A spokesman for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) shelter was tight-lipped about details behind the decision to close the Vineyard branch of the financially troubled organization this week.
The MSPCA announced last Thursday it would close the Katharine M. Foote memorial building in Edgartown on May 1, along with two other Massachusetts branches, in the wake of a crippling 25 per cent loss in endowment money for 2008.
MSPCA spokesman Brian Adams said that while the nonprofit organization publishes an annual report with turnover and costs statewide, it does not break down financials on a branch-by-branch basis.
“It’s just policy,” he said.
Beyond calling the move a purely financial decision, he would not elaborate on why the Vineyard branch of the MSCPA was singled out for closure along with the Brockton and Springfield branches.
The Vineyard shelter took in 470 animals in 2008 and employs one, full-time staff member. By comparison the Brockton branch dealt with 4,295 and Springfield 6,614 animals.
“It’s one person, but it’s also a facility that uses a lot of electricity and uses everything a facility uses. We still supply it with resources to keep it open,” Mr. Adams said.
“It was a case of which branches, if closed, would help us rebuild the fastest,” he added.
Nor would he discuss MSPCA plans for the Edgartown property.
“Right now it’s too premature to comment,” he said, adding that once a decision is made, “we’re going to be sure to share that with the public.”
Mr. Adams said the closures come at a time when the number of animals getting picked up is on the rise in the failing economy.
“A lot of people are surrendering their animals because they can’t afford to keep them, because their homes are getting foreclosed on,” he said.
He underscored that the branch will be accepting animals right up to the date of closure.
“People can utilize the facility until May,” he said.
Mr. Adams warned against efforts to prevent the closure.
“A lot of people want to help keep us there, but the decision has been made; right now efforts should be focused on what happens when we’re not there,” he said.
The organization has announced a phased closure of the three branches, with the Springfield branch coming in March followed by the Vineyard May 1 and Brockton in the fall.
Mr. Adams said the schedule was made according to the best way to handle the animal transportation. He added that anyone who has made donations to the Vineyard branch of the MSCPA should rest assured that the money will be spent directly on the Vineyard, possibly on transportation costs or on the informational services to the Vineyard.
“We’ve been around for 140 years in one form or another,” he said.
The MSPCA land was donated in 1947 by Island resident and animal advocate Katharine M. Foote. The shelter land is assessed by the town of Edgartown at $680,000. A second taxable adjacent property, assessed at $530,000, is leased to the Vineyard Veterinary Clinic.
The shelter is one of a handful of animal services operating on the Vineyard.
Among those Islanders reacting to the news of the closure as it broke this week, was longtime seasonal resident and Pet Adoption Welfare Services founder A’Bell Washburn.
“I was stunned,” she said. “It is an essential service.”
Ms. Washburn, now 82 and involved with no-kill animal shelters in Brooklyn, N.Y., led the campaign to rebuild the shelter in the 1970s, recruiting famous news anchor Walter Cronkite to help bring attention to the cause.
She said it is now up to others to create a solution to the closure and warned against infighting.
“I’ve given my heart and soul. I can’t pick up the torch again,” she said, “People don’t all agree with each other and there’s always politics.”
Before the shelter closes its doors, any animals that have not been put up for adoption will be transported to open branches off-Island
Shelter director Ronald Whitney has been with the MSCPA for 31 years. He will be laid off when the doors close on May 1.
“I found out about it 24 hours before it was in the news,” he said this week, “Of course we’ve all been worried about it. Everyone’s feeling the pinch. A lot of people want to point their fingers, it’s part of the process. I’m going through it all myself personally and professionally.”
But Mr. Whitney urged those concerned about the shelter to get beyond the blame game.
“They’ve made this financial decision and we can wag fingers, but I don’t want to burn bridges. I’m trying to do something in a positive way,” he said.
Mr. Whitney is asking anyone with ideas to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He is floating the idea of a new shelter, owned and operated by Vineyarders.
“I’m approaching people who might be good members. I’m not a doctor, a lawyer or an accountant,” he said.
“If we get this off the ground I want it to be better than before. Decisions will be made by people who know the Island,” he added.
Mr. Whitney said he had heard nothing about the organization’s plans for the property, but hoped that there may be some opportunity for its continued use. “Maybe they can somehow help us,” he said, predicting that the MSPCA would not sell the property, at least in the short term. “I don’t think anyone in their right mind sells a property right now on the Vineyard,” he said.
The Katharine M. Foote memorial shelter currently houses 12 cats and a guinea pig.
The only stray among them, Luke, is a house cat, who guards the pet food in the front room against mice in the evenings.
But the shelter accepts all animals, including cows and horses.
“We take it in, whatever it is,” Mr. Whitney said. The shelter has a number of supporters in the community who help house animals until they are adopted. Many different people are on hand to take in animals, from farmers to the owner of an aviary in Edgartown. In turn, said Mr. Whitney, the five animal control officers rely on the shelter to take in any strays they pick up. The shelter keeps animals for as long as it takes to find homes for them, Mr. Whitney said.
The shelter also operates a crematorium service on the property and runs a spay program, with discount rates for low-income pet owners. And if a pet owner brings in a pregnant animal the shelter will spay the animal free of charge as long as the owner brings back the litter to be spayed and inoculated, again for free.
“We call it pay for spay,” said Mr. Whitney, concluding: “The Island needs a shelter.”