"When it comes to animals," says Donald Fryklund, "Sunniva pulls rabbits out of hats."
Sunniva is Sunniva Buck, executive director of Cape Ann Animal Aid, a one-woman wonder who's somehow managed to shelter some 700 animals a year in just 1,200 square feet of cramped space in a gritty store front building on Gloucester's busy Main Street. And to hear her tell it, when it comes to animals, Don Fryklund is pretty good at pulling rabbits out of hats, too.
Over the past eight years, Fryklund, a board member of Cape Ann Animal Aid and president of his own Gloucester-based construction company, has been "obsessed" with building a new shelter for Sunniva and her animals — a task which, as of Thursday, when the 7,500 square foot facility passed city inspection for its certificate of occupancy — seemed just about complete.
But for Buck and Fryklund, who were scrambling to ready the new Christopher Cutler Rich Animal Shelter for its debut at tomorrow's open house, the pressure was still on. Pausing from a frenzy of last-minute multi-tasking, the pair watched as workmen hoisted the new shelter's sign in place above the front door of 4 Paws Lane, then treated visitors to a sneak preview of the state-of-the-art facility.
"State of the art" is a phrase Don Fryklund likes to use, and for good reason. If animal shelters were rated like hotels, this one would merit four stars.
In this light, bright, climate-controlled environment, air purification, sanitation and plumbing are exceptional and cages are scarce, replaced by spacious dog kennels and "cat condos" with separate "cubbies" for eating, sleeping and lounging.
There are also small rooms were potential adopters can get close and personal with would-be pets.
"The less stressed our animals are," says Buck, "the happier, healthier and more adoptable they'll be." The more spacious, comfortable and welcoming environment also gives interested families a better chance to visit with adoptable pets, says Buck.
"In the old shelter," she says, "we adopted out 500 to 700 animals a year, but with just 1,200 square feet, the quarters were so tight to negotiate, all of us — animals, potential adopters, and staff — had to do what we called 'the shelter shuffle.'"
No one will be doing any shuffling at this new shelter. Its 6,300 additional square feet not only provide more room, but more rooms. Lots of them. On the ground floor, off the main lobby reception area, Fryklund and Buck show off a spacious reception area, staff quarters, a suite of offices, a retail shop, and a gleaming multi-function room that's large enough to accommodate anything from volunteer training workshops, to adoption events.
Because the major part of the actual labor and cost involved in running a shelter is, says Fryklund, "cleaning, cleaning, cleaning" everything is purpose-designed to minimize maintenance. "That" says Buck, "will hopefully free-up the staff and volunteers to spend more quality time with the animals.
Dog walking, which, at the old shelter could be stressful given downtown traffic and crowds, will literally be a walk in the park at the new shelter. Its 8.5 secluded acres of West Gloucester woods are a preserved sanctuary, landscaped with tail-friendly dog trails that meander through hills and vales.
The property — located off Route 133 near the junction with Route 128 — is ideal for an animal shelter, says Fryklund, if for no other reason than "sitting where it does between the highway and Beech Brook Cemetery, the noise nuisance problem is not problem."
The cost wasn't either. At an asking price of $110,000, the property was beyond a bargain. The cost of constructing the shelter itself was $2 million, 98 percent of which was paid for by Cape Ann animal lovers through eight long years of relentless fund-raising efforts.
Fryklund and Buck give Cape Ann Animal Aid's Capital Campaign board members full credit for "keeping the money coming in so we could keep the building going up."
Campaign co-chairwomen Cynthia Sweet and Cindy Dunn kept donations coming in from many community events, including a series of annual gala benefits and events such as Pride Stride. Linzee Coolidge of the Dusky Foundation upped the ante, endowing the building fund with a challenge grant of $300,00 guaranteed in matched contributions which individual benefactors helped the Cape Ann Animal Aid meet.
The shelter itself is named in memory of Christopher Cutler, a passionate animal lover who died at the age of 10, and whose parents were also major contributors to the building fund.
Fryklund and Buck are, they say, "in awe" of the "incredible generosity of Cape Ann animal lovers, not just terms of money, but in terms of time and energy. "We couldn't do what we do without our volunteers," says Buck.
More than 200 volunteers will make the move from the old shelter to the new shelter next Wednesday, she adds, and they'll be bringing 70 dogs and cats with them.
It was decided, says Buck, that the animals should remain behind at the Main Street shelter until Wednesday "to spare them stress of the crowds and excitement at the open house."
Once the animals do move in, she explains, lots of areas will be off limits to visitors, and the whole point of the open house it for everyone who gave so generously to see everything their generosity has made possible."
For more information, visit: www.CapeAnnAnimalAid.com.
Joann MacKenzie may be contacted at gloucestertimes.com.
If you go
What: Open house at the Christopher Cutler Rich Animal Shelter.
Who: Hosted by Cape Ann Animal Aid.
When: Sunday, May 27, from noon to 4 p.m.
Where: Four Paws Lane, Gloucester.
Directions: From Route 128 north, take Exit 14 to Route 133 East/Essex Avenue. At the stop sign, turn right onto Essex Avenue and take the first left at the Paul Bergmann Memorial Island. Turn left onto Paws Lane, at Beech Brook Cemetery.