ITHACA, N.Y. — The Tompkins County SPCA is celebrating its 15 year anniversary since it became the first open admission no-kill shelter in the country, saving thousands of animal lives.

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In commemoration of the achievement, and milestones to come, several community members and companies have committed to matching dollar-for-dollar donations, up to $51,500 until the end of May.

The Tompkins County SPCA, a nonprofit that requires more than $900,000 a year to operate, is among about 20 to 25 percent of no-kill shelters nationwide.

Employee Pam Stonebraker, who has been with the SPCA for more than 20 years, said a lot has changed since the shelter made a co commitment to be an open admission no-kill facility.

“It was certainly a hard place to work,” she said. “It was definitely sad because you knew that some of them — the harder to adopt animals — really wouldn’t be placed.”

She said elderly animals, animals with injuries, medical conditions, or behavior problems stood a far slimmer chance of making the cut for adopters.

“In fairness, we were trying to do the best we could,” Stonebraker said. “It was really depressing.”

She said that at the time, the few no-kill shelters in the country often had limited admission. But when Nathan Winograd was hired as the executive director of the board, things started to change. he had experience working  the SPACE in San Francisco, a limited admission no-kill shelter at the time.

Under his leadership, the shelter implemented practical solutions to making it a no-kill animal facility.

For instance, Stonebraker said more medical staff was funded or solicited to help injured animals, dog trainers were brought on board to curb unruly behavior, foster programs were established and off-site adoption fairs became a regular occurrence.

“Basically there were some growing pains when we had a lot more animals than we were used to,” she said. “But everything kind of came together…I think that as a community we can be really proud of the work that we’re doing here.”

Stonebraker currently has two dogs and three cats, but over the years has adopted five dogs and 12 cats. She said she has a soft spot for older animals that are generally more difficult to place in a home.

Current Executive Director Jim Bouderau, who owns several shelter dogs of his own, said the no-kill shelter also has another major first under its belt.

In 2004, it became the nation’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified animal shelter. Ten years later, the SPCA celebrated the Dorothy and Roy Park Pet Adoption Center’s 10-year anniversary by installing a large roof-mounted solar array to continue aligning the shelter’s sustainable, environmentally friendly mission.

Bouderau said the shelter still has more to do over the next few years. The next major project will likely be to renovate and improve the former onsite adoption facility, where animals are housed and monitored before being placed on the adoption floor.

“We’ve been able to do some amazing work in the last fifteen years and couldn’t have done this without our many contributors and the support of our local community,” he said.

To donate to the shelter online as part of the $51.5K challenge, go to www.spcaonline.com and click on the red “Donate Now” button and choose “Matching Gift Challenge.” Checks can also be sent to the SPCA at 1640 Hanshaw Road, Ithaca, NY 14850 or made in person at the same location or at the Annex location at The Shops at Ithaca Mall. Donations are also being accepted via telephone at 607-257-1822, extension 232.

The Dorothy and Roy Park Pet Adoption Center, at 1640 Hanshaw Road, is open for adoptions every day except Wednesday from 12:00 – 5:00 p.m., and is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:00 – 7:00 p.m. The SPCA Annex at The Shops at Ithaca Mall is open Monday through Saturday 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m., and Sunday 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

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Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.