By Kim Barto Meeks
The SPCA of Martinsville-Henry County is feeling the heat this summer in more ways than one. Required upgrades to the building in August and September have impacted the organization’s ability to take in new animals and meant having to relocate others during an already busy time of year.
Warmer months are typically hectic for animal rescue organizations across the country due to the summer “kitten season,” when unspayed female cats give birth to litters of kittens who end up flooding local shelters.
“It’s an ongoing problem,” said SPCA Operations Director Catherine Gupton. The shelter has room for 40 cats at a time. As of Labor Day weekend, they had 30 to 35 cats and kittens waiting to be adopted. Even after all of these find homes, however, “We still have a seven-page waiting list of people who have found litters of kittens” waiting for space to open up, Gupton said.
Meanwhile, dogs and cats currently at the shelter are being placed in temporary foster homes or other rescue organizations while the SPCA repaints walls, reseals floors, and makes other facility improvements in order to comply with Virginia code. It’s the first time this has happened since the building opened in 2007.
One issue is that dogs, especially rambunctious puppies, have chewed the paint off some surfaces over the years. State rules for animal shelters dictate that “you cannot have exposed cement anywhere that houses animals,” Gupton said.
The entire building is being painted in stages, one wing at a time, to lessen the impact on the animals. Virginia code requires a special type of paint that is chemical- and water-resistant, but the chemical fumes mean the animals cannot stay in the area while work is being done. The concrete floors of the covered outdoor dog runs facing the SPCA’s courtyard have been resealed to cover porous sections so moisture and germs cannot get in. After being applied, the sealant has to set for several days before the dogs can come back in, Gupton said.
Ductwork is being cleaned, which is complex because the SPCA has three different air systems for health reasons: One for quarantined animals, isolation, and the general healthy population. Ceiling tiles in the isolation rooms are also being replaced with material that can be hosed down, making it easier to clean and sterilize the area.
While the changes are not for cosmetic reasons, the SPCA is taking the opportunity to brighten up the walls and make the environment more welcoming, said interim Executive Director Leslie Hervey. Much of the work has been made possible by donors and volunteers.
“I’m really excited at how the community has come together to support the SPCA,” Hervey said. In the dog housing area, for example, she noted the metal on the bottoms of the doors “had completely rusted out.”
Frank Hodges of Hodges Sheet Metal and three of his employees volunteered to install stainless steel boots on the doors, she said.
All work is expected to be finished by mid-September, she said.
Hervey served as the SPCA’s Executive Director from 2004 to 2013, when she moved out of the area. After her successor, Nicole Harris, accepted another position out of state, Hervey returned as interim until the search for a permanent director is completed.
To prepare for the renovations, the SPCA offered adoption specials (the “Dog Days of Summer” and “Desperate Housecats of MHC”), reducing adoption fees to $5 to encourage people to take home a new furry friend. Normally, fees are $20 for cats and kittens and $100 for adult dogs. The agency also sounded the alarm for more people to foster animals temporarily.
Even after renovations are finished, Gupton said, “We always need more foster homes.” These are community members who take animals home temporarily until a permanent placement is found.
There are many benefits to fostering adoptable animals. First, it frees up space in the shelter so the SPCA can rescue more dogs and cats. In some situations, fostering can be better for the animal’s health, such as separating a mother cat and her newborn kittens from the general cat population until the kittens are old enough to get their shots. Or, sometimes an animal is sick or depressed and will recover better in a home environment.
However, the best way to solve the homeless pet problem is prevention, Gupton said. “Spaying and neutering animals is what’s going to cut down on the numbers.”
To learn more about fostering for the SPCA, contact Foster Coordinator Susan Sessoms at email@example.com or call (276) 638-7297. More information on the SPCA of Martinsville and Henry County is available at www.spcamhc.org.