After inheriting ‘a mess,’ shelter’s staff and board turn things around

A curious adult cat peers at a visitor from her perch on the back of chair in the new cat room at Roice-Hurst Humane Society. The cat room is the former office area of the humane society, which has been opened up and decorated with cubby holes and climbing equipment that the animals can roam and explore.

Lana Fergeson, president of the Roice Hurst Humane Society, leans against the fence of the new dog kennel area as she talks about the improvements that have already been made and more that are planned at the animal shelter.

It seemed Ralf, a skittish blue heeler, would never be adopted.

Months went by and a nonstop parade of potential dog owners chose to take home friendlier dogs from the Roice-Hurst Humane Society. After the poor thing was found abandoned in the desert with a hole in his skull and wounds to his chest, the dog with the big brown eyes that didn’t like people now lives in luxury with his new owners, eating bacon and oatmeal for breakfast.

There’s another sweet story about Sundance, a gray pit bull-mix puppy who had long been overlooked at the shelter. After recovering from Parvovirus, the silky-soft dog with a strong will to live suffered from seizures. It wasn’t until a family who came looking for a dog recently learned of Sundance’s condition and knew the medical issues wouldn’t matter. One of the family’s three boys could relate: He, too, had seizures.

“That’s one of our happy stories,” said longtime office manager Kathy Haack, who has overseen hundreds of cat and dog adoptions at the Clifton animal shelter.

While the stories go on just about every day, the future of the facility at 3320 D 1/2 Road hasn’t always been certain.

Former staff members there delivered a distress call to the community last July, claiming the animal shelter, which says it doesn’t euthanize animals, would have to close its doors within the month if donations did not materialize. Residents from around the Grand Valley sprang into action, holding fundraisers and donating items and in-kind services. A steady stream of generous folks even stopped by to deliver checks. The push earned the shelter $200,000 in the first two weeks, and community support continues still. 

Former Grand Junction businesswoman Lana Fergeson possibly contributed the most money by a single donor last year, handing over a check for $20,000. Fergeson, now the president of the nonprofit’s volunteer board of directors, said operations were a mess when she and seven new board members took the helm.

“We had to start over and revitalize,” Fergeson said, taking a break recently in the sun outside the shelter, with the sounds of dogs barking in the background.

“There was years and years of abuse here. I don’t know how it is still here.”

For starters, the telephone system was unable to accept voice messages and the group’s books were impossible to decipher. Using hot water to wash down the animal’s cages, something that is a daily chore, would cause electrical circuits to quit in other parts of the aging facility. A washer and dryer died, then the toilets stopped working, Fergeson said.

“It was like, ‘What else, Lord?’ ” she exclaimed. “Will the list ever be over?”

Some former employees were let go and a new batch of workers and high-energy board members took on responsibilities in their areas of expertise, Fergeson said.

Board members now are tasked with duties such as grant writing, advertising, fundraising, working on the group’s computers, planning future construction and payroll. The shelter employs seven full-time positions and a few other part-time positions, with operating expenses estimated at $20,000 a month, Fergeson said.

Fergeson said the shelter has amassed about eight months of operating expenses. A number of planned fundraisers and continued community donations should help offset costs, she said.

In the past five months board members and employees have barely had a chance to catch their breaths, while the facility has undergone a host of construction projects.

Fergeson said board members felt some of the community’s donations should go toward updating and expanding the facility. That would allow the organization to take in more animals that might otherwise be euthanized and improve the quality of life for animals waiting to be adopted.

After a couple walls were knocked out in the former office space, about 56 cats now share two adjoining rooms. The felines bask in the sunlight pouring in from two large windows.

They climb up high above their cages, looking down curiously on visitors.

Plans are also under way for a cat solarium, an enclosed outdoor area that will be built off the room, a project that has long been a goal of the shelter. According to an article published in this paper in 2002, a donor gave $30,000 for a cat solarium, a project that was slated for the spring of 2003.

A wheelchair-accessible walkway now surrounds the dog pens, which have all been expanded by up to 25 feet in length. An additional dog run area offers an area for potential new owners to meet one-on-one with pets. New commercial flooring runs throughout the facility, and the electrical utilities are upgraded. Five-foot concrete walls now surround the dog pens, an improvement that should keep down the noise of barking dogs.

The shelter’s office is run out of a temporary on-site mobile home, a monthly rental expense board members hope to eliminate by building a new office.

But new construction is on hold as shelter volunteers and paid workers aim to find new funding. At some point, Fergeson hopes to open a small gift shop to sell donated items and pet-themed gifts. Board member Jenette Stanley is writing grants, seeking funding for projects. Vaccination clinics have resumed, offered about every two weeks, which provides some income. Several fundraisers have been planned, including a silent auction the weekend of March 6 at Two Rivers Convention Center.

To the highest bidders go stylistic but functional dog houses by area builders. The competition called BARKitecture 2009 is included in the 2009 Home Improvement and Remodeling Expo.

“That’s what we really want to work on, our corporate sponsorship,” Fergeson said.

While donations still pour in, more are always needed, she said. The nonprofit receives no government funding.

Two businesses — Comet Cleaners and Ben Dowd Excavating — have been splitting payments on the shelter’s heating bills since July. Even first-graders at Scenic Elementary
School want to help. Students there recently raised $300 to give pets a better life.

While adoption rates have been high, (a monthly record of at least 52 dogs were adopted in January) more pets than ever are found as strays, or are being relinquished, probably because of the souring economy, Fergeson said.

Though the shelter has been around since the 1960s, Fergeson said workers are planning a grand opening. They want to show the public the changes in facility’s management and future plans.

“It’s a work in progress,” Fergeson said, showing plans for landscaping and dog-walking areas. “We’re not where we want to be. We want this to be the best animal shelter in Colorado. This shelter wouldn’t be where it is today if not for the generosity of people in the Grand Valley.”


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