It has been a long, uphill climb, with determined EMCSPCA volunteers never straying from the vision of building a no-kill animal shelter in the Mountain Area.
All the hard work, all the exhausting hours spent planning fundraisers, all the unwavering efforts to keep the mission alive decade-after-decade finally paid off with the official groundbreaking ceremony last Saturday on 13 acres across from Wasuma Elementary School in Ahwahnee.
Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler, and one of the orginal EMCSPCA founders, Richard Siefert, were on hand, as well as Madera County Animal Services Director Kirsten Gross, District Attorney David Linn and Sheriff Jay Varney. In total, about 175 came out to celebrate - and witness - a vision becoming a reality.
“Over the years, just as we have worked and planned, the community has rallied around us, donating everything from coins in dog banks to bequests from wills,” EMCSPCA President Sharon Fitzgerald said, “ ... and every one of these donations has brought us to this event.”
Following the symbolic groundbreaking, Wheeler spoke to the enthusiastic crowd gathered in Wasuma Elementary School’s multi-purpose room. The EMCSPCA board of directors sat lining the stage in front of the podium, facing the audience.
Recalling a moment in time a decade earlier, Wheeler explained, “Sharon (Fitzgerald), Linda (Chappell), and Lyle (Swanson) cornered me one day about 10 years ago, and said ‘we need land for an animal shelter.’”
And Wheeler never lost sight of that EMCSPCA vision, getting caught up in it himself, helping with “pickles” (obstacles) the non-profit faced along the journey. He was also instrumental in urging the board of supervisors to approve a long-term lease of 13 acres at $1 annually. The vote was unanimous, 5-0.
“And so here we are today,” Wheeler continued. “It’s just unbelievable. This group has worked towards this goal almost 24/7 ... thank you all for being so persistent.”
Fitzgerald then told of a few hurdles getting to this point, expressing gratitude towards all those who worked diligently to resolve problems, and a community that never gave up on a dream.
“Tom has been an incredible help to us,” she said. “He took this project on and has been so dedicated ... “And it is the mountain community building this wonderful facility. The EMCSCPA Animal Care and Adoption Center will be more than a shelter to house dogs and cats. It will not be the prison we always think of when shelters are mentioned. It will be a special place for animals awaiting their new families ... a place where they will be groomed, trained, vaccinated, spayed or neutered ... and loved.”
Cathy Schoch has worked with the organization since 2008, and has been a board member for two years.
“This is so exciting,” Schoch said, “and I’m so happy to be a part of it. We’ve worked very hard to get here, but without positive community response, this shelter wouldn’t be happening ... so, I want to especially thank the community for supporting us in every way.”
It has indeed been the community coming together, in big ways and behind the scenes, for a single purpose.
Community at work
Charlie McGrew, 10, a Rivergold student has always had a heart for animals, so it makes sense that during a recent class assignment where each student selected a charity to raise money for, he chose this one.
“I’ve really been collecting ever since I was 6,” Charlie said, while clutching his coffee can filled with more than $60. “Homeless dogs and cats are dying because they don’t have a home or anyone to take care of them.”
Mom Heather said Charlie’s actually been giving money to the cause since he was two, when he would insist on dropping coins in the EMCSPCA dog banks scattered at different area locations.
“I’m very proud of his commitment,” Heather said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he chose animals as his Eagle Scout project.”
The first EMCSPCA Honorary Mayor Earlene Keller, who raised $23,000 in 2003 for the shelter cause, was a woman of few words. Instead she jumped in the air, stretched her arms to the clouds, and yelled, “Yeah ... finally.”
Two-time Honorary Mayor John Burton has lived in the area 14 years. During his two year run, he raised about $80,000.
“We’ve been working hard for so long to get this done ... and now look, here we are.”
Over the last five years, shoppers may have noticed Chappell with her table of baked goods in front of True Value. Every other Saturday - spring, summer and fall - she sold homemade sweets, and also offered those interested an update on the shelter’s progress.
Mort Lasnik and his family are dedicated to raising $250,000 to cover the construction portion of the shelter’s cat wing, which will be named in honor of both Mort and his late wife, Lil.
One of Sue Myhre’s clients (Ann Taylor of Danville) was looking for a good cause in Dec. 2014. When Myhre mentioned the no-kill shelter, Taylor told her “Merry Christmas,” with a donation of $200,000.
The shelter will feature:
* Separate cat and dog adoption centers
* Indoor/outdoor access in the cat community rooms
* Indoor/outdoor dog runs
* Grooming facility
* Spay/neuter and vaccination clinic
* Humane education center
* Canine Training and Exercise Park for the community
* Facilities for evacuated pets due to fires and other natural disasters
There are several options in gift-giving. Naming a bench after a beloved pet, engraving a brick for the memorial garden wall, equipment for the dog park, Korunda Dog Beds for kennels, Kitty Condos ... the list goes on and on.
The next phase in the fundraising efforts - to raise approximately $500,000 to furnish the shelter, with items such as veterinary equipment, surgical equipment and supplies, washers and dryers, chairs, tables, office equipment and technology.
Moving forward, once the shelter is up and running, ongoing monthly expenses of about $15,000 will also be needed to cover pet food, an onsite manager and veterinarian, utilities and maintenance.
“Now we know why, where, what, how, and even when,” Fitzgerald continued. “The time is now. We have everything in place, the septic system has been designed, grading plans are done, grading is going out to bid, and as soon as the decision is made on who will handle the grading, and weather permits, you will see larger amounts of dirt being moved than we moved today.
“Thanks to the community and our dedicated volunteers, this project is now a reality. In 1990, we never expected it to take so long, but now that it has, we understand that everything really does happen for a reason ... Thank you again for joining us and for the years of dedication, donations, and encouragement you have given us. It will be a joyous day when we open the doors to the Eastern Madera County SPCA Animal Care and Adoption Center.”
The EMCSPCA, established in 1990, has spent up to $10,000 each month on emergency animal and foster care, spay and neutering, and feral cat feeding. This all-volunteer organization receives no governmental assistance, relying entirely on community support.
Of foremost concern is the animal over-population explosion. Educating the youth on the importance of spaying and neutering pets, as well as offering little-to-no-cost spay/neuter vouchers to Mountain Area residents remains a top priority for the EMCSPCA.
While the organization has prevented the births of hundreds of thousands of puppies and kittens through the spay/neuter program at a cost of $830,000 over the past 20-plus years, their plight remains grim.
“Tragically, about 4 million healthy, adoptable animals are euthanized annually nationwide,” Fitzgerald said. “... a deplorable statistic, given that this is human-made and completely preventable.”
“None of the board members have had a real vacation,” Fitzgerald continued. “We always visit other animal shelters wherever we go, coming back with a report. ‘I went to this location and it was awful, wait until you see the photos’ ... ‘the facility was state-of-the-art,’ so we have learned a lot over the years. The time it took was good because now we will have a wonderful facility and a dog park, a happy place to be rather than a place you dread visiting. Our motto: Do it once ... do it right ....”
And who knows? You just may see young Charlie McGrew volunteering there.
Donations can be made online at www.emcspca.org.