Animal Shelter Breaks Ground, But Still Needs Help

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Andy Towle/Roundup

Mayor Kenny Evans (center) and Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin (back, center) join the staff and board members of the Humane Society to break ground for the new animal shelter.

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Andy Towle/Roundup

Elle Watson

If you build it, they will come.

In the case of the Humane Society of Central Arizona, the staff is hoping donations will start rolling in, now that the ground has been broken on a project 12 years in the making.

“We have been promising for so many years, and there was a little public outcry to start the project,” said shelter director Ellie Watson.

The group celebrated the ceremonial groundbreaking Saturday, at the site of its new $3.5-million shelter, to the applause of staff, residents, Payson’s mayor, Gila County Supervisor and Star Valley’s town manager.

“It was just a wonderful day for this community,” Watson said. “It is a long, long time coming.”

Watson said the decision to begin construction, even though the shelter has yet to raise the final $2 million to complete the project, was do or die.

“The old shelter walls are cracked, and we are not going to make it there much longer,” she said. “We are doing minimal repairs now for safety, but every day we think, ‘We made it one more day.’”

The group has so far raised approximately $1.2 million to build the sound-proof shelter, which will double the current capacity to almost 3,400 cats or dogs annually, and will include a low-cost spay and neuter clinic, exercise runs and treatment center.

However, after spending $200,000 to buy land, $200,000 for plans and site preparation work, and $130,000 in fund-raising costs, the shelter is left with $620,000 in the bank, well below total construction costs.

But instead of waiting for another $2 million to come in, the shelter decided to ask builder Mike Amon to start work on the project in the hopes of drawing renewed donor enthusiasm.

Phase One began several weeks ago and will last two months, during which time Amon will level the site, put in roads and utilities, install an exterior wall separating the shelter from the proposed Chilson Ranch project and lay a sub-foundation.

This phase was originally estimated to cost $400,000, but with the economy taking a hit on construction, the cost has dropped to $287,000, Watson said.

Watson said they hoped the project would also create construction jobs.

“Everybody needs a job now, and our intent is to stay local,” she said.

With the start of phase one, Watson hopes donations will pick up. To make ends meet, the shelter is tightening the budget, but is not cutting the quality of care provided to the animals.

The shelter is down a couple staff members, but does not plan to hire anyone to replace them to keep costs low, Watson said.

Animals being dumped

“Even though the economy is down, a shelter becomes even more necessary because animals are being dumped,” she said.

In the last few months, the shelter reports receiving more strays as people can no longer afford to care for their animals.

“People need to know they have a place to bring their animals,” she said.

Just a few days ago, Watson said two elderly dogs with no collars were dumped on the street, with one killed by a car and the other now at the shelter.

“People are finding them all over Gila County,” she said. “We ask people to please bring your dogs to us, we will do everything we can, just bring them to us.”

The shelter has a policy of keeping animals as long as it takes to match them with a family. Unlike other shelters that euthanize strays after 72 hours, the Payson shelter will only euthanize an animal that is aggressive or has severe medical problems.

Several state rescue organizations bring animals to Payson as a result of their policy, all the more reason for a bigger facility that can handle the increased number of strays, Watson said.

After phase one of the project is completed, the shelter will not begin work on phase two until the full amount is raised.

“Phase two is a very critical point,” she said.

The $1.1 million phase two, includes finishing the foundation, putting in plumbing and erecting the walls and roof. They will not start work on the second phase until they have enough money to complete the project.

“We think a lot of people have been waiting to see what happens,” she said. “We all feel strongly that it will happen.”

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