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January 25, 2008

Hoping for new digs; Rescue league aims for new, larger shelter

SALEM - At its worst, in the height of the 2006 Mother's Day flood, the Salem Animal Rescue League looked like a place disaster had struck. The picture was unforgettable. Volunteers, hip-deep in raging water, climbed into trailers to rescue 46 animals. The last ones out used a truck to escape and then had to deliver the dogs to volunteers' homes.

Valorie Hayes, in charge of communications for the shelter, hopes she will never witness a scene like that again. She is among the people working to move the 16-year-old institution to a new home on high and dry land, on a 26-acre farm on Brady Avenue. The farm was donated. The shelter also received a $100,000 donation to pay for fees to take the project through the town and state approval process.

The rescue league also has launched a Shelter and Adoption Center Capital Giving Campaign, said Ray Denis, development director. The campaign needs to raise $2.5 million for the project, which will be divided into two phases, he said.

Money for a dog park, a veterinary clinic, a surgery room, a cat colony room and a small-animal colony room is already in the bank. With luck, the shelter may move into its new home at 62 Brady Ave. in a year or two, Hayes estimates.

Salem Planning Director Ross Moldoff said the project has not come up for formal consideration yet. So far, the shelter has submitted a plan and has talked with the Salem Conservation Commission, he said. Moldoff said discussion was general.

"Nothing specific yet," he said.

"The bottom line is getting the permitting and the funding," Hayes said, adding both tasks are tough.

The shelter will need permits from the state and the town. Hayes said the shelter is committed to being a good neighbor and encourages people to ask questions about the plans.

"We've been a good neighbor for the past 16 years," she said. "We're open to discussion."

As for raising money, that job is also complicated because the existing shelter's appearance does not reflect the comprehensive work the rescue league does in the community, she said.

At its best, the facility looks unpretentious. Two trailers and a 600-square-foot dog kennel at the end of an unpaved road off South Broadway now serve as its temporary home.

One trailer bears the humble name "Kitty City." In this frugal 2,000-square-foot building, the volunteers and staff have managed to accomplish great things. But the trailers and the kennel may not inspire donors' confidence, Hayes worries. Part of the fundraising difficulty comes in convincing potential donors that despite its appearance, the shelter has established its place in the community.

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