NEW PORT RICHEY — Dogs and cats aren’t able to tell pet owners something is wrong. But SPCA Suncoast officials became alarmed about the financial condition of the animal shelter and adoption center in New Port Richey. They sent out a distress signal on behalf of the animals to the public. And the public responded in droves to the SOS – Save Our Shelter. The March 8 fill-a-truck event was the first in a series of SOS fundraisers during the next month or so meant to throw a fiscal lifeline to the nonprofit organization. Since SPCA Suncoast is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, it certainly would have been a shame to see the shelter close its doors, officials agreed.
“If it keeps going this way we’ll be able to save our shelter,” Devlynn Saunders, shelter manager, said at the March 8 event. “The community outpouring has been tremendous.” Not only did SPCA officials appreciate the huge influx of pet food, kitty litter and other donated items, but many residents also stepped up with monetary donations, Saunders pointed out. “We have an amazing community and due to their generosity, we are on our way towards Saving Our Shelter,” Gail S. Fawcett wrote Tuesday as president of SPCA Suncoast. Closure would have spelled disaster for some 50 cats and dogs typically housed at the facility at 7734 Congress St. at any given time, Saunders said. She was holding Hanny, a 16-year-old Chihuahua, who found shelter at SPCA when no other group would take him. “He is eating soft food because he has no teeth,” Saunders remarked about the Chihuahua. “But he is an awesome little man.” “It’s animals like these that, unfortunately if we were to close, that won’t get a second chance to find a home,” Saunders observed. “They deserve to find a forever home. He came to us from an animal services shelter where he was on the euthanasia list. He was older and needed a dental cleaning. All the other shelters had passed him over. We brought him here and put him up for adoption.” Two other “Adopt Me” dogs, Abby and Buttercup, soaked up lots of affection from visitors as volunteers walked the pooches for exercise. People toured the dog kennels and the Kitty Kabana as well to commune with the animals. A series of reversals led to the financial crisis at SPCA Suncoast, Saunders explained: “With the building being 50 years old, we’ve had lots of things go wrong that we had to fix. We had the flood that happened recently. A pipe burst in our main kennel. A lot of our kennels had to be shut down because we had to refurbish because dogs couldn’t live in them.” She was referring to the Sept. 12 emergency after a water main broke. No animals or staff members were hurt during the emergency and the shelter managed to keep operating during repairs. Last year’s flooding also ruined most of the pet food stored at the building as well. That jeopardized SPCA’s Animeals program that provides pet food to qualified families who aren’t able to provide food for their own pets. Insurance rates have gone up, Saunders said. “And we rely a lot on bequests,” Saunders continued. “When people pass away they leave us (donations) in wills and things of that nature. And unfortunately, with the way the economy has changed, that is not as predominant as it used to be.” General donations are down as well during an uneven economic recovery, Saunders said. “Times are tough for everyone and unfortunately we are a reflection of that,” Saunders said.