New England Humane Society will fill former Cumberland animal shelter

New England Humane Society will fill former Cumberland animal shelter

The Joseph family was hard at work gutting the old Cumberland Animal Shelter on Martin Street Wednesday morning. From left are Savannah, John, Mason and Susan Joseph. (Breeze photo by Ethan Shorey)
Dog park not part of plans here

CUMBERLAND – Animals will once again call 40 Martin St. home, at least on a temporary basis, after the town entered an agreement with the New England Humane Society to fill the former Cumberland Animal Control building.

N. E. Humane Society Director Susan Joseph, of 127 Farm Drive in Cumberland, shared her vision for the facility with the Town Council at its meeting last Wednesday, Dec. 4, telling leaders that she’s agreeing to make significant upgrades in exchange for the use of the building, which is located between the redeveloped Berkeley Mill and Berkeley Oval baseball field.

Joseph said she sees “a little bit of a hole in the town regarding animal welfare” after Cumberland regionalized animal control services with Lincoln last year. The arrival of this nonprofit will help fill that gap, she said.

The council unanimously authorized Mayor Jeff Mutter to enter into a lease agreement with the nonprofit animal rescue group, which has been based in northern Rhode Island but generally placed rescued dogs from out of state without a true home base.

Mutter, answering Councilor Lisa Beaulieu, said this agreement doesn’t negate the town’s existing month-to-month agreement with Lincoln for shared services, and if her own dog, one she jokingly referred to as “a runner,” went missing she would still go to Lincoln to pick it up.

Joseph began inquiring about the vacant Martin Street building when Bill Murray was still mayor because she knew that regionalization was coming up. She said she’d heard that the building was in great disrepair, but didn’t really see it that way after taking a tour. It definitely needs work, she said, with issues related to building code, and she can use her group’s connections as a nonprofit to get the work done more easily.

Joseph said Cumberland houses very few dogs and cats in its animal control operations, so it didn’t make sense to maintain an entire building toward that end, but the town can still use a place that’s a source for education and resources she said, “and that’s what we’re hoping to do.” Events will be a big part of what happens here, she said.

Cumberland doesn’t do well with vacant buildings, said Mutter. This agreement gets the building upgraded and provides the opportunity down the line for the town to perhaps share the facility with the nonprofit, he said, answering Beaulieu’s question about whether the public and private uses could cohabitate.

Councilor Bob Shaw asked Joseph about how this agreement impacts the longstanding idea of perhaps having a dog park here, as the expectation around town is that this is the prime spot for one, and she responded that she knows too much about such facilities to feel comfortable about running one.

Though such a facility would be a liability, she said, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want community involvement here. There’s a large space out back that could be used for an agility course or a similar facility, but an “open recreational dog park makes me very nervous,” as it’s hard to regulate.

Councilor Scott Schmitt asked Joseph to explain more about her group. She said organizers went with a broader name because they had aspirations about growing and expanding. It is not affiliated with any other group.

Schmitt asked how much she thinks it will take to get the building up to standard, and she said she expects it to cost about $50,000 to make it one of the nicest buildings around. As a nonprofit, she said, she’ll be able to secure help from local stores and the community in the form of products and volunteers.

She said she hopes to create a safe area for children to pass through, removing the chain link fence in the main area. Much of the work here will be cosmetic, she said. The building needs new flooring and paint, but the roof was previously repaired, leaving only some interior water damage to be addressed.

The kennels here are large, she said, and she expects to ask local companies to sponsor kennels for a one-year period.

“(We) really think the community is going to rally behind us,” she said.

Asked by Schmitt if she has the funding now to make the necessary improvements, she said yes, and hopes to open by the middle of January. She expects to begin doing demolition work immediately.

The one-year lease in exchange for improvements also has options for three additional one-year terms. Joseph is required to make her best efforts at welcoming the community to the facility, making it available to public community groups, including senior citizen and veteran groups.

Joseph said she wants this facility to be an open source for the town, inviting high school students to volunteer and doing educational programs in schools.

The nonprofit doesn’t do a lot of in-state rescue work, she said, but focuses on importing, caring for, and adopting out dogs from states with kill policies.

Rich Champagne, Joseph’s stepfather and a retired town resident and police officer who now lives in Smithfield, provided a character witness to the council, saying what he’s seen Joseph do over the past decade or so with the group has been incredible. She’s not in this for the money, he said, but the love of animals, joking that she sometimes loves them more than people. He said he knows she’ll hold true to her promise to provide various services to the community here.

Comments

That's such a nice gesture ,to help the animals but it should help animals in our state of RI.too,not just out of state animals in no kill shelters.What about hungery abandon dogs in Providence and surrounding cities? Charity should start at home.