NORTH STONINGTON — Town officials and members of the board of directors for Stand Up For Animals are exploring a partnership that could reestablish an animal shelter in the community, increase the organization’s presence in Connecticut and improve services for residents and taxpayers.
Members of the Board of Selectmen and Lina O’Leary, president of Stand Up For Animals, agreed Tuesday night to enter discussions for the purpose of developing a preliminary plan that would bring a shared shelter to town at 163 Wintechog Hill Road that would provide animal care space and offices for both North Stonington Animal Control and SUFA. Under the proposal presented by O’Leary, SUFA would lease the property for $1 per year and raise funds to build the 3,300-square-foot facility, while the town would be responsible for maintenance and supply costs.
The lifetime lease would also allow the two organizations an opportunity to coordinate efforts and reduce operational costs. Stand Up For Animals is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit headquartered in Westerly.
“We hope to accomplish two goals with this proposal: increasing our presence in the Connecticut market so that we can help more animals in that state and help the town of North Stonington establish a much-needed facility for those animals; and partnering with town to help animals keep safe and make sure they are cared for medically,” O’Leary said.
The concept is one that the organization used a little over a decade ago when they first established roots along Larry Hirsch Lane in Westerly.
As a newly established organization, SUFA came to an agreement with the town of Westerly that saw the development of a large animal shelter facility and headquarters for the animal-assistance operations. Similar to what was proposed in North Stonington, Westerly leases the land to SUFA and provides for maintenance and utility costs.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, O’Leary said the animal assistance needs in southeastern Connecticut have skyrocketed. Despite requests for help from Connecticut residents and desire to provide aid, O’Leary said SUFA has been limited in what it can do because it is unable to bring animals across state lines.
Having access to a fully functional shelter in North Stonington would expand the organization’s reach considerably and mitigate many of the challenges caused by the lack of presence in Connecticut right now. The shelter would also allow for SUFA to provide adoption services as well, which will aid in providing homes for animals in need.
“If agreed upon, we would fundraise and build the shelter, and we would adopt animals through the shelter that will be properly vetted, spayed and neutered,” O’Leary said. “We will also support animal control with daily care of animals and recruit volunteers.”
The town’s selectmen showed unanimous support in exploring a possible partnership, the first step in developing a plan that could be presented to the community and brought before a town meeting at a future date. First Selectman Michael Urgo said he sees the concept as a “win-win” for the community, SUFA and residents of southeastern Connecticut.
“I know there is a lot more work to do, but to me this is a really exciting opportunity for North Stonington as well as for Stand Up For Animals,” Urgo said.
For the town of North Stonington, the offer comes at a time when the community is looking to balance costs while finding a suitable solution to an issue that arose in 2019 when, after inspection by the state, the community’s animal shelter facility was determined to be inadequate and unsafe, forcing it to close.
The town would not be completely free of cost in the proposal, and would be responsible for many of the same upkeep expenses as they would if they had an independent shelter. The proposed agreement would hold the town accountable for maintaining the interior and exterior of the building, including cleaning supplies, and it would be required to pay for utilities and services such as sewer and heating. The town would also be required to continue funding the animal control officer position already in the annual budget, as well as providing food for the animals.
Work would also need to be done to the property, which currently has a house and barn on it. The town would be required to demolish the existing buildings and backfill land before SUFA would then take financial responsibility for construction of the new facility.
Even on an expedited timeline, O’Leary said it would take a year before the building would be ready to be constructed.
The Board of Selectmen noted that if the town were to move forward, such efforts would require the proposal go through the town meeting process. Juliet Hodge, North Stonington’s planning, development and zoning officer, said lease and construction blueprints would also need to go before the Planning and Zoning Commission for approval.
Selectman Bob Carlson and Selectwoman Nita Kincaid each said they believe that, when the time comes, the proposal is one that the town could embrace.
“I think it's wonderful; we’re having a hard time figuring out how we were ever going to do this, and I’m pleased that they’ve come with this type of offer for us,” Kincaid said.