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Broadway Barks has the most amazing friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter. Many of these Broadway Barkers work tirelessly to improve the lives of animals in their cities and towns across the United States and the world. After a recent concert in Indiana, Pennsylvania by Broadway Barks Co-Founder Bernadette Peters, Broadway Barks made a visit to Four Footed Friends, Inc., a local no-kill animal shelter. During the visit, Broadway Barks learned about Four Footed Friends’ efforts to help Indiana, Pennsylvania’s homeless, injured, and abused animals. We are honored to introduce you to Four Footed Friends, Inc., an organization full of Inspirational Broadway Barkers.

Four Footed Friends, Inc. (FFF) is a local no-kill animal shelter near the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) campus, in rural Indiana, Pennsylvania. FFF was started 29 years ago when several Indiana residents noticed that the local Humane Society was getting crowded and needed help. One of those citizens was philanthropist and benefactor of the Helwig Distinguished Artist Endowment at IUP, Florence Lattimer Helwig. One evening, as Mrs. Helwig was heading to an out-of-town event, she heard there was a lost German Shepherd loose in the neighborhood that looked like he needed help. So in her evening gown, Mrs. Helwig, joined by neighbors and police, ran all over the neighborhood trying to find the lost shepherd. The dog was eventually found and Mrs. Helwig made it to her event just in time for the dessert! The lost dog was taken to the Humane Society in Indiana, but at that time it was crowded. Indiana needed another facility to help the Humane Society and take the overflow of animals. So, Mrs. Helwig and several other Indiana citizens stepped in and provided the financial and organizational support to create FFF.

Even with the support of several benefactors, FFF struggled to meet the needs of the many animals in their care, but they did it. They began their operation out of a shack and then upgraded to two temporary trailers. For several years, the group struggled to help local homeless animals while making the best of their meager facilities; at one point they did not even have running water! Finally, in 2007, the group built a 5500-square-foot building on land that was donated to the organization by landowner P.J. Beck. The building, which was named the P.J. Beck Animal Sanctuary, was uniquely designed to aid FFF in their quest to help animals.

Four Footed Friends takes a unique approach to housing its feline residents. Instead of putting the cats in small cages or kennels, FFF keeps the majority of the cats in “cat colonies,” or clowders, where the cats are free to roam, socialize, sun, nap, or sit on the windowsill and gaze outside. Housing the cats this way provides a better quality of life for the cats, but it also means more work for the shelter’s staff and volunteers, who constantly strive to keep the cat colony spaces clean. And they definitely succeed. Upon walking into the cat colonies not one offending scent is present. The Tuflex rubber floors and plastic walls are scrubbed clean. Fresh kitty litter is kept in mortar pans, which are normally used for mixing concrete, but are ingeniously re-purposed at FFF to accommodate the large number of felines. Finally, the stainless steel appliances and accessories are wiped clean several times daily. The cats are offered many comfy beds and plenty of hiding spaces. During our visit, many of the cats came out to greet us and were very friendly. A small number of cats are housed in smaller rooms when they are recovering from illness or injury, or while they are being evaluated for potential infectious diseases such as ringworm that could spread to the larger cat colony. Once these cats are cleared, they are introduced to a colony. Some cats prefer solitude, so they remain in these smaller, yet still comfy, cat condos. The key is that the FFF staff and volunteers do everything to make the cats comfortable, happy, and safe during their stay, which for one cat has been 16 years!

Four Footed Friends also has an impressive area for canine companions. The facility can hold a total of 23 dogs, with each animal having its own large indoor run complete with food and water bowls, toys, and a comfy bed. The best part of the canine space is the outdoor common play area, which rivals many dog parks in terms of size and its beautiful view of the countryside. There are also several large outdoor runs that can be used for sunning or adoption meet-and-greets during the warmer months.

The spring and summer months are busiest for FFF. As shelter manager Michael Gillespie says, “In the spring the workload goes up by maybe 200%. We might get 15 to 20 calls every day for litters of cats.” Indiana, Pennsylvania, is mainly rural, so the population of domesticated and feral cats is very high. But dogs do not escape the spring fever either. As longtime employee Karen Fedelia says, “People are more prone to dump their dogs in the woods or let them loose in the warmer months.” It is sad, but this is the reality that the tireless staff and volunteers at FFF deal with on a daily basis. They often have to push aside their emotions so they can ensure they are doing everything possible to protect the animals that others discard so carelessly.

It is because of the FFF staff and volunteers and Indiana residents like Mrs. Helwig and P.J. Beck that FFF is able to help so many homeless animals every year. FFF remains one of Mrs. Helwig’s many charities today, and as she told Broadway Barks, “I am always anxious to help them with anything they need, anytime they ask.” FFF and the Humane Society in Indiana have remained great partners, helping each other out when needed. As Mrs. Helwig stated, “the Humane Society works very hard too and they are campaigning to raise money to build a bigger facility.” Both of these wonderful organizations are in constant financial need to supply the animals in their care with the food, litter, medical treatment, and quality of life that they need, and to find them the permanent homes they deserve.

Top left, Four Footed Friends board president, Stephen Osborne; Top Right, shelter manager, Michael Gillespie. Front, left to right, Mary Ann Baran, Indiana County Humane Society board member, and their manager, Lisa Wier, with Florence L. Helwig.

The Four Footed Friends, Inc. staff and volunteers really live up to their motto, which says, “Every animal has the right to live without abuse, and to die without inflicted pain.” FFF believes that no animal should be euthanized simply because they have no place to live, and they work tirelessly to provide all of the animals in their care with permanent homes. But if a home cannot be found, FFF will keep these animals and provide them with everything they need to live a happy life at the P.J. Beck Animal Sanctuary. And that’s why the staff and volunteers of Four Footed Friends, Inc. are Inspirational Broadway Barkers.

Four Footed Friends Staffer, Karen Fedelia

By Charlene Sloan

Do you know or are you an Inspirational Broadway Barker? Please tell us about it. Leave a post here, or email us at barkers@pitbullinteractive.com. We would love to hear your story.