Thanks to a nick-of-time major Christmas gift, the Humane Society of Central Arizona will next year build an 8,000-square-foot, $1-million animal shelter in Payson.
Providing a happy ending to a long struggle and a daring act of faith, the project will provide an indoor, sound-proofed kennel with isolation and medical facilities on the existing site off Main Street. The new shelter will finally rescue hundreds of abandoned dogs and cats from the sometimes harsh conditions of the current, mostly outdoor kennels.
The heroes of the cliffhanging ending to a dogged effort were Dorothy and Jim Clark, who donated the entire value of their estate after Dorothy died in August.
The donation doubled the Humane Society’s cash on hand, making it possible to proceed on plans to build an 8,000-square-foot shelter. That’s less than half the size of the original plan, but will provide enough snug, warm kennels and support facilities to meet current needs, said board member Diane Reid.
“It’s great news, it’s fabulous,” she said. “We’re on our way. We’ll start construction in the spring and finish by autumn. It’s heartbreaking that the animals will have to spend one more winter in the current facility, but this is the last winter they have to get through.”
The Humane Society will eventually raze the current shelter, located at 812 S. McLane Road, to create access to the new shelter, built on the same footprint as the 17,000-foot design previously approved by the town council.
The Humane Society hopes to eventually complete the full design to accommodate the projected growth of the town, said Reid.
The new shelter will include 6,600 square feet devoted devoted to kennels, including an isolated area to care for sick animals without the risk of infecting other animals in nearby kennels. The rest of the space will provide areas for the animals to exercise, office space and areas where people can get to know the pets they’re about to adopt.
The indoor, soundproofed kennels will help resolve complaints about noise coming from the outdoor kennels some residents raised at previous published hearings before the town council.
But the main advantage will be a dramatic improvement in living conditions for the hundreds of dogs and cats the shelter takes in each year. The shelter does euthanize sick or dangerous animals deemed unadoptable, but will keep for months animals who have a chance to make it in a new home.
The shelter relies on a combination of donations and contracts with Payson, Gila County and Star Valley to cover its operating costs, but remains completely dependent on donations for new facilities. Even those contracts with the towns only cover the costs for the first 72 hours.
The original plans called for raising $4 million to build the much larger shelter, complete with a low-cost spay/neuter clinic and other facilities. However, those facilities will now have to wait for the next phase, which will likely be years from now.
The 8,000-square-foot version represents a step up from the bare-bones plan the Humane Society board approved earlier this year. At that time, the board took stock of the faltering fund-raising effort and decided to build whatever it could manage for the roughly $600,000 cash the group had on hand. The group had already raised and spent about $500,000 to buy the land, prepare it for construction and cover other costs.
At one point in the complicated process, Payson offered to give the Humane Society land near the event center to build a shelter. However, the Humane Society board decided to push ahead on its own.
The group also applied for a federal stimulus grant, which never came through.
Skeptics had wondered at the gamble posed by starting construction on the site without enough money to complete the project on hand.
However, the gamble paid off thanks to the shelter’s own Christmas angels, in the form of the Clarks’ donation, the biggest boost in more than two years of dedicated fund-raising.
“There are angels among us,” said Humane Society Board Chairman Bill Enlund, “and Mrs. Clark is surely one of those special human beings.”
Jim Clark was retired military and the couple moved to Payson in the early 1980s. The childless couple had long been active Humane Society volunteers and donors. Jim died in 2005, but before he died, he and his wife made plans to leave their estate to the Humane Society. That’s just about when the Humane Society launched its original $4 million fund-raising drive, which had brought in about $1.1 million prior to the Clarks’ donation.
The decision to build the new shelter represents a new start for the Humane Society, which this year also got an open-ended extension of its contract with Payson after weathering attempts by the town to cut the monthly payment.
The shelter recently hired a new director, Sarah Hock. The group also expanded its board of directors, which now includes Reid, Robert Schulman, Steven Semmens, Joanne Conlin, Bill Enlund, Ginger Ingram, Derek Shreiner and John Wakelin.
The board has already put the design contract for the 8,000-square-foot facility out to bid. That design will determine how many kennels the building can accommodate.
Town planners have told the group it can proceed with the existing approvals, providing the construction remains within the larger footprint and meets all the conditions imposed by the council.
“We have been very involved with and committed to working with the Town of Payson,” said board member and building committee chairman Steven Semmens. “The planning and zoning team has been supportive and helpful in guiding us through the system to get approvals necessary to move forward with the reconfigured project.