Monday, July 23, 2012

The Road to Rebuild

Since starting my job as Executive Director in early May, I've had the chance to talk to people who have supported BEBHS for a long time. They've offered constructive criticism and helpful advice, and they've been frank in sharing their concerns around our ability to rebuild.

I completely understand their common question: "Why, after two years, hasn't BEBHS been able to build a new shelter?" The answer relies heavily on the long-term effect of that fateful day two years ago.

The fire that killed 15 cats and destroyed our shelter in May 2010 was obviously debilitating. Staff and the Board came together immediately for the survival of BEBHS, and the community responded with an outpouring of monetary and in-kind donations and volunteerism.
In the weeks and months that followed, we learned a great deal about the complexities of recovering from such a tragedy. Normal operations were severely disrupted. We had to relocate our administrative staff and recover what we could from our damaged upstairs offices--there was significant loss of data and equipment. 

Loss of our shelter meant a severe reduction in space for animals. Our adoptions staff and veterinary team had to crowd into what was formerly our hospital--the only space in our building that was not damaged by the fire. Foster care for our dogs and cats was quickly organized, and adoptions soon resumed.

We had insurance, of course, and assumed our insurance company would swiftly pay our claims in full, considering we were a small animal shelter that had suffered such an horrific event. But we were naive--the process of getting the full insurance payout continues.

Tasks that were once part of our daily routine became arduous and expensive. For example, our industrial washer and dryer were destroyed. Now, we must rely on industrial laundry service for the clean bedding and towels that are essential to the health of our animals. The service costs about $700 a month. 

We've had a great deal of staff turnover in the last two years, no doubt due to a variety of reasons. But I believe the pressure of working in a confined space with co-workers and animals takes a toll on our staff--the normal stress of their jobs is compounded by this post-fire environment. 

The necessary focus on keeping our core services running turned our attention away from a key function: fundraising. In fact, we received many generous donations immediately after the fire that were restricted for our rebuild effort--those funds cannot be used for normal operations. And we continue to receive support from our community that is absolutely essential to our survival. But we need to do a better job of reaching out to our loyal supporters, and engaging new supporters, to ensure we get the help we need until our new facility is built, and to ensure we have the capital funding for our new building.

The great news is that we are finally at the point of starting down the road to rebuild. We are in the process of hiring a project manager to keep us on track and help us hire all the experts we'll need for success. The plan is to have a new, state-of-the-art shelter and hospital by early spring 2015. (The cost will be about $3.5 million.) It is an exciting time to be here!

My short time at BEBHS has not been without some hard decisions. The most difficult for me was the decision to suspend our kitten nursery, which provided round-the-clock care for underage kittens. It was an innovative effort but an enormous drain on resources. We will redirect those resources toward preparing the organization for the multi-year effort ahead of us. And we intend to include a dedicated space for the care of bottle-feeding kittens in the design of our new building. In the meantime, we are expanding our foster care program to care for as many neonatal kittens as possible.

Yes, the past two years have been challenging. But I am absolutely thrilled to be at BEBHS to lead us down the road to rebuilding our shelter and hospital. This job is a dream come true for me, and there is no place else I'd rather be. When I come to the shelter/hospital and look into the faces of the animals we serve, I am reminded of the importance of our work, and I know we will succeed. It may seem now like a long time away, but with all there is to do, it will pass quickly. 

The road to rebuild will not be without its rough spots, but with the help of our community, we'll get there. Please take this journey with us. Together, we're going to do this.

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