Westchester Animal Shelters Expand to Meet Demands of New Families Moving to the Region
Mary Prenon | October 18, 2021
On any given day, you might find an adoptable “dog or cat of the day,” regally lounging on a chair or bed in the “Old English Library” or “TV Room” at the brand new $9-million SPCA of Westchester in Briarcliff Manor. Or perhaps you’ll find your next fur baby scampering through an indoor treehouse, carousing around the “Catside Story” hub or listening attentively in the “Music Room.”
For animal lovers everywhere, the new 27,000-square-foot facility is the “purr-fect” place to spend an afternoon searching for a new family member to complete your new home. “If anyone remembers our old space, it was made up of six different small buildings and only 16,0000-square-feet in total,” said Lisa Bonanno-Spence, Director of Development. After just one year of construction, the new building was finished in July and animals and their human attendants moved in by August.
The new two-story building also features a veterinary clinic, abundant animal play and holding areas, a new arrival room, adoption rooms, staff offices and a community room for small events and seminars. “We were also lucky enough to have a Broadway set designer create some of our animal playrooms that both our furry friends and human visitors are enjoying,” added Bonanno-Spence.
Currently, visits are by appointment only, so potential pet parents must call ahead and also wear masks while inside. “This was a long time in the making,” said Bonanno-Spence. “We launched our initial campaign in 2018 and most of the funding came from donations from local neighbors as well as those throughout the tri-state area.” The SPCA also received a $500,000 grant from New York State to help with capital improvements.
Founded in 1883 by Mary Dusenberry of Ossining, the SPCA of Westchester is one of the oldest humane societies in the U.S. Dusenberry created the organization after witnessing horses being abused as they delivered heavy loads of coal. She obtained the land to build the facility’s first home and established a fund to prevent animal cruelty.
Today’s new building sits on the very same location, making the SPCA one of the oldest landholders in Briarcliff Manor. It is recognized as a “no kill” rescue center and also features a Humane Law Enforcement Division with one full time and two part-time employees who serve all of Westchester County. The beautiful new facility can now care for up to 250 animals, with a staff of 25 full and part-time employees.
While many of those adopting are single-family home owners, the SPCA also sees a good number of co-op and condo owners who want cats or small dogs. “During the height of the pandemic, a lot of people adopted, and while we saw a slight decline this summer, the fall has already started to pick up,” she said. Typically, the SPCA handles up to 1,500 adoptions per year.
Dogs and cats comprise the largest percentage of adoptable pets, but the SPCA does get hamsters, guinea pigs, turtles, ferrets and rabbits that need homes. “We’ve also received some very unusual pets to put up for adoption,” admitted Bonanno-Spence. “There was a large, bearded dragon, a hedgehog, and even a python that was seized from a home as an illegal pet. We eventually brought the python to a sanctuary.”
With an annual budget of close to $3 million, the SPCA relies on donations, adoption fees, veterinary clinic services and contracts with local towns for dealing with stray and abandoned animals. “The public’s reaction to our new home has been incredible,” added Bonanno-Spence. “Every person who walks in is amazed at the transformation. It’s all been so positive, and we are so fortunate to have such wonderful supporters.”
The Humane Society of New Rochelle also recently completed its $4.5-million renovation to its existing facility, expanding capacity from 6,000 square feet to 12,000 square feet. With fundraising efforts starting four years ago, the new shelter held its grand opening in June. “No one ever thought we could finish it and pay for it,” admitted LeeAnne Veley, Finance and Administration Manager, who spearheaded the project. “We’re a small shelter, but now we have a lot more space for the animals, adoption areas and a second floor for administration.”
Owned by the City of New Rochelle and leased to the Humane Society for $1 per year, the updated facility can now take in more than 1,500 dogs and cats per year and has over 100 cats and 50 dogs at any given time. They typically adopt out about 1,200 pets per year.
Among the improvements at the shelter are a new state-of-the-art HVAC system, new adoption rooms, more windows, a free roaming cat room with cathedral ceilings, and additional kennels for dogs and cats. “Our objective was not necessarily to add more animals, but to provide better space, sunlight and fresh air for them, as well as being able to manage more adoptions,” explained Veley. “A more calming environment means less stress on the animals.”
With a $1.2-million annual budget, the Humane Society also provides an on-site veterinarian a few days a week for spaying, neutering and other minor medical needs for animals that come into the shelter. They also offer a Trap-Neuter-Return (TRN) program for feral cats, treating about 500 per year.
“When people come in now their jaws drop,” said Veley. “It’s a beautiful place that’s a million times better than what we had. We’re also very fortunate that the City of New Rochelle has continued to be so supportive.”
Founded in 1911, the Humane Society of New Rochelle serves lower Westchester County including the Town of Greenburgh and its Rivertown villages, the Sound Shore areas, as well as the Pelhams and Scarsdale.