CENTERVILLE – Kittens left in a box; a dog tied to a tree. The stereotype of someone giving up animals they can no longer care for still occasionally holds true at the MSPCA—Cape Cod Animal Care and Adoption Center, according to Mary Sarah Fairweather, director of the center.
But the more typical scenario involves a family that must surrender a pet because of a job loss, divorce, move, death or other life-changing event. They bring it in to the shelter and explain their plight, often through tears. The agency then works to find a new home for the pet.
Contrast that sad occasion with the joyous day when a family decides to adopt a dog or cat to give it a new forever home. That is also a frequent happenstance at the center.
Both situations can get very emotional, according to Fairweather. And providing respectful space for people in those sometimes stressful situations is among the goals of a $4 million new animal shelter facility with double the current space— a project that is in the planning stages at the MSPCA’s Centerville property.
“That’s one reason the current space is not ideal,” Fairweather said, “The top reason is everything happens in a small space. People surrendering and people adopting are at totally opposite ends of the spectrum of emotions.”
The existing center on a four-acre lot on Route 28 near the intersection of Phinney’s Lane in Centerville consists of two 1960s-era buildings and a wooded fenced-in dog park area in the rear of the lot.
In the main building, those two circumstances—surrender and adoption—can happen just inches from each other as the agency’s cramped reception area serves both needs.
In the proposed new space, those giving up a pet and those adopting will get separate rooms and even separate entrances.
In the plan for a new shelter, both existing buildings will be demolished to be replaced by one 10,000-square-foot building.
The new building’s 4,000 square feet of additional space over what the shelter has now will increase the facility’s capacity to house animals; and provide space for public training and education rooms; and a spay/neuter clinical suite for shelter animals.
The hope is that the new space would also allow the facility to host low-cost spay/neuter clinics open to the public throughout the year.
In planning for the new facility, said Laura H. Hay, campaign director for MSPCA Cape Cod, “we looked into every possibility.” They considered dividing the lot and selling part of it or moving to a new space.
But they decided their central location was important and the fact that the property has space for wooded walking trails and exercise areas for both large and small dogs was also a attribute worth keeping. “It allows a safe environment to walk the animals,” Hay said.
Those fenced-in areas also provide outdoor space where entire families can come to meet dogs for adoption.
And the woods have an added benefit in that they serve as a buffer for nearby residences.
“It really allows dogs to be dogs,” Hay said.
Like the rest of the Cape, the Centerville shelter’s busiest season is in the summer when the facility can get full to capacity.
“It’s literally like you flick a switch at Memorial Day weekend and our numbers practically double,” Hay said.
In the span of a year, the facility serves about 1,000 domesticated animals—dogs, cats, birds, rabbits guinea pigs, ferrets, fish, snakes, iguanas, lizards and even one foot-long Chinese water dragon.
The additional space in a new facility will make a big difference, allowing more space to board animals waiting for adoption: about double the number of dogs—to about 25—and about one-third more cats—to about 60.
The most animals they have had at the shelter at any given time, Fairweather said, is 125.
When the Centerville facility is full, staff can send animals to their other facilities in Boston, which is attached to the Angell Animal Medical Center, or the Noble Family Animal Care and Adoption Center at Nevins Farm in Methuen, where farm animals have space to roam. If both of those facilities are full, they can also sent animals to other rescue organizations.
The new facility will also have space for another important mission of the agency: Prevention. That’s something the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals president, Carter Luke, points out, is, literally, the agency’s middle name.
When MSPCA officials speak of prevention, they mean not just preventing animal cruelty through new laws, as well as innovations in veterinary medicine to address animal illness, but also preventing pet overpopulation through a low-cost spay-neuter program.
Statistics provided by the agency show that beginning in 2011 when the a new targeted low-cost spaying program was started in Hyannis, as well as in other areas, the number of cat surrenders has decreased substantially—to less than half the numbers before the spaying program. The cat and kitten intake in those zip codes that had a high number of surrenders, including Hyannis, New Bedford, and Fall River, went from just over 7,000 in 2010 to 3,200 in 2014.
“It really affects the number of animals [that are surrendered]. We have dramatically decreased the number of kittens in these areas. That’s really exciting for us,” Hay said
That kind of proactive work is what the agency wants to focus on as it grows. “We can be more of a resource,” Hay said.
The new facility is also designed with space for a new program the agency has initiated, rabies vaccination clinics. At the two clinics this year, one in June and one in October, 87 animals were given rabies vaccinations and microchips for the low fee of $20 per animal.
By holding the rabies clinics and the spay/neuter clinics, the agency wants to be a go-to place for pet resources for the community, Hay said.
As is clear from the range of animals of various abilities at the shelter, the policy is open admission. “We don’t turn away any domesticated animals,” Fairweather said.
The only circumstance where they euthanize an animal is if the animal is so sick it is suffering or if an animal is too aggressive to be placed in a community.
