Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard stands on its own

Photo by Michelle Williams.

The Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard held its fourth annual Garden Party Fundraiser on Sunday. But, this was the first year the Animal Shelter held the event as an independent organization.

“This is the first of our total events as an independent nonprofit,” Diana Dozier, a longtime Animal Shelter board member and former actress, said of the Garden Party, “But, we still have the same facilities, the same people.”

The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) operated the animal shelter in Edgartown from 1947 until May 2009, on land donated by the late Kathryn M. Foote, an Island animal lover and activist. The shelter is located at 1 Pennywise Path off the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road. When the MSPCA decided to close the shelter because of economic difficulties, volunteers stepped in to maintain the operation. Dukes County provided administrative support.

Last year, the MSPCA gave its land and building to the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard and donated $10,000 to help Vineyard residents who cannot afford veterinary care or surgery for their animals.

Duncan Ross, chairman of the shelter board, former theatrical director of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, and a former Oak Bluffs selectman, said, “The middleman is out.”

Mr. Ross credits the Boston-based law firm, Goulston and Storrs, specifically two lawyers, Megan Watts and Suma Nair, for taking the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard on a pro-bono basis and guiding it through the process.

With the lawyers’ help, the Animal Shelter completed the proper paperwork and began operation as a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization, independent of Dukes County, as of January.

“The Animal Shelter is maintained entirely by donations,” Gail Croteau, president of the board, emphasized, “We have not used one tax dollar, even when we were theoretically under the county. As any nonprofit, it’s a matter of generosity of the people who are on the Island. We have a wonderful community.”

A fundraiser

About 200 people attended the fundraising event at the West Tisbury home of Jim and Holly Coyne, of McClain, Virginia. This is the second time the couple has hosted the party at their summer house overlooking Look’s Pond.

According to Lisa Hayes, manager of the Animal Shelter, everything at the event was donated, from the food and wine to the items up for auction. Silent auction items ranged from a dogwood tree, donated by Jardin Mahoney, to a “Glider Ride and Breakfast/Lunch at Right Fork Diner ” with Captain Bob Stone. The highest bids at the live auction went for a sail on Nat Benjamin’s schooner Charlotte with a gift certificate to the Net Result and a painting of Look’s Pond completed at the party by local artist Meg Mercier. Both were purchased for $1,600.

Ms. Hayes said that 1,500 invitations were sent out. The funds raised are a combination of money collected at the event and money sent in as donations.

Martina Thornton, treasurer of the board and newly appointed Dukes County manager, wrote in an email to the Times that so far the invitations had brought in about $13,000, and Sunday’s auctions brought in about $10,000. She said the board expect to continue to receive donations in response to the invitations.

Ms. Dozier said she expects the total donations will ultimately add up to around $35,000.

So far, the Garden Party is the Animal Shelter’s only fundraising event, although they also send out a letter near the winter holidays asking for donations. Ms. Dozier said they plan to hold the first “Walk for Animals” on October 6, where people will collect donations to walk their pets around the dog park in Oak Bluffs.

Ms. Dozier explained that she could not give an annual budget for the Animal Shelter because numbers have yet to be exactly defined since they recently took administrative control. She said that they are operating under estimates from the county, but they must also take into account one-time administrative expenses. Operations are going well, she said, adding “We are not in the red.”

Part of the annual budget pays for the salary of Ms. Hayes and assistant manager Gordon Healy. The rest of the donations pay for animal food and medical treatment and building repairs and utilities.

A “wish list” at the fundraiser included a new roof, interior and exterior painting, and air conditioning for the shelter.

“We need a great deal,” Ms. Dozier, “But we have a beautiful and clean facility, and we invite people to come down and see it.”

Since the takeover from the MSPCA, more than 400 animals have come through the Animal Shelter, according to Mr. Ross. He quoted Russell Smith, another board member and former county manager, as saying that the transition of an animal through the Animal Shelter is a three-way win.

“One, for the family who gives up the animal because they cannot take care of it any more. Two, for the family who gets a new pet and a new friend. And, three, for the pet, who gets a new home,” Mr. Ross said.

Ms. Dozier said that although some of the animals in the shelter were “dumped” on the Island, most of the animals are from pet owners who can no longer provide for them. For example, a man who left his pet because he was sent to Afghanistan.

Parties surrendering animals must fill out a form describing the animal’s personality and state of health. Residents of all six towns may surrender their animals to the animal shelter.

Ms. Hayes explained that the shelter does not accept animals that are not from the Island. “I have to refer them back to a shelter in their own area,” she said.

The Animal Shelter can hold 30 cats and 10 dogs at maximum capacity. In a phone call Monday, Ms. Hayes said the animal shelter currently has and abundance of cats. “Kittens, big time,” she said. “But we’re almost down to a bare minimum. We have 10 cats and one dog.”

Adopting parties must also fill out an informational form.

“You can match things up, like if a dog isn’t good for children, you wouldn’t send the dog with family,” Ms. Hayes said, “I require that you own your own home. If you are renting, one landlord could say yes and the next one could say no. I want the dog to have a forever home.”

Ms Hayes hopes that this year the Animal Shelter will be able to build a fence in the yard so that the animals can play outside freely. Ms. Corveau says she hopes to expand programs such as pet training classes.

“I think we will be able to keep on going,” Mr. Ross said. “We just need to let people know that we are here.”

What would happen if the animal shelter no longer existed? “It would be a disaster,” Ms. Dozier said. “I don’t like to go there in my mind. The Animal Shelter has been proven necessary.”