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Pa. man buys farm as refuge for animals

August 29, 1998

Animal refugeBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer [enlarge]




MERCERSBURG, Pa. - If a groundhog is wreaking havoc in your garden, Dennis Strock wants to be one of the first to know.

"I'll come out and give you a cage to trap it. Catch it and bring it to my farm. It can live out its life here," said Strock, 55, a former Marine sharpshooter, ex-bodybuilder who in 1977 and 1978 and earned the title of Mr. Pennsylvania.

"I'll take in any animal that somebody doesn't want," the longtime animal lover said.

No one in Strock's family hunts. "I wouldn't allow it," he said.

Five years ago, he bought an 80-acre farm bordered by Shimpstown and Punch Bowl roads, six miles southwest of Mercersburg, to create a haven for domestic and wild animals.

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"I bought the farm to raise beef cattle until I learned that they have a personality," he said. Strock has a herd of seven cows and steers that will never see a slaughterhouse. "They will live out their lives here," he said.

He said he recently vowed to stop eating meat. "I gave all the meat in my freezer to my dogs," he said.

His three dogs - a pit bull, an old black Labrador retriever and a border collie - were all dropped off at his farm.

He planted 18 acres in corn, buckwheat and foxtail to feed the deer that come out of his woods. He also planted an acre of switch grass as habitat for pheasants.

He's having a pond bulldozed out of a large low-lying area of the farm to create a haven for fish, frogs, ducks, geese, "and whatever wants to come in," he said.

His barn is home to large flocks of pigeons and bats. He even takes in trapped skunks. "It's easy to trap them. Just put a marshmallow in the trap and they'll go right in. I use a big plastic shroud to put over the cage so I won't get sprayed," he said.

Once, Strock said, he saved a deer that had been shot. He brought it to his barn, cared for it, then let it go.

To protect his refuge, Strock is building a large observation area off his second-story deck that he will equip with a powerful telescope to spot trespassing hunters.

"I've got 'no trespassing' signs every five feet all around my farm but they still come on the property," he said.

Strock said he gets in trouble with some of his neighbors, many of whom are hunters.

"I own the biggest piece of land around here and lot of people want to hunt on it," he said. He said some of his neighbors support what he's trying to do. "I've got some allies," he said.

Last year he asked Tuscarora School District officials not to close school during deer-hunting season, but they refused his request, he said.

He makes his living raising hay and strawberries and by installing pool tables around the East Coast, a job that he said is very lucrative.

"I couldn't have this farm if it wasn't for my job," he said.

"I'd like to meet more people who think like I do. Animals don't have many advocates," he said.

Strock can be reached at 1-717-328-4704.

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