RIDGWAY – Second Chance Humane Society Executive Director Kelly Goodin sat in the cat house, talking about the dogs. They currently live in makeshift quarters in a barn that was made over into a dog kennel when Second Chance Humane Society acquired the 52-acre Angel Ridge Ranch property and converted it into an animal shelter two years ago.
When SCHS purchased the property, it was with the intention of constructing purpose-built structures for the shelter in the immediate future. At that time, the existing barn was renovated to temporarily accommodate the dog populations, with the main house dedicated to sheltering cats, until new facilities could be built.
There’s no doubt that the dog digs here at Angel Ridge Ranch are supremely better than those at SCHS’s previous shelter, a cramped converted house in downtown Ridgway. Here at the ranch, at least, the dogs aren’t condemned to kennels in the basement like they used to be, and they don’t have to walk through a house full of cats to get there, said Goodin, pausing to scold two kitties who are growling territorially at one another in her office.
Still, the barn setting is not ideal. It was not designed to be a dog shelter, and this fact presents challenges and inefficiencies for the dogs and the staff that cares for them. More importantly, it significantly limits capacity to about half of the permitted number of 25 dogs.
That’s why SCHS has launched Phase Two of its capital campaign, “Building Second Chances,” for the construction of a new purpose-built dog den that can ultimately house three times as many dogs, in a less stressful environment than the current one, that will make them more adoptable.
Housing will be virtually cageless, with dogs allowed to live communally in pairs or groups when they are comfortable doing so. It will be the first such facility in the region. Indoor/outdoor runs will reduce stress levels for both the animals and the staff, and work flow and efficiency improvements will be significant, Goodin noted.
“It will eliminate the depressing kind of environment of the old shelter concept – that prison-like, depressing environment where pets get a little cage-crazy,” she explained. The new environment “is as low stress as you can get in the shelter. It’s the new trend in the animal welfare industry. The dogs will behave more like they would in a home. A lot of times, they will be nutty at an institutional shelter, and people will just turn away.”
In the new dog quarters, the rooms will all have doggy beds and individual floor drains to make cleaning more efficient. Portable rooms can be configured to accommodate single dogs or groups of dogs that enjoy hanging out together.
“They will be able to play and run together, so staff can really focus on cleaning and feeding, and enrichment activities – things that keep them mentally engaged, as well as physically, so they don’t get bored or stressed,” Goodin said.
Once the dogs move into their new quarters (ideally within the year), their current space inside the barn will be converted into into an onsite medical clinic for low-cost spay/neuter operations, microchipping and vaccination.
Total cost for the dog den is projected at $637,000. SCHS has currently raised over 60 percent of this amount, and is now asking for community support so that construction can begin this fall.
To speed this effort along, an anonymous donor has recently introduced an “Honor a Pet You Love” challenge grant. The donor will match the next $20,000 in donations toward the capital campaign, yielding $40,000 for the project.
The dog den’s naming rights have already been claimed by Dr. Jim Kornberg of the Ridgway area, who made a substantial donation to the project. But naming rights on individual dog rooms – up to 33 at full build-out several years down the road – and wings in the new facility still exist, Goodin said.
Contracts with architect Cal Wilbourne and general contractor Mark Carlson of Mountain Builders in Telluride were finalized in August; both men have already done significant pro bono work on the project. “We are confident we can break ground soon,” Goodin said.
SCHS’s service area extends throughout Ouray County and into Montrose and San Miguel Counties as well. It has the only no-kill animal shelter in the region. Additional services include mobile spay-neuter clinics and microchip events, and the “Mobile Mutts and Meows” adoption program. The organization has started offering occasional spay/neuter clinics in Norwood, and expanded some services into Nucla and Naturita as well.
Prior to SCHS’s involvement, stray animals picked up in Nucla and Naturita were euthanized after five days. Now, they are taken to Angel Ridge Ranch for a second chance.
IT’S ABOUT LIVES SAVED
Out at the dog barn, a scruffy pup named Waggin (for his constantly waggin’ tail), is newly back from finishing school, and enjoying a play-date with a puppy in one of the outdoor pens.
Waggin is a good little guy, but needed some behavior intervention when he arrived at the shelter, to help him learn how to get along with other dogs. A volunteer trainer has been working with him for a few months, and now he’s back, and getting along very nicely with his new playmate.
“They look like they belong together,” Shelter Manager Elizabeth Kirwin said approvingly. Several of the dogs are paired similarly, in outdoor pens. “Eventually, if they want to, they can even sleep together,” Kirwin said.
It’s all about making the dogs happy, well-adjusted, and adoptable.
“Our goal here isn’t to just house,” Kirwin said. “It’s to make sure that while they are here, they are enriched in the sense that when they do go home, they will enjoy a successful adoption.”
The current setup in the dog barn is less than ideal for achieving this goal. Ten dog kennels are crammed helter-skelter inside the barn where the dogs spend their nights. (Their days are generally spent in outdoor pens.) Kirwin has done what she can to make the situation less stressful, arranging individual kennels in such a way that the dogs can’t directly see each other when they are inside.
But the noise abatement is far from perfect, and, she said, “It’s stressful for them.”
The new shelter will offer a more controlled, subdued environment. “If I find three dogs that can live together, I can let three dogs live together. Or if one just wants to be alone, we can make it small enough. It will give us a ton of flexibility.”
The new facility will also be infinitely simpler to maintain for the shelter staff. It will make such daily chores as cleaning out the kennels infinitely easier. In the makeshift barn, staff is “ in here on their hands and knees cleaning up poop, and pee, every morning,” Kirwin said, cutting into the time they could spend playing with the animals or training them.
Of the staff, Kirwin said, “They are tough, and really, really dedicated to the animals. “If they can tough through this one more winter,” she added, the new dog den “will be a real gift for them.”
But ultimately, with i’s increased capacity, the dog den “is really just about lives saved,” Kirwin said. “I can take animals from kill shelters that wouldn’t necessarily make it out, otherwise. To me, that’s what it’s all about.”
To donate, contact SCHS at 970/626-2273 or visit www.adoptmountainpets.org.
Editor's Note: As this paper went to press, we received word from Goodin that the Love Your Pet Challenge has been fulfilled, and another challenge has been issued for $40,000. SCHS has now raised 74 percent of the $637K needed to build the Dog Den. SCHS received its building permit for the Dog Den this Wednesday and plans to break ground on the new facility next Tuesday, Sept. 24.
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