With the growl of earth moving equipment and barking dogs in the background, 13 silver shovels tossed brown soil into the air as the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri broke ground for a new facility Aug. 26.
Tossing the soil were Humane Society board members and steering committee members, along with Phil Penzel, president and CEO of Penzel Construction Co., in Jackson, the design-builder.
“This new building is going to have a profound effect on not only the animals that we take in, but our community as well,” said Tracy Poston, executive director for the Humane Society. “Being able to finally break ground is incredibly exciting for us.”
This moment was a long time coming. After 280 dog years (that’s 40 human years), it’s time to retire the old building and replace it with a larger, modern structure.
The local Humane Society was incorporated in 1977, recalled Board President Charlotte Craig. Two years later, there was a huge thunderstorm, and Arena Park, where the dog pound was located, flooded. Dr. Frank Nickell, the first board president, used a borrowed jon boat to rescue the dogs from the flood and brought them home to his basement.
The Humane Society of Southeast Missouri’s first shelter was in the basement of Nickell’s home.
“It was there for several years. We purchased this dilapidated, held-together-with-duct-tape building in the mid-’80s. I’m thinking ’82 or ’83,” she continued. “The building was meant to be a grooming facility. The kennels were not attached. People would bring their dogs, leave them and pick them up. It was never intended to house the thousands of animals that have come though our doors.”
From the 1980s up through the early 2000s, the Humane Society took in 5,000 to 6,000 animals a year.
“Now we average right around between 2,500 and 3,000. … This building has done its job. It has told us, we have to move on.”
This is the third time the Humane Society has tried to build a new structure. “It’s going to happen this time,” Craig said.
She described numerous programs that are provided through the Humane Society. They include Puppies for Parole, Puppies Uniting People Successfully (PUPS), Reading program, Mobile Adoption Program, Spay and Neuter days and SNAP Program, Foster Care families, Buddies for the Brave, Women’s Safe House and Disaster Relief.
Phil Penzel said he has visited the old structure many times to discuss the project. “Every time I say the same thing. I have no idea how you all can operate out of this building. I equate it to putting a size 15 foot into a size 5 shoe.”
Thanks to Penzel Construction Co., the Humane Society was able to break ground much sooner than anticipated. Using the design-build method, Penzel was willing to begin construction with the money already raised, and pause for awhile if the money runs out until more is raised. Penzel challenged the community to keep the raising funds ahead of construction costs. His challenge was met with applause from the hundred or so people who gathered for the ceremony.
Penzel plans to use cost-cutting measures to keep construction costs down and yet maintain functionality, he said. With the money already raised, he hopes to build a structure that will immediately house more dogs than the old structure, even if it is not completed right away.
Former Cape Girardeau Mayor and steering committee member Jay Knudtson said there is currently about $1 million in the bank and $1 million in pledges. “Theoretically, there are two million bucks to get started on a project that is slated for three-and-a-half. Now, the part I do know, is Penzel is going to shave that down. Right, Phil?” Penzel, seated beside Knudtson, nodded in agreement. “He’s going to do his part, but there is still going to be a need for a millionish [dollars]. And that’s where the community has to continue to support this.”
The former mayor added, “The City of Cape doesn’t want to run this thing. The City of Jackson doesn’t want to run this. I promise you, the County doesn’t want to run this. This is a big deal. There are a lot of folks who think this is a city pound and that they get taxpayer funding. And they don’t. … It’s really something that’s important for our community.”
The new facility will enable the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri to become a no-kill animal welfare organization that provides every adoptable animal a second chance at life. The building will also provide humane education to future generations to encourage compassion and empathy.
“Today, a vision and a dream become a reality,” Knudtson said. “And for the longest time, it was nothing but a dream. But today, it becomes a reality.”