Safe, clean and warm: Belchertown’s animal control facility is open for business

  • Anna Fenton, Belchertown animal control officer, plays with Mowgli, a sick kitten, at the town’s new animal control facility. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The new animal control facility in Belchertown. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • One of the kittens at the new animal control facility in Belchertown. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Anna Fenton, Belchertown animal control officer, entertains two of the kittens available for adoption at the town’s new animal control facility. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS photos

  • Anna Fenton, Belchertown animal control officer, plays with Lucky, a black Lab mix up for adoption at the town’s new animal control facility. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Anna Fenton plays with a Lucky, a black Lab mix up for adoption. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

Thursday, July 13, 2017

BELCHERTOWN — Pam Demers remembers going to the town’s old animal control facility.

“I did once,” she said. “Once was enough.”

Picture dogs and cats housed in an old chicken coop. It was not weather-proof, and it was run-down. It was so old — lacking heat, running water and air conditioning — the state almost shut it down.

So in January 2015, a group of residents formed the Belchertown Animal Relief Committee, a non-profit set on supporting the town’s animal control and finding a new home for it. On Sunday, the new building, at 165 George Hannum Road, was on display for an open house — though dogs and cats moved in late last year, in part to escape the cold of the old shelter.

The new blue-paneled complex was built on town-owned property. The foundation was already laid because of a former swine operation at the site. The building cost about $100,000 to construct, with $90,000 coming from a town appropriation and the rest coming from BARC. 

“We didn’t have to buy property, we didn’t have to lay a foundation,” said Anna Fenton, town animal control officer. She said town public works employees did most of the construction, also cutting down costs.

Work started in July 2016, wrapping up at the end of last year.

At the new center Sunday, Lucky, a black Lab mix, ran through a doggie door from the inside of his kennel to a fenced outside portion. He was the only dog up for adoption.

The center also had eight kittens and four cats available.  Unlike the old facility, the new one has separate accommodations for cats and dogs and also features a quarantine room for sick animals. 

Kids played games and got free swag. There were apple cider donuts, courtesy of Atkins Farm Country Market, and roll-up platters, courtesy of the Belchertown Stop & Shop.

Marianne Lemelin of Granby came to the event with Elle, her 2-year-old miniature donkey. Lemelin was plugging Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, a nationwide group looking for homes for abandoned donkeys.

“They’re very misunderstood creatures,” Lemelin said. “They’re very dog-like and once you are loved by these creatures, they love you forever.”

Marie O’Brien, director of the local group Rainbow Rescues, set up a pavillion to invite interest in some of the animals her group has put up for adoption: two pot-bellied pigs, Hampshire and Matilda; Tater, an 11-year-old puggle sitting on O’Brien’s lap; Bubba, a mastiff mix; Moseby, a papillon mix; and two black rabbits.

Before the open house, Jenny Franz, the president of BARC, along with treasurer Cathy Maclutsky and secretary Jennifer Christian-Wright, thanked the community for their efforts.

They also announced that BARC had reached its $75,000 fundraising goal for its “Raise the Ruff” capital campaign, which began last May.

For the future, Franz said BARC will provide support for Belchertown’s animal control office by helping launch a pet food pantry for low-income pet owners, aiding spay and neuter programs for feral cats, and supporting educational programs and animal medical costs.

They also will help support the Belchertown Police K-9 unit and host adoption events and fundraisers.

The evolving role for BARC in town comes as local animal control authorities are morphing into more professionalized operations, said Fenton, the town’s animal control officer.

She said the officials must stay up-to-date on training and are often in charge of coordinating responses to loose livestock or injured wildlife.

“They’re not just dog catchers anymore,” she said. “They’re animal control officers, and we deal with a lot more than just catching stray dogs.”

Jack Suntrup can be reached at jsuntrup@gazettenet.com.