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Shelter existence?

Adoption center in Brockton is one of three being shuttered by MSPCA in financial crunch

By Matt Carroll
Globe Staff / March 15, 2009
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Heidi Hardy watches children play with cats up for adoption and wonders what will happen to the animals when the Metro South Animal Care and Adoption Center in Brockton closes at the end of September.

"I think it's too bad it has to close," said Hardy, who was at the center with her two children and two she babysits. A cat she previously adopted from there lives at her West Bridgewater home, along with an assortment of other cats, dogs, goats, rabbits, a rat, and fish.

The shelter is one of three the Boston-based MSPCA is shutting down because of a financial crunch caused by a nearly 30 percent drop in its endowment fund - about $11 million. The drop was the result of collapsing investment markets, according to the organization.

The MSPCA hopes someone will step in by the closing date and take over the 8,000-square-foot building on the outskirts of the city, near Easton.

So far, no "angel" has come forward, although members of the group still have their fingers crossed. People are interested in saving the facility, said spokesman Brian Adams. It was losing $300,000 a year.

"People are very supportive of animal organizations," he said. "They have it in their hearts."

In Brockton, one part-time and nine full-time employees will lose their jobs. The shelter also has volunteers who come to walk the dogs or visit the other animals.

"It was devastating" to hear the news, said Kim Heise, the center's manager, who has worked at the facility since it opened 15 years ago. The organization has operated in the city since the 1940s.

Inside, it's noisy. Dogs bark and a few birds speak up, as cats snooze and scratch. The shelter has separate rooms for dogs, cats, and rabbits. The center takes in all kinds of animals - dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits, birds, even reptiles, although there were none of those on a recent visit.

Last year 3,800 animals came to the shelter. About half were adopted; the rest either went to other facilities or, if they were very sick or injured, were euthanized. There are also foster programs, where people take in an animal for a week or two. When the facility closes, those animals that are left will go to other MSPCA shelters.

The closing leaves a massive hole for animal adoptions and services on the South Shore. Other animal groups are trying to fill the void.

Joanne Mainiero, president of the Massachusetts Humane Society in East Weymouth, which runs a small adoption service, said the number of phone calls from people who want to drop off animals is already climbing as word gets around about the Brockton closing.

The organization is getting up to 50 calls a day, and "I'm sure that will increase," she said.

Some hope that animal lovers will donate to their own or other animal groups in the wake of the closing.

"There are so many of us willing to put in whatever it takes to save these animals," said Helyn Spierdowis, president of the Norfolk County Humane Society, a volunteer-run organization that makes placements and also tries to help owners hang on to their animals by providing temporary care.

The MSPCA also is shutting down centers in Springfield and on Martha's Vineyard. The organization still operates adoption facilities in Boston, Nantucket, Methuen, and Centerville. Boston and Nantucket also operate hospitals.

The organization, sensitive to reports about high executive salaries, said top executives have had their pay frozen for several years and the president has taken a pay cut. Overall, 46 positions are being eliminated, and several programs and departments in Boston will be downsized.

Statewide, about 4,500 dogs, 300 puppies, 11,000 cats, and 6,000 kittens pass through the organization's doors each year, with about 30,000 animals of all kinds overall, said Adams. The numbers of dogs and cats used to be comparable, but the number of dogs has dropped, said Adams, possibly because owners are more diligent about spaying and neutering. Apparently, people feel cats are more disposable or more able to take care of themselves than dogs, which is untrue, he said.

People are also more likely to adopt grown dogs, but not cats. Kittens, however, are popular.

Last year in Boston, about 850 pets were surrendered for economic reasons, up from 575 in 2007.

Angela DeAngelis of Abington, who was visiting the cats, wondered what would happen to the animals after the shelter closes. "How will we save them?" asked DeAngelis, who owns two cats. "If I had my own house, I'd take a lot of cats home. It is just sad, really sad."

She visits regularly now, "just to see the cats, to hold them, give them kisses, to love them."

Matt Carroll can be reached at mcarroll@globe.com.

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