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MSPCA's closing center creates gap in animal welfare

Date: 2/11/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD The question cities and towns in the greater Springfield area will face later this year when the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) closes its center in Springfield is what entity is going to provide the same services.

In 2008, the center accepted 6,600 animals into its Union Street shelter and adoption center, according to Candy Lash of the MSPCA. Those animals were not just dogs and cats, but small animals such as hamsters, rabbits and ferrets, she added. The small animals and in some cases cats are not handled by some of the other animals shelters in the region.

The Thomas O' Connor Animal Control and Adoptions Center operated jointly by Springfield, West Springfield, Holyoke, Chicopee and Hampden has also seen budget cuts, Lash added. Towns that have their own animal control services will be hit harder by the MSPCA closing, she said.

The announcement made Friday by MSPCA President Carter Luke was that the Springfield center would close March 31. The organization plans to close its Martha's Vineyard facility on May 1 and then its Brockton adoption center on Sept. 30. Other than two law enforcement officers stationed in Western Massachusetts and operating out of their homes, Lash confirmed there would be no MSPCA presence west of Worcester.

Thirty-eight MSPCA staff members will lose their jobs.

The Springfield shelter will operate as normal until closer to its closing date when the acceptance of new animals will be curtailed.

At this time the closing of the facility is permanent as Lash said there are no plans to either re-open the building or find a smaller one if economic conditions improve. The hospital operation, once housed in the building, was shut down in 2007 and the building has been up for sale.

"There is a huge need for an open admissions facility [one that would accept all animals] here," she said. "We're exploring options to see what can be done."

Lash said that because shelters restrict the number and kinds of animals they accept, people in Connecticut and Rhode Island used the Springfield shelter as well.

Lash explained the closing was due directly to a near $12 million or over 25 percent loss suffered to the organization's endowment in 2008. She said that prior to the loss of investment, the MSPCA had already made cuts to its budget.

"There was no fat in this operation at all," she said.

The $1 million overhead in operating the Springfield center, plus the loss to the endowment, necessitated the closing, she explained.

"The extent of the losses were staggering," she said.

The employees were told of the closing on Thursday and Lash said, "Their biggest concerns is what is going to happen to these animals in Western Massachusetts."

The MSPCA has been in Springfield since 1914 and Lash said the events of last week were "a very harsh reality for us."

The organization is going ahead with its Valentine's Day celebration, its third annual Valentine Adoption Extravaganza on Feb. 14 and 15 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Valentine Adoption Extravaganza will feature discounted adoptions of lovable animals in need of new homes including dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, ferrets, rats, birds and more.

Experts will be on hand to offer training and pet care tips, behavioral advice and counseling and low cost spay/neuter assistance information.

The event is free and open to the public. For more information call 736-2992 or online at on the Western New England/Springfield homepage.