Give me one more chance

Kim Cyr
Kim Cyr of Oak Bluffs provides a little TLC at the Second Chance Animal Rescue shelter, which is right in her own backyard. Photos by Ralph Stewart

By Julian Wise - April 5, 2007

At the Second Chance Animal Rescue shelter, a new nonprofit organization headquartered in Oak Bluffs, no animal is too humble to receive compassion. While most of its energies are devoted to its cat population, the group has also rescued dogs, snakes, spiders, and a remarkable guinea hen named Vinnie.

Consider Vinnie's plight; the unfortunate fowl was found wandering a vacant lot in New York next to a well-known site for Satanic worship. Other animals had met gruesome ends in the lot, their blood splattered across the earth during perverse demonic rites. Locals tipped off BARK, a local animal rescue group, whose volunteers swooped in and saved Vinnie. A board member of the Second Chance Animal Rescue shelter drove from Martha's Vineyard to Connecticut to get Vinnie. The lucky hen is now happily living on Martha's Vineyard, out of the clutch of Satanists.

Second Chance president Kym Cyr and her husband Dennis Vogel (the savior who fetched Vinnie) host the cat shelter in the back yard of their Oak Bluffs home. The two have converted one of Dennis's old tool sheds into a comfortable split-level space with linoleum flooring, heat, satellite television, and access to an enclosed outdoor area. The two are joined in their efforts by board members Lorna Colageo, Tara Bolash-Larsen, Verna Carr, Lee Dubin, Rianna Rosa, Jane P. Hawkes, and Cynthia Hatt.

A handsome boy, Marcello enjoys some outdoor time in the safe shelter.

While walking through the cat shelter, Ms. Cyr explains the shelter's no-kill policy.

"We just don't believe in it at all unless they're sick," she says. "Most of these guys were abandoned by their family or left homeless. We open up our house to them and adopt them out afterwards."

A charming roster of cats approaches to rub legs and meow for cuddles. There's Jake, a 5-year-old orange male who was given to the MSPCA after his owners had a baby and Jake developed stress-related disorders from the noise and tail pulling. Silvie, a 10-year-old gray female, was found hanging around Bink's Auto. Jazz, a 3-year-old female from Chappy, was shot in the foot with a 22 rifle. She walks with a limp but has learned to compensate for the disability. Many other cats have required medical attention to restore them to health.

Ms. Vogel and her colleagues have been networking over the past 8 years to rescue animals on the Island. It's only within the past year that they've become a certified nonprofit. Last November they held a bake sale that raised over $1,000 for the shelter and raised awareness of their organization's mission. That month they received their federal ID number. On December 5th they were granted 501-C status from the state. IRS nonprofit status is expected to come through this spring. During the wait for state and federal recognition, the organization applied for a grant from Victor and Judy Pisano's Second Chance foundation and received funds to feed and care for the animals in the shelter.

Ms. Cyr, a former resident of South Carolina who moved to Martha's Vineyard nine years ago, says she's always loved animals but never undertaken such a sizable effort before starting the nonprofit.

"I've always been into rescue, but not to this extent," she says.

This cat seems to be asking for a permanent home.

Second Chance's first goal is creating an alternative to shelters that euthanize. Part of this strategy involves spaying and neutering animals to reduce the stray population. Ms. Cyr says, "Anything that goes out of our shelter is spayed and neutered."

Ms. Cyr also hopes to expand the shelter's volunteer base. She emphasizes that any and all help is accepted, no matter how modest. People can donate a few dollars, come and sit with cats to keep them company, or help feed the cats and clean the shelter. Others can adopt an animal. "All that matters is where their heart is," she says. "Everyone has their niche."

While running a shelter while working full time is a rigorous challenge (Ms. Cyr works as the Special Education secretary in the school Superintendent's office), she says the rewards outweigh the challenges.

"I feel like there's a purpose for everybody, and I feel like this is mine," she says.

Ms. Cyr and her colleagues have a simple mission with the shelter: to end homelessness among Island animals. The transience of the Island housing system forces impacts many animals, as their owners are forced to jump from rental to rental, often encountering landlords who prohibit pets. Other animals have health or behavior problems that prompt their owners to abandon them.

"Just because they have medical or emotional problems, it doesn't mean their quality of life is over," she says. "They can have a second chance."

Second Chance is active in placing animals in safe, loving homes. Prospective adopters fill out a form and speak with a Second Chance volunteer to insure a good match between the animal and the family. A nominal donation is asked to cover the cost of vaccinations and neutering.

Ms. Cyr and the Second Chance board emphasize that the organization is open to animal lovers of all stripes, and anyone interested in helping can find a role. "We welcome anyone who would like to volunteer and provide foster care," she says. There are dozens of animal friends awaiting a kind hand, an open heart, and a second chance.

For more information, call Verna at 508-696-8305 and Tara at 508-693-9892.

Julian Wise is a frequent contributor to The Times, specializing in music, film, and the performing arts.