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Helping Animals on a Mass. Scale

Massachusetts shelter models holistic approach to ending pet homelessness

A cat awaits adoption at Second Chance. The shelter is one of The HSUS’s top Emergency Placement Partners. Tara Chumsae/TC Perfect Images

by Kelly Huegel

Back when Sheryl Blancato, president and executive director of Second Chance Animal Shelter, first started working as an animal control officer (ACO) two decades ago, it wasn’t unusual for her to pick up entire litters of puppies running down the street. Now in her 15th year at the helm of Second Chance, she has helped to transform East Brookfield, Mass., into a community motivated and mobilized to help animals not only locally, but nationally.

In her early days as an ACO, Blancato was up to her eyeballs in strays. She found herself shuttling animals on her own time to shelters an hour or more away in the hopes they could be adopted out rather than euthanized. She had one vet who donated rabies vaccinations, but that was it. “What had been going on in sheltering ... wasn’t working,” Blancato says, so she decided to create a new animal rescue and welfare program focused on keeping animals out of shelters.

Blancato got to work applying for grants and forging relationships with local donors and contractors. Her idea was twofold: Go slow and steady, relying primarily on pro bono assistance from architects and contractors and donated building materials, and keep overhead small by limiting the size of the shelter. Opened in 2002, the “smaller and leaner” shelter has a bright, colorful, compact adoption center—and no mortgage.

Blancato also believed that by focusing on medical needs like low-cost spay/neuter and vaccines, Second Chance could dramatically reduce numbers of homeless pets. “When we started doing that, we had a lot of people who [said], ‘That’s not the way sheltering works.’” But Blancato persisted, raising funds to build a 6,000-square-foot subsidized veterinary clinic, which opened in 2010.

  • Sheryl Blancato’s longtime dedication to homeless animals has transformed her community. Joe Craig

The shelter has not only reduced the number of strays in the area, but now when someone calls to ask for help with a sick pet, Blancato has options. When she learned that one of the town’s elderly residents was forced to choose between feeding her pet and purchasing her own medication, the shelter created special services for elderly and low-income community members, including free vaccines and vet exams, pet food delivered to nine local food pantries and a shuttle service that transports animals to and from its clinic.

A lot of people think shelter animals have huge medical needs, Blancato says, so Second Chance tries to make sure the animal is totally healthy at the time of adoption, helping to undercut the stereotype of sickly shelter pets. Offering already-vetted animals speeds the adoption process, freeing up space for animals at the 50 other shelters and rescues that use the clinic’s services.

In addition to its local work, Second Chance has been involved in rescues on a national level. It’s been on The HSUS’s list of Top 10 Emergency Placement Partners the last three years and was integral in helping with massive hoarding cases in Ohio and Michigan. In the former, staff made the 10-hour drive to Ohio three times, taking in 47 animals. Second Chance is “an important part of a national mission to rescue animals from cruelty,” says Michelle Cascio, manager of The HSUS’s Emergency Placement Partners Program.

But that’s not enough for Blancato. “One of our visions is to be a model shelter for the nation,” she says. “We want to change the face of sheltering.”

Learn more about The HSUS’s Emergency Placement Partners Program.

Read the rest of this issue from Animal Sheltering magazine


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