At the same time many Vineyard businesses are succumbing to the recession and closing their doors, the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard in Edgartown is taking in more money than it is spending, allowing it to expand hours and raising hopes it will continue to operate through next year and beyond.
“It’s a Vineyard success story, and there aren’t a lot of those right now,” said Dukes County manager Russell Smith, who oversees the shelter’s finances. “Things are going better than we hoped.”
Earlier this year, things were looking bleak for the Katharine M. Foote memorial shelter near the Triangle in Edgartown.
In February the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals — which ran the facility for 50 years — unexpectedly and abruptly announced they would be closing the shelter due to financial problems, including a crippling 25 per cent loss in endowment money for 2008.
But as soon as the MSPCA made the announcement, a group of volunteers went to work to preserve the shelter. They came up with a business plan that relied on donations and financial assistance from the six Island towns and the Dukes County Commission.
The MSPCA agreed to lease the building to the volunteers of the newly named Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard at no cost for one year, provided that the building be used only as an animal shelter in perpetuity. The shelter is now owned and managed through a public-private partnership that includes a nonprofit board and county government.
The plan called for the Dukes County Commission to front the money needed to get the shelter up and running, so long as the Island towns agreed to pay the county back in the future. But a funny thing happened along the way, as the shelter took in more than enough donations to get the shelter started and keep it running over the past seven months.
Mr. Smith said the shelter has raised approximately $89,000 through fund-raising and fees and has spent only around $39,000 for operating costs. By way of comparison, expenses for the MSPCA shelter were approximately $250,000 for the last two years it was in business. As a result, the shelter hasn’t needed any public funding and hasn’t cost the county or the towns a dime so far.
Officials from the MSPCA reported that the shelter ran at a deficit of approximately $130,000 for each of its last two years. The new Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard, however, is currently operating with a surplus.
Mr. Smith attributed the success of the shelter to the community approach that relies on donations and volunteer services.
“This is a very different business model [than the MSPCA]. Our board of directors spends a lot of time soliciting donations and garnering public support, and we work more closely with the towns so the animal control officers are an important part of the equation,” Mr. Smith said, adding:
“We are lucky in that helping animals in need is viewed by most people as a good thing — but we are also lucky to have a community who wants this to work and who are willing to help out wherever they can.”
Shelter manager Lisa Hayes said the shelter has taken in approximately 50 animals over the past seven months, around three-quarters of them cats and the rest dogs and a handful of birds, rabbits and guinea pigs. All the animals have been placed into new homes, except for the seven that are currently at the shelter.
Ms. Hayes said most of the animals were not strays but instead came from families that had to give them up because of housing changes, allergies, age or other extenuating circumstances. In addition to finding the animals new homes, the shelter also spays and neuters them and provides vaccinations against common diseases.
Ms. Hayes said the shelter continues to benefit from people’s generosity.
“We couldn’t do what we do without our amazing volunteers. They clean the building and they cut the grass, and they keep us moving forward. Not to mention the donations . . . people still walk in every day with cleaning supplies and [pet] food,” she said.
Meanwhile the shelter has expanded its hours of operation since it opened in May. It is now open Wednesday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Mr. Smith said he is talking with the MSPCA about the possibility of extending the current lease, which costs the shelter nothing, for at least one more year. Although the MSPCA has the option of selling the property, Mr. Smith hopes the nonprofit will continue to provide space either free of charge or at a reduced rate.
“That was what Katharine Foote [who had the shelter built and donated the house and land to the MSPCA when she died in 1947] wanted, to take care of the animals of the Vineyard . . . it was in her will. I know [the MSPCA] does not have to honor her wishes, but it would seem to match their goal of helping animals in need,” he said.