OAKHURST — Sharon Fitzgerald, board president of EMC SPCA, shared a progress report this week regarding the organization’s new no-kill animal shelter off Highway 49 in Ahwahnee.
Fitzgerald, the organization’s driving force for nearly 30 years, is the owner of The Cat’s Meow in Oakhurst. She also operates the EMC SPCA Thrift Shop next door to her store. The 2,000-square-foot thrift shop is one of the nonprofit, all-volunteer organization’s main sources of revenue.
“We are hoping the new shelter will be open around the first of next year — but it could open sooner,” Fitzgerald said this week.
She said there are still “a lot of details that need to fall into place” — and fall and winter weather, “especially if it’s wet and rainy,” could slow progress, Fitzgerald added.
Sierra News Online asked Fitzgerald about the status of a loan the organization has been seeking to finish construction.
“The EMC SPCA is in the process of securing a loan in the amount of $700,000 to complete construction,” she said. “The remaining work consists of flooring in parts of the building, cabinetry, interior doors, installation of lights, and outfitting the different areas. This will include dog kennels, items in grooming, laundry, food prep, staff room, clinic, isolation areas, and offices. Computer and phone systems are also needed. On the exterior concrete flatwork (sidewalks), paving, fencing and landscaping are needed. The loan will not be used for operating expenses, it is a construction loan secured by the property/building.”
“Some have asked why we can’t open before the shelter is finished,” Fitzgerald added. “Any permitted building must have the building permit written off before it can be occupied. Others think the building is too ‘grand.’ Actually, it is functional and will showcase adoptable animals in the best way possible. We know people don’t want to visit animals that are housed in a facility that reminds them of a prison. The shelter has been planned with an emphasis on the health and safety of the dogs and cats that are in our area. There is also a community/education room that will be available for meetings and educational events.”
Here are some of the other key takeaways from this week’s Q&A with Fitzgerald:
SNO: HOW MUCH MONEY IN TOTAL HAS BEEN SPENT ON THE SHELTER PROJECT?
Fitzgerald: $3.1 million to date
SNO: ABOUT WHAT WILL THE FACILITY’S ANNUAL OPERATING BUDGET BE?
SNO: ONCE OPERATIONAL, WHAT WILL SHELTER’S MAIN SOURCES OF REVENUE BE? (AND DO YOU ANTICIPATE NEEDING TO TAP THE $700,000 LOAN FOR INITIAL OPERATING EXPENSES?)
Fitzgerald: A portion of the revenue will come from shelter income (adoption fees and retail sales), but mostly [from] donations. The loan is a construction loan. It can not be used for any other purpose.
SNO: AS A NO-KILL SHELTER, WILL THE FACILITY BE SET UP TO TAKE IN ALL ANIMALS OR ONLY CERTAIN ONES — AND WHAT WILL THE CRITERIA FOR INTAKE BE?
Fitzgerald: Animals in need from Eastern Madera County will be served. There may be times when we are full and cannot accept animals. The shelter will be considered managed intake. This means that when someone needs to re-home their pet, we will determine if there is a way we can help them. For instance, if they need help with food or medical care, we might be able to help, allowing the pet to stay with the owner. If we have available space, we will pull animals from other facilities. We will also work with agencies out of our area to transport adoptable dogs and cats to places where there’s more demand. As we have for over 25 years, we will continue to emphasize the importance of spaying and neutering. In the 1990’s we began a spay-neuter assistance program. Since the inception of that program, we have spent over $1,000,000 (donated and a few grants) helping to reduce the pet population in our area.
SNO: HOW MANY PEOPLE WILL WORK AT THE SHELTER AND HAVE YOU STARTED HIRING YET?
Fitzgerald: We’ll have approximately 5-7 employees, but will rely heavily on volunteers. People wishing to volunteer can fill out an application online at www.emcspca.com/how-you-can-help/volunteer. We are accepting resumes, but have not started hiring until we are closer to opening. Resumes can be dropped off at The Cat’s Meow by Grocery Outlet or mailed to EMCSPCA, P.O.Box 1314, Oakhurst, CA 93644, email to email@example.com.
SNO: WILL THE SHELTER OFFER SPAY AND NEUTER SERVICES?
Fitzgerald: At first, the clinic will serve the animals we take in. As we progress we will offer low-cost vaccine clinics and micro-chipping, and the goal is to have spay-neuter services for low-income pet owners. There is a room adjacent to the clinic that is for future expansion of the clinic, but that is not in the budget and would entail additional fundraising when and if expansion is needed.
SNO: HOW MANY DOG RUNS WILL THERE BE?
Fitzgerald: Sixteen indoor/outdoor kennels, four isolation kennels for intake/illness and a puppy room with four puppy kennels for litters or litters with moms. There are two “get-acquainted” rooms for people to spend time with a dog or puppy. There is also an area where people can bring their own dog to meet the pet they are thinking about adopting.
SNO: WHAT ABOUT ACCOMMODATIONS FOR CATS?
Fitzgerald: There is a cat isolation room for intake or illness, a room with condos for introduction to the public and three cat community rooms where cats will be loose with climbing towers, beds, window seats, etc., one for kittens, two for adult cats. The adult cat rooms will have access to secure outdoor areas. The cat area has two “get-acquainted” rooms where prospective adopters can visit with a cat/kitten they are interested in.
SNO: WHAT IS THE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF ANIMALS THE SHELTER WILL BE ABLE TO HANDLE AT ANY ONE TIME? HOW DOES THAT BREAK DOWN IN TERMS OF DOGS AND CATS — AND ARE THERE PLANS TO HANDLE OTHER SMALL ANIMALS LIKE RABBITS, GUINEA PIGS, SNAKES, ETC?
Fitzgerald: The plans are only for dogs and cats, but there may also be emergencies where we would try to help with other species. We can house about 40 cats and 35 dogs. The number of dogs and cats you can house is not as important as how quickly you can find their forever homes. The goal is not to “house” them, it is to take care of their needs including grooming, medical care, neutering, possible training and socializing, and place them in forever homes.
“We are also in the process of securing grants to clear the entire 75.33 acres to protect the shelter and our neighbors from fire,” Fitzgerald added. “The original 13.9 acres we were leasing from the county have been cleared for construction. However, once the county donated the additional land, bringing the total to 75.33 acres, that changed things. Most importantly, it made our building far more valuable as we own the land the building sits on. The rest of the land is covered with dense brush and trees. The goal is to remove the brush and limb-up the trees to prevent a fire that might start along the highway from racing through the brush to the shelter and the homes above the property.”