We all know that the Attleboro Animal Shelter building is a "broken," dysfunctional and in some ways, dangerously outdated building—woefully sub-standard by any measure. As a matter of practicality, we need a new building. There doesn't seem to be an argument against this from any quarter.
My reason for supporting a new facility goes beyond the building of a functional facility.
When I visit our animal shelter and venture into the back room to see the homeless animals, my eyes are always drawn to the first "stall" on the right. Sixteen years ago, when I first stepped foot in this building, this was the stall that housed the next dog to die.
On my first visit, which was most unwelcomed by the staff, this particular stall was occupied by a beautiful, young and healthy Irish setter who I called Fransesca. I took her picture and offered to help find her a home. She was “euthanized” the very next day. No second chances there. I still see her face and her proud stance. There was no reason to end her life other than a lack of caring and that she might bring people there to see her.
This back room also holds memories of winter days, below freezing, with no heat for the homeless, abused and frightened animals; water buckets filled with frozen water, wet inner stalls and no bedding. There were times when longhaired dogs had ice on their fur. The pads of the dogs’ feet were red and raw from the cold. This building was a soulless place of no hope and suffering. It was "the Pound"—a place where dogs went to die.
A small group of volunteers waged a very long battle to end the cruel practices within the walls of this building, and I am proud to say that we were successful. Today, our work is carried on through a new group of highly dedicated volunteers.
Today when I enter the back room where the homeless animals are housed, I feel the effects of a heating system, fresh water and food for all. The dogs have warm bedding and toys to chew on to ease their stress. The room is busy with caring people coming in and out—walking, soothing, socializing and visiting with all. I feel the compassion and humanity versus the apathy and emptiness of the past. I can look into stall No. 1 and see a bright-eyed pup who has never known a gentle touch getting ready for playtime and soon, a new home. Today, this room is just a "waiting room" until each dog moves on to his/her new life—a place of happiness and hope.
This present state of our shelter didn't happen overnight. It took many, many years and many, many residents of this city. It has been a long hard journey with a lot of blood, sweat and tears—literally. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of Attleboro residents helped this happen. I could never count the hours that people have spent caring for our animals, paying the medical costs, fostering when the building is full and holding a sick animal in their arms as he/she is euthanized when all medical care fails. The work is hard, rewarding, emotionally trying, uplifting and all-consuming. Hours beyond belief are put into fundraising for shelter costs.
I could go on and on about what needs to be done to run a successful shelter. It is un-ending, and we who care would not have it any other way.
I have visited a lot of shelters in my lifetime. I can say with certainty that you can tell a lot about the city/town by observing the level of care the homeless and vulnerable animals receive. The conditions at the Attleboro facility did not speak well for the city when I first moved here 16 to 17 years ago. To me, it will always be a shameful place in Attleboro's history.
Today, I believe that Attleboro is a different city. Many of the old ways are dying off and we are finally stepping into this century in many ways.
A new Animal Shelter is highly symbolic to me and an affirmation of all the hard, very hard, work that hundreds of residents and volunteers have put into making our shelter system one of the best in the state. It is a symbol that recognizes that the work that is done there is important. Our homeless and discarded animals no longer go to our shelter to die. Their new lives begin at our shelter. We can no longer be satisfied with the physical conditions at our shelter. It is just not who we are anymore.
That era is over.
There is a difference of opinion about what to do with the old building when our new facility is built. Some want to save it for storage and some want to tear it down. I'm OK with either option. More symbolism I guess. Tearing down the walls that hold so many horrible memories has merit. Letting the building stand can be a reminder for the years to come that this building no longer reflects the way we care for our homeless animals—a visual reminder to never let the things that happened there happen again. We are better than that.
I would like to see a plaque put on the front of our new shelter that holds just four words:
What Happens Here, Matters.
—Roxanne Houghton and Marilyn Shearer
A public hearing will take place Tuesday at 7 p.m. on the proposal for the city to seek a $1.116 million loan for a new animal shelter.