By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – With an outgrown, deteriorating building that negatively impacts animal health, the Friends For the Dearborn Animal Shelter launched a “Raise the Woof” capital campaign Wednesday morning at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center to build a better facility.
For more information, go to dearbornanimals.org/our-new-home.
Elaine Greene, shelter executive director, said the current shelter contributes to the spread of disease.
“Despite of best efforts, in some cases animals are dying because of it,” Greene said.
The shelter’s capital campaign information packet states that poor air exchange between healthy and sick animals can allow the spread of kennel cough in dogs and upper respiratory infections in cats.
It also identifies poor sewage disposal as a contributor to disease and odors, stating the porous concrete walls and floors are difficult to clean, and are crumbling in places.
The report said the roof on the existing shelter needs replacing, and many water bowl automatic filler systems in the kennels no longer work.
Sandy Boulton, public relations coordinator for the DAS, said that while the current facility is adequate, it is not the kind of facility needed by modern shelters.
“It’s not properly appointed,” Boulton said. “It is a retro-fitted garage, and yes, you can house animals in there. But today we have learned so much more about how to properly care for animals.”
She said that while they know the best way to house cats in quieter areas away from the dogs, the current facility does not allow for that.
In 2014 the shelter reported it cared for 2,725 animals: 1,470 cats, 1,054 dogs, and 201 other species.
Boulton said the building, constructed in 1978 as a city pound, isn’t people-friendly.
“It’s so small and tight that there isn’t positive human space to interact with the animals,” Boulton said. “Which is really the whole essence of what we do at the shelter, creating family environments (so) that they add a pet family member. There isn’t a place where it is quiet, (and) you can have quality time with an animal you are considering adopting.”
Shelter reports state that the lack of space also makes it difficult for staff and volunteers to evaluate animals upon arrival, and to temperament-test dogs.
Honorary capital campaign chair, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, said a new shelter will save animal lives, and will allow the organization to expand services like education, youth volunteerism, and pet therapy programs.
Boulton said they do need room for educational outreach and training, which the present facility cannot accommodate.
She said the current 4,000-square-foot facility is flanked by disjointed modular units, jokingly referred to as “the trailer park,” which are used for urgent situations, cat communities, and administrative functions.
“There is no common area for the public, and for human interaction with animals there,” Boulton said. “We want to be leading edge here in Dearborn, and have a facility that is very full service, and viewed as a hub in metro Detroit for outreach for companion animals.”
She said the city is gifting the old Amtrak station and land around it as a partial land gift for the new facility from the city, as well as a challenge amount of money for fund-raising.
“The total package is a $1 million commitment from the city to help this facility be built,” Boulton said. “Obviously it is a very long term, forward-thinking decision for the city to have this facility here.”
She said the shelter is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and will be responsible for most of the fundraising.
The $5.7 million project estimate includes $4 million for construction, $400,000 for the land donated by the city, $400,000 for campaign costs, $400,000 for pledge defaults, and a $500,000 endowment.
The DAS reports that $3.25 million has been raised, with $2.3 million in gifts and pledges, (which includes a $600,000 challenge gift from the city of Dearborn), $400,000 in land from the city, and a $555,000 endowment from an individual supporter.
On a smaller but no less significant scale, Zoe Acker, 10, of Dearborn, has fund-raised for the shelter since she was 5, beginning with a lemonade stand. She also has asked for donations to the shelter in lieu of birthday and Christmas gifts.
She said she loves animals, and has a pet dog, a retriever, at home. She said she has taken friends to the shelter, and it makes her sad to see so many animals waiting for adoption.
“All of them need owners,” Acker said. “I wish I could adopt all of them.”
MaryAnn Wright, DAS board and campaign chairwoman, and a vice president at Johnson Controls, said all of her philanthropic effort goes into the shelter, and she hopes that when Acker grows up, she will remember the June 11 “Raise the Woof” capital campaign launch.
“I want this to be my legacy, so when Zoe’s the board chair, she’ll stand up here, and she’ll remember about all of you coming together to help us see that we achieve our dreams and that we got the shelter built so that we can serve the next 45,000 animals that come through our shelter,” Wright said.
Boulton said in addition to sheltering animals, the organization provides micro-chipping, low-cost sterilization, even help with pet food to help a financially struggling family keep a pet in their home.
Boulton expressed optimism about the success of the capital campaign.
“We’re right here. It’s attainable,” she said. “It’s like you can reach up and grab the apple out of the tree, but you are just a little short. And if we can get some other hands to help raise us up to grab that apple, it will be something that all of us can enjoy the fruits of that labor.
Boulton urges non-pet owners to invest in an organization that treats animals with kindness.
“It is representative of what the community is today,” Boulton said. “It brings in good neighbors for you. It brings in the kind of community you want to live in.”