and exterior plywood - whatever he can get his hands on, he uses to make space for yet another dog.

Restoration is in his blood, which is why Statler has made a full-time retirement vocation of reclaiming the lives of a steady stream of abused, abandoned and aging dogs. There have been as many as 100 or more at a time, he said, but he’s now down to 71.

At 82 (Statler’s birthday was March 26) he now takes in just “older dogs and emergency cases,” he said.

This no-kill dog shelter is the result of his devotion to a horribly under-nourished, terrified pit bull terrier named Duke, whom Statler rescued in 1999. Within his first year of care at Statler’s home, Duke was transformed into a handsome, lovable dog who happily greeted everyone with gusto.

Although Duke is gone, the shelter is home to other pit bulls, along with a red ‘coon hound, a hefty pedigreed Leonberger and a sleek black Rottweiler, to name just a few.

Statler relies on friends and volunteers who don’t mind the long trip up the scenic, rural valley. It’s a new set of friends now, since the deaths a few years ago of his companion and his best friend, but the loyalty is as strong. Almost as if drawn to the place, they show up often to do what needs to be done - haul bags of feed, clean out pens, help build things or run for supplies.

Statler walks through mazes of chain link fence that separate groups of dogs leaping and barking for attention. He has to shout to be heard as he introduces Sam Shank and Diane Ballance, who are adding some new fence.

“We worked together at Letterkenny since back in 1989,” said Shank, who comes up weekly. “Actually, George was my training officer. He was there when I needed him, and now I’m here when he needs me.”

Since September, Ballance, a nurse at Chambersburg Hospital, has been helping on weekends and days off. She learned of the shelter from a friend whose family has several pets buried in the shelter’s pet cemetery. “She was talking about the cemetery and I was interested in it, since I have three dogs and don’t have my own land,” Ballance said. “She took me up there to meet George, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, he has a few dogs up there he’s taking care of.’”

Now, it’s like her second home. She added, “He needs so much help, I never want to leave.”

Other regulars are Billie Jo Reed, Upper Strasburg, who hunts for pet-related bargains on the Internet and helps bring in supplies; Melissa Johns, Fayetteville, has done a lot of carpentry work; and Mary Carbaugh, who for seven years has helped out at least one day a week.

Twice a year, Wilson College’s veterinary students go to the shelter to clip dogs’ toenails and groom them.

While Statler manages daily expenses with his own retirement money, he’s quick to acknowledge his outside sponsors. Colony House Furniture, Chambersburg, provides regular financial support, which comes in handy for the $600 worth of chain link fence being installed this spring or the $800 in vet bills this year to treat Jake, a great Dane. In the only kind of payback he can offer, Statler lets Colony House owners Vernon “Mike” and Carol Connor name the pit bulls that come nameless to the shelter.

The Pet Store, Chambersburg, and Vanessa Hovetter, owner of Fi-Dough Bakery in Walnut Bottom, also help fund the shelter. A lot of the donations get put into a fund for future care of the dogs, Statler said. There’s money to help them when he’s gone, but his concern is that there will be no one to live on the property and love the dogs that have become his family.

“I can’t explain it,” he said of his beloved first rescue. “I’ve lost a lot of people in my lifetime, but nothing ever affected my life like that ol’ Duke.”

Ballance summed it up, saying, “Just like people, dogs know when they’ve been abandoned and they also know when somebody has rescued them. There’s no greater appreciation than in a dog.”

Statler said he feels overwhelmed at times, but then he hears a tearful voice on the phone, “I have to leave my home. Can you take my dog?”

“What can I do?” he asked, looking across the yard as 71 pairs of eager, adoring, puppy-dog eyes are following his every move.

For him, there is no choice.

This generous man is a friendless dog’s best friend.





Information from: Public Opinion, https://www.publicopiniononline.com

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