Any animal that is brought to the shelter undergoes behavioral and medical evaluations. Once the animal is determined to be healthy enough to be placed, the search begins for the perfect home. There is no time limit or age limit for the search.
In past years, they have placed a 17-year-old dog and 19-year-old cat.
“They are here until they go home,” Fairweather said.
For those interested in adopting an animal, staff reserves the right to do a home visit but typically they get all the information they need when the family visits. Staff checks past vet records from the family’s pets, and they ask to meet every member of the household and have them all interact with the pet.
“We want to make sure it is the best fit for the animals,” Fairweather said.
A typical stay before a pet is adopted can range from one day for a kitten to nine months for a difficult to place pet, she said.
The shelter staff want people to think of them if they cannot keep their pet and must surrender it, for whatever reason, whether family emergency, illness or moving.
“We don’t judge,” Hay said.
When people come to surrender a pet, the first questions the staffer asks is if there is anything the agency can do to allow the person to be able to keep the animal, whether it is providing spay/neuter services or donating food or other resources.
“We do everything we can to help people keep their pets, and for people adopting, we provide resources for them. The return rate is very, very low—almost non existent because we are so comprehensive with discussions and stay in touch after,” Fairweather said.
The $5 million fundraising campaign for the MSPCA’s new Cape Cod Adoption and Animal Care Center includes $4 million for the planning, design, demolition, engineering, construction, equipment and contingencies. An additional $1 million is being raised for an endowment.
“It’s critical,” Hay said of the endowment. “As a shelter we operate at a deficit.”
Hay said they hope to break ground next fall, but they will wait until they have raised the $4 million.
The campaign is now at more than $2.3 million.
The facility will stay open during construction. “We can’t afford to close the doors,” Hay said.
They have already raised $450,000 to $500,000 from the community, and there are several legacy naming opportunities available for a six or seven figure gift.
While the capital campaign is ongoing, the facility must continue its usual fundraising for operations because the organization does not get any state or federal funds. It costs $600,000 to 650,000 annually to operate the facility. Because it is part of the MSPCA, a number of administrative functions, like accounting, information technology and human resources are handled by the parent company.
The agency also pursues grants that help with animal welfare, for instance the spay/neuter program. They get about $50,000 in grants a year for that program, Hay said.
The MSPCA relies heavily on volunteers. There are nine full-time staff, and 350 volunteers with about 100 of those active. “We need more,” Hay said.
The vast majority of the animals at the shelter are cats and, as Hay explained, “we have very dedicated cat volunteers.”
One dedicated cat volunteer is Adam Trauner, who Fairweather says is a “cat whisperer,” who works closely with the stray cats that end up at the center.
To give roaming space to the large number of cats, the new center is also planned to have a cat paio—a cat-io—a special porch where felines can roam. Naming rights to the cat-io is just one of the creative ways that the MSPCA in Centerville is looking to raise money for the new shelter.
On a recent day, Daisy, 11, a cocker spaniel-shih tzu mix, had just returned from a visit to a veterinarian. She is deaf and recently had surgery to remove one of her ear canals. Her tail was shaved because it had become matted. The veterinarian is monitoring her liver.
The MSPCA cares for animals like Daisy in partnership with area veterinarians who give generous discounts on their services.
Fairweather listed other dogs on site: “a Heinz 57” that looks like a cross between a pomeranian and a mini golden retriever. There is also a furry little fellow who looks to be, Fairweather reckoned, “a cockapoo or perhaps a yorkiepoo or a something poo.”
Animal Care Coordinator Brittany Pickul was holding Peanut, a 15-year-old Jack Russell terrier who recently got his teeth cleaned after being surrendered.
Animal care supervisor Kate Carveiro walked Bentley, an active puppy who resembles a miniature shepherd with brown floppy ears.
The office foster cat is five-year-old Periwinkle, whose tail had to be amputated. He is said to be good with all people and great with cats and dogs. “I’m obsessed with him,” Hay said.
There is also Juno, a senior “pitty” or pit bull. “She came in in really bad medical shape. It was almost hard to look at her,” said Fairweather. They treated her and she is awaiting adoption.
Clare Edmonds, a former volunteer who is now program coordinator, was hanging out with Tigger, a five-ish-year-old stripped tabby.
In the reception area were five angora rabbits, including a large handsome orange fellow named Seaweed.
Bella, a sweet-tempered white pitbull who was left tied outside the shelter overnight, is awaiting adoption. Mingus, a Lhasa Apso, has been adopted and is going home today; Cupcake and Brownie, two bonded Jack Russell mixes are also awaiting forever homes.
It’s another day at the MSPCA Cape Cod Animal Care and Adoption Center. To donate to the capital campaign, go to mspca.org/capecampaign.
To see Cape Cod Wave’s other stories about animals, click here.