Rescuing FCAR: Animal shelter thriving

ST. ALBANS — Thanks to community support and dedicated staff members, Franklin County Animal Rescue (FCAR) is thriving, just 11 months after reopening.

FCAR closed down in April 2017 because of serious financial troubles. But an unofficial team of community members, volunteers and donors rallied behind the mission of the shelter, and worked to reopen its doors last October.  Since then over 600 animals have been adopted.

“Basically a group of volunteers, not even people that knew one another, but people that had heard about the shelter closure in various ways got together and said we can’t let the county go without a shelter, there’s just too many animals in need up here,” said Karen Taylor Mitchell, FCAR board chair.

“We got together, put together a humungous to-do list with what we needed to do to reopen and we got the job done,” Taylor Mitchell said.

On the top of that list was hiring a transition manager. Kelly Frederick came onto the scene with a background in nonprofit management. Frederick, who previously managed a children’s museum in Plattsburgh, commutes each day from New York. According to Taylor Mitchell, she’s made all the difference in the successful bounce back of the shelter.

“Kelly has really put her nose to the grindstone, and this place being reopened here is a huge credit to her,” Taylor Mitchell said.

Some of the items on the “laundry list” of upgrades to tackle, Frederick said, where HVAC upgrades and multiple building renovations. One whole kennel was renovated to include cat condos, making more room for cats, which make up the bulk of the animals at the shelter. According to Taylor Mitchell, the previous building was outdated in its approach to caring for animals.

“The reality of how we think of humane treatment of animals has changed. We’ve found better ways to do it as a society. Back then the cages were much smaller and all the animals were cramped together,” Taylor Mitchell said.

According to the newly hired shelter manager, Jill Buckpitt, the new design has significantly improved the health of the animals and cut down on medical costs.

“Now that the cats are all in kennels, they all have a lot more individual space which really helps out with sicknesses,” Buckpitt explained.

Buckpitt, who manages the day-to-day operations at the shelter, is one of nine newly hired staff members. The group is a close-knit team, that’s spent a lot of time bonding and participating in team building training sessions. Both Federick and Taylor Mitchell credit these bonds as an important driver of the current successes.

Some other upgrades included installing a new cutting edge software called the “Shelter Manger System.” Before closing down, FCAR was using an outdated system that Frederick says was very hard to manage.

“It wasn’t easy to see shelter trends, and what issues we might be dealing with as far as moving animals through the shelter faster,” Frederick explained.

Moving the animals through the shelter fast is key to a successful operation.  Another way FCAR tackled this challenge was by loosening adoption policies. Through research, the shelter found that making it easier to adopt animals hasn’t necessarily led to more animals ending up in abusive homes.

Previously people interested in adopting an animal had to wait three to five days to find out if they would qualify.

“We trust our adopters and let them adopt the same day, and then we always have an open door policy where if for any reason they can’t care for the animal or it’s just not working out they can bring the animal back,” Buckpitt said.

The simplified adoption process led to 61 pets adopted out in June alone, which Taylor Mitchell said was huge for the shelter.

A Community Effort

Officially the shelter may have closed its doors in April 2017, but unofficially the work never stopped.

Right after the shelter shut down, Saint Albans Police planned to euthanize a colony of feral cats.

“Volunteers just galvanized and said that is not going to happen. So here we were a closed shelter with 50 cats in it and no staff to take care of them, it was all volunteers,” Taylor Mitchell said.

The shelter has over 100 new volunteers all of whom helped get the organization back on its feet. From fundraising efforts to donations, money and support from the community has been endless, Taylor Mitchell said.

“You read about it in the obituaries from people we never even knew had a connection to the humane society, and all of a sudden their donations in their memory are coming into us. Thank God for that because that’s what’s keeping this organization alive, and keeping the animals here fed until we can get them to homes,” Taylor Mitchell said.

“It’s just amazing to have so many people in the community recognize what the humane society means.”

A Multifaceted Purpose

The impact FCAR is one many might not have truly realized until the service was gone. The shelter doesn’t just provide homes for dogs and animals.

Cashew, a pot bellied pig, credits her new home to the efforts of shelter staff. She had been living on a farm, but not being taken care of properly. Someone convinced the owner to surrender her to FCAR.

“We got to hang out with Cashew for awhile, she liked to eat Cheerios out of a bowl full of toys,” Frederick laughed.

Buckpitt was able to connect Cashew with a foster parent for a time, and the two became so close he ended up adopting her.

A duck, who remains nameless, also credits his new home to the shelter and a good swimmer in the community.

Someone driving along the side of the road, spied the duck with a broken leg. He tried to catch it but the duck ended up falling into a pond.

“I think he did a little bit of swimming with a net, but he was able to catch it and brought it in,” Frederick said. “We posted it on Facebook, and the owner almost immediately contacted us to come and pick it up.”

“We do a lot of reuniting pets with their owners,” Frederick said.

It’s a community service that would have otherwise been lost. But still, the shelter goes beyond pigs, ducks, cats and dogs.

“I didn’t realize until I started volunteering here, how much the humane society serves disadvantaged populations,” Taylor Mitchell said. “We’re taking in animals from people who have gone into the hospital, or hospice, or they passed away, or they’ve become unable to take care of their animal; they’ve lost their home; they can’t afford their animal anymore.  We’re serving really much more than I would have guessed.”

The shelter also offers a pet food pantry to those having trouble supporting their animals. Still in the works is a pet medical fund.

“We don’t have one yet but we get calls from people all the time that need help with their vet bills,” Taylor Mitchell said.

The Work Isn’t Over

Through the successes seen over the past 11 months, FCAR still has big plans and stresses their rebound work is not over.

The shelter is looking at tackling the growing problem of feral cats through “catch and release.” The shelter hopes to fill highly populated feral cat areas with spayed or neutered cats, thus discouraging cats who are going to multiply from going to that space.

The shelter is also looking at helping with dog overpopulation in other places around the county.

“When we’re not on such a skeleton budget, we want to bring dogs down from Quebec, but it’s something we will need to grow into,” Taylor Mitchell said.

Education will be another focus for the future.

“Teach people how to take care of their animals, teaching people how to treat animals, getting the word out there that if you are in trouble with your animal come to the humane society, that sort of thing is really needed, and another thing that we will need to grow into at this point,” Taylor Mitchell said.

Volunteers have already been tackling this at local farmers markets. The hope is to continue and expand upon this, by going around to other events and holding educational seminars inside some local schools.

“We have plans for the future and we’re going to get there. We have determination and grit!” Taylor Mitchell said with a laugh. “We took the opportunity of a shelter not having any animals in it to say ‘okay, how can we do this better, how can we make a better environment for the people here, for the customers coming in, and most of all for the animals?’ And that’s not something we’ve finished yet.”

Both Taylor Mitchell and Frederick say they are proud of what’s been accomplished so far. Though expansion remains at the forefront, Taylor Mitchell says it’s important to pause and look back at how far they’ve come.

“We haven’t even been open a year yet, so I’m proud of where we are and really excited about where we’re going,” Taylor Mitchell said. “It’s not just about animals. It’s about the community. It’s about the people, the families and the children. It’s about the women that are staying in abusive relationships, because they aren’t sure if their pets would survive if they leave. It’s about the children that are learning kindness by coming in and learning how to treat animals. It’s as much about people and community if not more so than it is about animals.”

And it’s because of community that Franklin County animals now have a place to go again.

If you would like to become a FCAR volunteer, provide a foster home for a pet or make a donation to the shelter visit www.franklincountyanimalrescue.org or call (802)-524-9650.