Gina Henderson sits with Jack, a Flemish giant rabbit, in her West Manchester Township home. Henderson operates The Last Resort Animal Sanctuary. Her new goal is to be an advocate for animal rights in Harrisburg, lobbying for laws that will curtail mistreatment of and cruelty toward animals.
Sep 12, 2006 --
The idea occurred to Gina Henderson, president of the Last Resort Animal Sanctuary, on Aug. 3. That's when she read about the dead German shepherd in York.
The day before, temperatures reached 100 degrees. And the dog died, police allege, after its owner left it tied to a fence post all day in the full sun with no shade, water or food.
"That's the day that I thought, 'something is wrong,'" Henderson said.
Henderson reflected on the fact that the dog stood out in the yard all day with no neighbors offering assistance. She wondered if the neighbors were worried they would get in trouble for trespassing had they done so. In all likelihood, she thought, they wouldn't even know who to call to help the dog.
Henderson embarked on a new mission. She would still help animals, but she would do it on a statewide basis. Her goal now is to be an advocate for animal rights in Harrisburg, lobbying for laws that will curtail mistreatment of and cruelty toward animals.
While the method might be new, the concern for animals isn't. Henderson, of West Manchester Township, said that she and her mother helped rescue neglected cats when she was a girl. Later, in 1992, she came to the aid of about 100 feral cats that were living in a quarry near her property. Those cats later became the first residents of The Last Resort Animal Sanctuary, which opened in North Codorus Township in 2002.
Henderson took in abandoned, ailing and abused cats and rabbits on an old farm. Her policy, which she maintains, was not to euthanize animals for population control.
At one time, the shelter had more than 200 animals. Henderson has since moved the shelter to a farm in Washington Township.
In recent years, Henderson has dealt with health problems. In 2002, amid worsening migraine headaches, she discovered that she has a brain tumor. And, in 2004, she suffered a neck injury on the job.
She had to stop taking in cats. Most were adopted or relocated over the years, and some died - bringing the number down to 54 today.
The lobbying, she decided, could let her do the work she had come to love, but in a less physically demanding way.
Henderson has researched Pennsylvania's animal cruelty laws. And, while she's glad they're in place, she found them lacking. She looked into some laws and programs that are in effect in other states, and is now campaigning to get them instituted in Pennsylvania. They include:
- A cross-reporting law requiring child welfare investigators to report any signs of animal abuse to animal welfare investigators, and vice-versa. That's important, she said, because domestic abusers are prone to abuse both children and animals.
- A Good Samaritan law that would protect people coming to the aid of an animal in distress, such as the dog that died tied to a fence in York.
- A ban on "performing animal" acts, such as dancing elephants or hoop-jumping tigers.
Henderson said she would also like to develop a countywide neighborhood watch program, with an emphasis on keeping an eye out for neglected or abused animals, and hold meetings to educate people as to what resources are available for those animals.
Although she's a newcomer to lobbying at the state level, she's been getting help from some allies. Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Michael Helfrich, who must deal with state lawmakers often in the course of his job, happens to be one of her childhood friends.
Helfrich said he's been giving her tips on getting through to state representatives and senators. It's not hard, he said, as long as you realize they have tight schedules, state your case concisely and acknowledge that yours isn't the only cause in existence.
"It's relatively easy to catch the ear of the lawmakers, but it takes some respect and some skill to maintain the open relationship," he said.
In the meantime, whatever new responsibilities arise, Henderson said she intends to continue taking care of cats and rabbits, even if she has to do it on a smaller scale than before.
"I'll never abandon the original cause," she said. "It's in my blood."
Last Resort Animal Sanctuary
Address: P.O. Box 7448, York, PA 17404