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Helping animals find a new place in the sun

Florida shelter puts out welcome sign for scores of rescued and displaced pets

From Animal Sheltering magazine March/April 2012

Kennel technician Heather Fair trades smiles with Mesha, a Siberian husky, while adoption counselor David Montgomery cares for Lola, a pit bull mix, in the Grace Pavilion’s lobby. Development manager Lauren Ellis hugs a dog arriving last summer at Peggy Adams ARL on a transport of dogs from the flooded Mississippi region. “We were so grateful to have each other,” she says. Animal care technician PerryAnn Vining of Peggy Adams ARL unloads one of 19 dogs on a transport last summer after flooding in Mississippi. The West Palm Beach, Fla., shelter participates in the Emergency Placement Partners program of The HSUS. Amber Capotorto, a member of the development staff at Peggy Adams ARL, makes cutouts for room doors in the lobby of the shelter’s Grace Pavilion prior to its opening in January 2010.

There was just something about Mia.

Heidi Nielsen, assistant director of the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League/ Humane Society of the Palm Beaches, has worked at the West Palm Beach, Fla., shelter for 11 years. She’s knows what it’s like to want to take them all home. But when she and her husband saw a female mastiff- German shepherd mix who had arrived on a transport of dogs from flood-besieged Mississippi—Nielsen knew that this time, resistance was futile.

“After that long trip, and everything she’d been through, she was right in front of the cage with her little paw up in the air, trying to get my husband to say hello to her,” Nielsen says. The dog looked like a giant boxer with a tail, was only 6½ months old, but already weighed 100 pounds. After a 14-day quarantine and spay surgery, the dog—now named Mia—went home with the couple, joining their existing menagerie of three dogs and two parrots.

This happy ending came out of the shelter’s kind deeds: As a participant in The HSUS’s Emergency Placement Partners (EPP) program, last June the shelter took in a transport of 19 surrendered dogs— including Mia—from the Natchez Adams County Humane Society in Mississippi, in order to free up space for pets displaced by historic floods.

All the dogs from Natchez were eventually adopted, according to Nielsen. But, more strikingly, the same weekend they arrived at Peggy Adams ARL, the shelter adopted out 45 dogs—all from the local community—thanks to publicity garnered by news of the displaced pets.

The shelter is no stranger to needy animals from other locales: Last March, the shelter accepted 20 dogs from an HSUS hoarding raid in Alabama, and later in 2011 made room for about 30 cats seized in a raid on a sanctuary gone bad in Gainesville, Fla.

The EPP program relies on a network of animal welfare organizations who take in animals saved from natural disasters, hoarding situations, animal fighting operations, or puppy mills. The three EPP transfers that Peggy Adams ARL has taken part in have generated media attention, donations— and more adoptions of local animals, too. “Everyone wants to adopt a disaster animal, so we typically have a really good turnout,” says director of operations Thomas Adair.

“They’re very good at capturing public interest in our issues. … They’re just a phenomenal organization,” says Michelle Cascio, manager of the EPP program.

The shelter has a long history in its community, stretching back to 1924, when a group of eight prominent women met on the porch of a local advocate to address a problem: Animals were being abandoned by Florida “snowbirds,” winter visitors returning north. Incorporated in 1925, it started out in an abandoned tuberculosis hospital on the grounds of an old Air Force base, with orange crates as makeshif t cages, and chicken wire fashioned into animal pens.

Almost 90 years later, Peggy Adams ARL now boasts a 13½-acre property that’s home to a 38,000-square-foot, $11 million building, completed in early 2010. The new facility—the Grace Pavilion, named after its benefactor, Jane Grace—houses an adoption center, a retail boutique, and a 15,000-square-foot medical/surgical unit where two staff veterinarians treat shelter pets and provide low-cost vaccinations. A third veterinarian performs low-cost spay/ neuter procedures.

The facility will enable the shelter to accomplish more than it ever could before. The medical /surgical clinic will eventually have operating-room cameras that stream live video to veterinary classes around the country. The building also has an apartment that can house veterinar y interns; the shelter is developing an ambitious program of paid internships for recent veterinary school graduates and externships for veterinary students.

With the Grace Pavilion the shelter has leapt forward in the number of spay/neuter surgeries it’s able to perform. The old clinic was 1,500 square feet, which limited the shelter to about 5,000 surgeries a year, Nielsen says. The shelter had sterilized more than 7,000 animals as of the end of November 2011, and its goal for this year is 10,000.

The biggest challenge facing the shelter, according to Adair, is the high number of feral and community cats in Palm Beach County. The shelter has taken steps to address the issue by forming relationships with local feral cat groups. When Dianne Suave, director of Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control, organized a meeting with these groups, she invited staff from area shelters. “So that’s when I got to know quite a few of the ladies, 30 or 40 of them, and I stayed in touch,” Nielsen says. She let this network of advocates know that when the shelter’s new facility was complete, Peggy Adams ARL would be launching a feral TNR program. In 2011, the shelter sterilized more than 1,600 feral cats.

PetSmart Charities has awarded the shelter a $100,000, two-year grant, which it’s using to launch a major spay/neuter initiative in two ZIP codes in Palm Beach County that have the highest numbers of ferals. The goal is to perform 1,000 spay/ neuters per year on feral and owned cats in those areas. Pet owners and feral cat groups will only have a $10 co-pay for each surgery. “The research has shown us that once you reach an 85 percent spay/neuter rate in a colony, that’s when you stop having litters,” Adair says.

The shelter’s first priority is to provide services to the surrounding community, says Richard Anderson, CEO. But the shelter likes to partner with The HSUS and ASPCA to help animals in emergency situations. “We’ve had just an incredible amount of success placing them into new homes, rehabilitating those animals that needed a little more care and treatment,” he says.

Adair agrees: “Our aim is to help all animals, not just the ones within arm’s reach.”

About the Author

Jim Baker is a former staff writer for the Humane Society of the United States.