When she visited the Marshall County Animal Shelter 16 years ago, Sharon Dlesk did not intend to adopt any new animals.
She and her husband, Richard, already had four cats and two dogs, plus their children. But she returned home with a small dog - a pet who would not only have an impact on the family but on many other in the Ohio Valley. Her name is Tiffany.
"Tiffany has been the best gift," said Sharon Dlesk. "She has added such balance to our life, made things better."
Tiffany, adopted by Sharon and Richard Dlesk from the Marshall County Animal Shelter, inspired the couple’s financial support of a new spay-neuter clinic at the shelter.
Over the years, Tiffany has been more than a pet to Richard and Sharon Dlesk. She has traveled the country with them and grown up with their children.
When the family struggled, she was there. When Sharon Dlesk's mother was diagnosed with cancer, Tiffany helped everyone get through the ordeal until it was over.
About a year ago, Sharon Dlesk had to go out and turned the television on for her pets to have some noise. However, as Tiffany looked up at the screen, Marshall County Animal Shelter Director Cindy Brautigan appeared, talking about the new spay-neuter clinic the shelter was trying to build. While the project was already on the table, it needed funds.
And as Tiffany looked up at her, Dlesk said she felt inspired to help.
"I knew immediately that it needed to be done," said Dlesk. "I knew that a spay-neuter clinic for low-income families in the area would be a fabulous gift for our furry friends."
And so the Dlesks helped to build what would become known as the Tiffany Dlesk Spay-Neuter Clinic.
"Tiffany's earned this," said Dlesk. "She's worked with us every day. She's been with us through it all."
Every year in the United States, 8 million animals are taken into public animal shelters. According to the American Humane Association, 3.7 million - almost half - of those animals must be euthanized because no home can be found for them. While there are "no kill" facilities, Dlesk said, there is just not enough land for all 8 million shelter animals to live on.
"We need to be working to lower euthanasia in our community," said Dlesk. "Animal shelters are getting too crowded."
She mentioned that animals are sometimes brought into shelters while giving birth. Having worked as a nurse, Dlesk said that working in the animal shelter is much harder because workers often have no choice but to euthanize animals. She expressed hope that the new clinic will help to cut down on that.
"This is the only solution to the overpopulation problem," Dlesk said.
Sixteen years since being adopted by the Dlesks, Tiffany now moves at a much slower pace and cannot see as well as she once could, but her family is determined to see that she leaves a legacy behind for her community. Having struggled through their own economic troubles, Richard and Sharon Dlesk want to give back to the community on behalf of Tiffany.
Above all, Sharon Dlesk emphasized that the spay-neuter clinic is a community gift.