Humane Society Gambles On Funds

Group building $3.5- million animal shelter will break ground still $2 million short of fund-raising goal

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Pete Aleshire/Roundup

Josh and Dee Lamanna already have two dogs, but saw an article in the Roundup on two longtime shelter residents up for adoption. They hurried down, only to find the two older dogs going home with a new family — so instead, the Lamannas adopted puppies Socks and Boots — who they’ll probably rename “Trixie” and “Roxie.”

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

The newly renamed Humane Society of Central Arizona has decided to start building its new animal shelter to help take care of cats like these, even though they need to raise nearly $2 million to finish the facility.

photo

Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

The newly renamed Humane Society of Central Arizona has decided to start building its new animal shelter to help take care of cats like these, even though they need to raise nearly $2 million to finish the facility.

Cortez burned his boats to give his soldiers no choice but to conquer the New World.

And the Payson Humane Society will start building its new shelter — even though it still must raise some $2 million to finish it.

Starting in April, builders will level the site, put in the roads, install exterior walls and lay down the sub-foundation.

“It’s a gamble — like ‘build it and they will come,’” said John Wakelin, who heads the society’s fund-raising effort. “It was a very difficult decision to make. But people were saying, ‘when are you going to do something?’ So we’re moving forward, putting people to work and helping the local economy.”

The newly renamed Humane Society of Central Arizona has so far raised $1.2 million to build the $3.5-million shelter, which will enable the group to double the 1,700 cats and dogs it can handle annually.

The group currently has $670,000 in the bank to replace the crowded, beat up house that now serves as the animal shelter on McLane Road.

But in an effort to reassure donors, the board last week decided to build the shelter in phases.

The $530,000 spent so far has provided about $200,000 to buy the two-acre site just off Main Street, paid for $200,000 in plans and site preparation work and covered about $130,000 in assorted fund-raising costs.

Now, the board has asked local builder Mike Amon to start about $400,000 worth of preliminary work.

The fund-raising effort was jump-started with a $100,000 anonymous donation, which private donors have matched. However, the campaign has brought in only about $250,000 in the past three months, as the recession has deepened, said Wakelin.

So now, like the movie about a baseball lover who built a stadium in his cornfield, the Humane Society has decided to make the down payment on its own field of dreams — and hope the community rallies.

So the board will continue raising money for the $1.1- million phase two, which will finish the foundation, put in the plumbing and build up the walls and roof.

The $1.6-million third phase will finish the interior, followed by a phase to put in the fixtures and equipment and finally the fifth-phase demolition of the current shelter, which advocates say is falling apart and subjecting the dogs and cats to sometimes unhealthy conditions.

Meanwhile, the name change should make it easier to raise money from a wider net of donors, and also reflects that the Payson shelter draws animals from even Flagstaff and Globe.

In part, that stems from the strenuous efforts the Payson shelter makes to find homes for adoptable dogs and cats — even if it means providing shelter for a year or even two.

Most northern Arizona shelters kill almost all stray animals after 72 hours. The Payson shelter euthanizes animals that act aggressively toward people, and sometimes those with severe medical problems. But if an animal appears adoptable, the shelter provides sterilization, medical care and then months — sometimes years — of effort to match the animal to a family.

As a result, the Payson shelter sometimes gets calls from other shelters, when they’re about to kill seemingly adoptable animals.

That means the Payson shelter must often cope with full cages and kennels. Many of the kennels are outside, exposed to snow and rain. Moreover, the shelter urgently needs facilities that separate the airflow in the section for sick and quarantined animals.

The proposed $3.5-million shelter would include warm kennels for all the animals, a segregated area for sick animals and a low-cost, high-volume spay and neuter clinic open to the community.

The shelter’s location, sandwiched between the tourist and shopping zone on Main Street and a not-yet-built development featuring luxury condominiums, has previously spurred concerns about noise coming from the shelter. In addition, the shelter operates an aluminum can crushing operation on site, which provides $28,000 annually by recycling donated cans.

At one point, Payson Mayor Kenny Evans offered the Humane Society town-owned land overlooking the Payson Event Center as an alternative, but after years of trying to find a site, the board turned down that offer for fear of additional delays.

“We were appreciative of the offer, but it would have required a zone change and another hearing and another conditional use permit — and there was another development just 150 yards away,” said Wakelin. “On this site, we already had our land and we’d already paid for it.”

Last week, in a presentation before the Citizen Awareness Committee, shelter advocates said the building design includes soundproofing for the indoor kennels.

The outdoor exercise runs would be used during the day — and probably generate less noise than the current, largely open-air kennels, said Lisa Boyle, who heads up animal care at the shelter.

She noted that dogs rarely bark when on their exercise breaks or while being walked by volunteers.

She predicted neighborhood dogs barking at their back fence will make more noise than the shelter dogs in their soundproofed kennels.

In the meantime, the shelter provides a vital service to the community — supported mostly from donations, but also under the terms of contracts with Payson, Star Valley and Gila County to handle stray dogs.

For instance, the shelter recently got a call involving a Payson woman with 22 dogs — five of them pregnant. The shelter provided sterilization for the whole pack of dogs. “Think of all the unwanted animals that would have been born into this community,” said Boyle.

Ellie Watson, the shelter director, said the new, 15,000-square-foot facility will not bother the neighbors. “We’ll have a quiet lobby, positive atmosphere and happy, positive animals,” she said.

Wakelin said the group considered the risk of starting a project they could never finish. “That’s your worst nightmare,” he said. “The bottom line is that we’re going forward,” said Wakelin, “and we can always hold the next gala on the pad — like the hospital did.”

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