Few things pull on the heartstrings more than the sad look on a dog’s or cat’s face staring back at you from behind a fence at the local humane society animal shelter.
It stings even more when you step back, look around, and see the fence is partly held together with twist ties, the roof is leaking, the concrete is cracked and there isn’t any heating or cooling.
In Payson, this is how the animals live at the Humane Society of Central Arizona (HSCAZ).
It isn’t the fault of the staff or volunteers — who work tirelessly to scrub and clean the deteriorating facility — it is a lack of funding.
Since 1972, the shelter has housed animals in literally a house at 812 S. McLane Road.
A house not designed or intended for such services.
Space at the converted home is limited. There is no place to isolate new animals, dogs are kept in primitive stalls and cats are kept in the main office, sometimes living among staff as they work. The kitchen — it’s another story the staff will tell you.
Board member John Wakelin said they use the kitchen area for medical procedures, storing inventory and eating lunch.
“It was not meant to be a shelter, but it is our home right now,” he said.
Wakelin spoke, along with half a dozen other board members, shelter volunteers and adopters at a Nov. 13 Because They Matter event at a Payson home.
The once-a-month meetings are a chance to explain to a dozen or more community members where the shelter is today and their plans for its future.
“It is not to ask for anything,” Wakelin said.
Diane Reid, who donated her home for November’s meeting, said she hopes people walk away feeling inspired to help and become an ambassador for the animals at the shelter.
“They matter so much,” Reid said of the dogs and cats without a “forever home.”
Every year, Payson’s animal shelter handles more than 1,400 dogs and cats and every year, this number grows. At times, the shelter is so full; it turns away abandoned and homeless animals.
Volunteers say the shelter is literally bursting at the seams with cats and dogs.
Board member Bill Enlund explained when the shelter first opened in the 1970s and only 2,000 people lived in the area, things were different. Since then, the population has grown sizably along with the shelter’s service area, which now covers 900 square miles.
The only thing that hasn’t grown is the size of the shelter.
“The current shelter is a work of art,” Enlund laughed. “But we are all dedicated to making it work until we replace it.”
The makeshift shelter does a poor job adjusting with the seasons, Enlund joked. In the winter, ice quickly forms on the concrete, making it difficult and dangerous for volunteers to work. In the summer, it is sweltering hot, but there is no air conditioning. And in the windy spring, at least part of the roof blows away, normally over the outside kennels, near the back of the building.
Luckily, there is a solution.
Just behind the current shelter sits two acres, freshly graded and ready for construction.
Now the board just needs $3 million to build, which is a reduced amount from the $4 million they were trying to raise.
“We have a very daunting challenge in front of us, but all of us know it will happen,” Enlund said.
When complete, the new space will include an on-site clinic for spays and neuters, medical treatments and vaccinations, a conference and education room for workshops on animal issues and most importantly — a safe and pleasant place for animals to stay until they are adopted.
However, before any of this can happen, the shelter needs to raise $2.5 million, with $500,000 already collected to date.
Shelter staff said before the economic downturn, significant funds were raised for pre-construction. However, with the current economic storm, the task of collecting donations became slow and difficult.
“Unfortunately, the animals cannot wait and we must have new facilities now,” according to a brochure from the shelter.
But there are those who argue with so many people in need right now, how can animals be a priority.
Volunteers said animals offer an unconditional love that makes a difference to so many.
With all that her pets have given her, board member Joanne Conlin said she is committed to spreading the message that they matter too.
Conlin choked up describing the day she made a commitment to her dog Panda, whom she rescued at 4 months old.
“I promised to take acre of and love Panda for the rest of her life,” she said.
Part of this commitment includes helping Panda’s “brothers and sisters,” who are still at the shelter.
Reid said she has heard countless stories of pets healing power and countless more of their abuse.
“They are abandoned or abused because for some reason we consider them a toy. Our intention it to not let that happen,” she said.
Reid said it is up to the community to step up and spread the word on these animals.
To learn more about the HSCAZ, call (928) 474-5590 ext. 100, visit www.humanesocietycentralaz.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.