2013-06-06 / News

Animal shelter may change ownership

Nonprofit group mulls taking reigns from town
BY MARGO SULLIVAN

The Friends of the North Kings­town Animal Shelter will make a bid to take over operations at the shelter from the North Kingstown municipal government, according to Jamestown’s Barbara Szepa­towski.

The organization’s board of di­rectors voted Tuesday to present North Kingstown officials with a plan.

Szepatowski stressed there has been no official communication yet with the North Kingstown Town Council and said the orga­nization is not ready to make the request official yet.

“We haven’t got everything fin­ished yet,” Szepatowski said, but added she anticipates the formal presentation will be made within the next 60 days. Her past conver­sations with town officials indi­cated the town would be receptive to the plan.

If the organization does take over, she said, the change will not affect Jamestown’s agreement to use the shelter.

Currently, the North Kingstown Police Department supervises the shelter, according to N.K. Police Chief Thomas Mulligan. He has talked in the past with the group about plans to build a new shel­ter and take over running some operations. Mulligan said he has not heard anything about the plan recently but would support a part­nership.

“A lot of issues have to be hashed out first,” he said. Howev­er, he is supporting the effort and said he’s impressed the group is willing to raise the money to build a new shelter.

“It’s certainly an ambitious project, and they have been very enthusiastic,” he said.

According to Mulligan, the town would still have to be involved, with perhaps less of a responsi­bility with day-to-day operations and the building itself. The new arrangement wouldn’t mean North Kingstown would “wash its hands of the shelter,” he said.

According to Mulligan, com­pletely detaching the town from the shelter wouldn’t be possible, or the “right thing to do.” He an­ticipates North Kingstown will continue to own the land where the shelter is located and the po­lice department will continue to provide animal-control officers.

Jamestown earmarked $10,000 in the upcoming fiscal year’s bud­get to pay for the shelter and ACO services. Before the agreement was signed last year, the island did use the facility periodically, Mul­ligan said. He did not have num­bers, but said the island was send­ing a small number of animals to the facility.

That arrangement would contin­ue if the North Kingstown Town Council agrees to the new plan, Szepatowski said.

She anticipates the deal could be closed by August, and said the organization would need to raise $1.5 million to build a new shel­ter at the Hamilton Allenton Road location. The Friends of the North Kingstown Animal Shelter is a tax-exempt nonprofit organiza­tion. She has been working on the plan for four years.

Szepatowski indicated the rea­son for the change was to put the shelter’s future on a secure finan­cial footing.

North Kingstown Town Coun­Animal cilor Richard Welch in April had suggested the town should discuss closing the shelter – among other options – as a way to save money for the cash-strapped town. Welch said this week in a telephone inter­view that the option is no longer on the table.

According to Szepatowski, this was not the first time the council had considered closing the shelter.

“For the previous four years,” she said, “there have been discus­sions amongst the North Kings­town Town Council members about closing the North Kings­town Animal Shelter to save the town money. And each year, the town voted to keep the shelter open.”

But, she said, although the shel­ter has performed admirable work in finding new homes for unwant­ed pets and reuniting lost animals with their owners, more could be done. Under the nonprofit’s man­agement, the shelter could con­tinue to grow without financial constraints.

“We want to offer training,” Sz­epatowski said. “We need space to do that.”

Moreover, the group wants to help other communities. Current­ly, the shelter is supposed to be for North Kingstown and Jamestown animals only, but the organization wants the resources to be available in an emergency to other commu­nities.

For example, Central Falls, which went into receivership, has ordered its animal-control officer to euthanize pound animals after five days if unclaimed. Szepa­towki’s group has helped find new homes for those Central Falls ani­mals.

Mulligan said there have been some issues about taking in ani­mals from other communities.

Only Jamestown has an agree­ment with North Kingstown to use the shelter, he said, and the police do not want the animal-control of­ficers to take in animals from other cities and towns. A past animal- control officer was taking in ani­mals from other communities, and Mulligan said he found out about the refugees after the fact.

“We don’t do that as a regular practice,” he said.

The shelter is being operated strictly as a facility for dogs and cats from North Kingstown and Jamestown, Mulligan added.

“We’re not equipped to handle other animals,” he said.

Also, Mulligan doesn’t want the town assuming legal liability if something happens. “Society is very litigious,” he said.

However, in an emergency, Mulligan said exceptions can be made. Some of the cases do call for compassion, he added.

“We have helped out in the past,” he said.

Moreover, the help does not al­ways require accepting the animal at the shelter. He said that helpers can find new homes for dogs and cats just by getting the word out.

“The staff and even the volun­teers have quite a little network,” he said.

N.K. Town Council President Kim Page welcomes the idea.

“In a nutshell, I would be more than delighted,” she said. “The friends have been a mainstay for our shelter during these rough fi­nancial few years, and they have done a beautiful job. My pup Ar­thur came from there, so I person­ally have an interest in making sure that the shelter continues to survive. If the friends can ... take this on, they will be put on a ped­estal by me.”

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