It’s after hours at the Peaceable Kingdom Animal Shelter and Clinic as Kathy Tomecek quietly approaches and opens the door to the cat room.
“I’m waking you all up. I’m sorry,” she announces as the light reveals a room full of yawning, stretching calicos, tabbies, and other felines of every shape and size, each holding court and regally staring down from their perches or curled contently in some fluffy bedding.
“Aren’t they beautiful?” says Tomecek, who chairs the board of the nonprofit, all-volunteer, no-kill shelter. “The cats are free roaming, and you have a sense of their contentment whenever you come in here.”
After another visit through the dog and rabbit rooms with Tomocek, past a commercial-sized washer and dryer filled with towels and linens for bedding and bins stocked with pet food and chew toys, it becomes apparent that the unassuming, spotless cinder block building at 1049 MacArthur Road in Whitehall Township is more than a way station for pets whose lives have been disrupted.
“It’s a loving, temporary home while we work to find new homes and new lives for pets left by owners who could no longer care for them or, sadly, by people who discard unwanted animals at the shelter’s door—some were found in boxes sealed with duct tape or tied to the door,” Tomecek says.
Peaceable Kingdom has been taking in and caring for stray pets since 1998. Last year, it placed 423 kittens, 90 cats, 150 dogs, and 40 rabbits with adoptive families across the Lehigh Valley. Since January 2016, its on-site veterinary clinic, in operation for more than 10 years, has performed low-cost spay and neutering services on 114 rabbits, 394 dogs, and 1,252 cats.
Peaceable Kingdom began in 1998 as a network of volunteers who offered their homes to provide foster care for abandoned and stray cats and kittens until permanent homes could be found. Expansion of services started in 2002, when an opportunity presented itself to rent a small building in Whitehall Township.
Then in 2004, another opportunity arose to lease the upper floor at the former Zimmerman’s Market on MacArthur Road, and the shelter opened its first permanent home. In 2012, the building’s owners, Becky Krisko and her mother Mary Hilbert, both supporters of Peaceable Kingdom, listed the property for sale and gave the shelter first option to purchase it.
“We were growing and had to buy it or leave—there was nowhere else to go,” Tomecek says, recalling the difficulty in finding properties zoned to allow an animal shelter.
Today, the shelter is staffed by 170 faithful volunteers, a limited paid part-time staff, and Drs. Kerri Nigito and Amber Bauer, who provide veterinary services at the clinic, which is open three to four days a week. Peaceable Kingdom open its doors every Saturday for adoption.
“It’s insane here on a Saturday. We open to the public at 10 and the staff shows off the dogs, cats, and bunnies,” Tomecek says. “Peaceable Kingdom volunteers staff kitten adoptions at the PetSmart store on MacArthur Road, which donates $10 to us for each adoption.”
Peaceable Kingdom accepts donations of food, bedding, pet toys—“almost anything that we can use,” she says. Nothing goes to waste: any surplus food is donated to the Animal Food Bank of the Lehigh Valley.
Tomecek says it takes $30,000 a month, not including food and supplies, to operate Peaceable Kingdom. The shelter has a list of goals that include renovating the interior and moving the clinic to a separate part of the building to avoid the inevitable barking when someone brings an ailing pet in for care.
“It’s a tough world out there, and so many worthy charities to support,” Tomecek says. “We want to give our veterinarians the tools so they can do more to help the animals that
It takes hardy souls to keep emotions in check and the shelter running for the sake of broken animals.
“Sadly, so many of them are considered disposable, and that make me so sad,” Tomecek says. “The work we do here may be emotionally painful at times, but it’s also so very heartwarming and rewarding.”
It’s the many success stories that provide the motivation and inspiration for those who support Peaceable Kingdom.
Angela Passamonte and her husband, Nick Koch, had been discussing getting a dog and decided to visit area shelters just to get more information about the process. A post about available Chow Chow puppies, led them to Peaceable Kingdom, where an adoption volunteer helped the Upper Macungie Township couple take a close look at their lifestyles and offered advice that Chow Chows may not be the best breed for first-time dog owners.
“We appreciated her expertise in adoptions, and we took her advice,” Passamonte says. “She then showed us Clover, an English setter/spaniel mix. She was about 9 years old and very sweet. Even just walking toward her, she smushed her face through the bars of her cage to get petted.”
The couple learned that the dog, while friendly, needed to be the only one in the home and had health issues.
“The Peaceable Kingdom team was raising funds for her care, and the clinic staff performed her mammary tumor surgery,” Passamonte recalls. “We met in a socialization area and just fell in love with Clover, and the application process was easy. We filled out the paperwork and were contacted, as were our references, within the week. They made it easy to arrange a pickup and have her foster family bring her to the shelter for us.”
Clover came with instructions and tips from her foster family, which smoothed the way for her transition into her new home. “Peaceable Kingdom’s dog team also reached out to us after some time to make sure we were doing okay and to offer any help if we needed it,” Passamonte says.
“We brought Clover home in February of 2015, and she has fit in so well in our lives that it’s like she was meant to be,” she says. “Adopting an older dog is such a rewarding experience because they have so much love to give, and as a bonus, they already know many basic dog commands.”
Passamonte’s experience with Peaceable Kingdom was so positive that she is now a volunteer. “I hope to show people that every pet in the shelter, regardless of age, deserves a loving home,” she says.
Successful adoptions require hard work that never ends, Tomecek says, who began her relationship with Peaceable Kingdom in 2000 by providing foster care for cats and kittens. “When we find homes, there’s always another animal arriving here in desperate need,” she says. “But the reward comes when we take homeless and abandoned animals and make them whole again. We heal wounded bodies and hearts. We love them and teach them to love and trust again, and we find them new people to love them in return.”