By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — Local volunteers were saddened but not completely surprised by the demise of the Greater Derry Humane Society.
The group’s board of directors voted last week to disband the all-volunteer organization after helping animals for 27 years.
Volunteer Merlye Zusman has adopted pets through the society and also offered a foster home to animals waiting to be adopted.
“It’s a sad turn of events, for sure, but understandable given the makeup of the organization to date as all-volunteer,” she said.
Zusman said since Derry did not have a shelter of its own it was often inconvenient for people who wanted to give up animals or adopt a pet. The nearest shelters are in Manchester and Bedford.
A dire call went out earlier this month for new volunteers to keep the group going, but there wasn’t enough of a response to breathe life into the society.
“I’m not hopeful,” organizer and co-president Barbara McCarthy said earlier this month. “I think it’s too late.”
McCarthy cited health problems and the lack of new volunteers as reasons the group can’t continue.
The nonprofit, all-volunteer organization offered not only foster homes and adoption services, but also education programs in local schools, dog obedience classes, pet therapy in local nursing homes and other community outreach programs.
The group had no separate shelter for animals.
Even though volunteers knew the group was struggling, some hoped it might survive.
Eleanor Camirand served the group for many years. She called the volunteers a “rare breed” who cared for animals in their homes while they waited to be adopted.
“No institutions, no lonely nights in dark kennels,” Camirand said.
A last-ditch effort to get the word out for more help proved futile.
“Everybody was, like, in shock,” Paula Dunlavey said, after directors voted to disband. “We knew it (might be coming) but it was still sad to see it come and go.”
Dunlavey and her husband Marty have volunteered for about three years. The couple participated in many efforts, including pet therapy and community television programming.
“I just loved everything about it,” Dunlavey said.
Many volunteers have adopted their own pets through the local group, including the Dunlaveys, who adopted Penny and Willow from the Society.
Right now, there are three remaining dogs listed on the group’s website for adoption. Cats are handled through a joint mission with Salem-based Feline Friends, another all-volunteer, no-shelter organization.
Dunlavey said all services will now end, including the popular dog obedience classes and pet therapy services to local nursing homes.
Through the years, volunteers say, the rewards were great.
“Barbara (McCarthy) has taught me so much,” Dunlavey said. “And there are a lot of good stories.”
“Animal Control doesn’t find new homes for abandoned pets,” she said. “What is left for the citizens of Derry and their pets?”
Dunlavey said there is still a great need for a humane group in this area. Some volunteers may continue on to try to get another organization together to continue the mission.
“There are some people interested in continuing,” she said.
That would include starting an entirely new organization to start from scratch.
With the group disbanding, it will take a bit more time to tie up all legal issues, Dunlavey said. After that any remaining Society funds will most likely be distributed to other humane societies and rescue groups in the region.
Earlier this month, McCarthy reported there was approximately $30,000 still in the bank.
Zusman said it would be great if someday Derry had its own pet shelter, but that would cost money and take many bodies to make it happen.
“Ideally, the Greater Derry Humane Society should try to fundraise for a local shelter, and enlisting the aid of local business in a really big initiative,” she said. “But since it is made up of kind-hearted volunteers, I think its demise is inevitable. Derry residents will just have to go to other communities for their pets and pet problems. It’s all those unwanted pets I worry for.”
For Camirand, it’s the end of an era she enjoyed.
“Those of us who worked alongside Barbara for many happy years will most definitely miss her leadership and friendship,” she said. “But times do change and everyone recognizes that situations change as well.”
She called McCarthy one of Derry’s “finest citizens,” one who deserved some much-needed rest.
Active volunteers who want to meet and talk about moving forward are invited to a meeting Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Marion Gerrish Community Center on West Broadway.