The fight to rebuild Rockland County's only animal shelter is gaining momentum as local activists embark on a widespread fundraising campaign.
Members of Re-Build Hi-Tor, a grassroots coalition established to replace the aging Hi-Tor Animal Care Center, held a meeting October 9 at Ramapo Town Hall to discuss plans for a new shelter and organize fundraising efforts. The existing Hi-Tor suffers from severe overcrowding of animals and limited funding, facing possible closure by the middle of next year.
"This is a primary issue in this county and one that has to be dealt with quickly," Chair of Fundraising Donald Franchino told attendees.
Located at 65 Firemens Memorial Drive in Pomona, New York, Hi-Tor has been the subject of controversy in the county due to its dilapidated condition and small size. According to its website, Hi-Tor sees about 2,500 animals per year-far more than it was designed to handle at its founding in 1973.
"It was built to hold a max of 20 cats," said Hi-Tor President Roberta Bangs at the meeting. "We now have 122 in our care."
An employee of the shelter said some of the felines are kept at foster homes offsite to manage the overflow.
Bangs said Hi-Tor also houses about 50 dogs, though it has capacity for 30. She attributed the excess numbers to the staff's avoidance of euthanasia.
"The previous management euthanized a lot more animals than the current one," she said. Bangs mentioned the weak economy as another cause for the influx of animals, saying some families can no longer afford to keep their pets.
Re-Build members' concerns about the shelter extend beyond inadequate space. Arlene Kahn, vice co-chair of Re-Build Hi-Tor, said prior to the meeting that the shelter suffers from a number of structural deficiencies.
"It's falling apart. We don't even know if the roof can support another winter of snow. It's too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter, and the parking lot gets icy," she said.
Kahn initiated an earlier fundraiser, Save Hi-Tor, when shelter officials feared the center would have to close by mid-2012 due to a lack of revenue. She said its aim was to raise awareness to the "woefully inadequate" funding given to Hi-Tor at town and county levels.
At the meeting, Bangs reported that the shelter now has the funds to remain open through the first quarter of 2013, allowing supporters to focus on Re-Build efforts.
Initial proposals to renovate the existing shelter began in March 2012, when a panel of Rockland County legislators slated at least $650,000 in renovations to Hi-Tor on an unfunded "wish list," Kahn said.
Seeking more immediate action, Hi-Tor worker Michelle Rusnock put Kahn in touch with Franchino, who previously headed a fundraiser to restore the Highway Community Playground in Nanuet, New York.
Franchino and Kahn joined forces to kick off the Re-Build Hi-Tor campaign, which calls for the construction of a new animal shelter in the vicinity of the existing structure.
The group met October 2 to appoint chairs to various committees, which include events, grants, public relations, correspondence and tabling, according to Re-build Hi-Tor's website.
"There is no question," Franchino told meeting attendees October 9. "This building will be built."
Franchino said a key obstacle in securing donations for the new shelter is a land lease on the park land surrounding Hi-Tor. He is presently negotiating with the office of County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef over the de-parking of five to 10 acres of land on which to build the new structure.
"We have begun discussions with the county legislature, in case the executive office does not come back with an agreeable arrangement," Franchino said.
Kahn said that leasing the land to Hi-Tor for one dollar "is the least the county could do" because the new shelter will be built at no cost to the county.
At the meeting, Franchino presented one architect's rendering of the new structure. Re-Build's plan calls for a facility more than three times the size of the existing Hi-Tor, with 100 dog kennels and 80 cat cages. Other amenities include showers and bathrooms for staff, a 250-500 square-foot reception area with animal displays, and a quarantine room where police and animal control officials can deposit strays.
"It will have solar panels," Franchino said, explaining that solar energy would contribute to the new shelter's environmental and economic sustainability. He estimated the total cost of construction at $500,000.
To offset the operating costs of a larger shelter, Franchino said he would make permanent the fundraisers currently financing the project.
Franchino was optimistic about the revenue-generating potential of collection buckets at local businesses, saying that he raised about $80,000 this way for Highview Playground.
Other fundraisers include the sale of engraved pavers, which will be installed on the grounds surrounding the new Hi-Tor.
The tabling committee will set up about 1,000 donation tables outside stores throughout the county. Local restaurants, such as Chili's in Nanuet, have also pledged support by donating a portion of proceeds on designated nights to the Re-Build campaign.
Franchino said the corporate outreach committee will seek support from Rockland's "large, non-retail corporations," such as Avon, which sells teddy bears to benefit the cause.
Progress now rests on Re-Build's attainment of the lease agreement from the county. In the meantime, Franchino said he and other Re-Build members are resolute in their fundraising goal.
"We want Hi-Tor to be a place where people will want to adopt animals," he said. "We're not taking any prisoners."
For more information visit Re-Build's Facebook page at facebook.com/ReBuildHiTorAnimalShelter or its website at rebuildhitor.org.