Faced with closure at the end of 2015, Nancy Welsh’s independently operated nonprofit animal rescue is back on its feet in a leaner, more focused form.
By Matt Skoufalos
Inside a new exam room that’s been lined in fiberglass walls and linoleum flooring, veterinarian Lyndsy Castano is giving pit bull pup Harmony a checkup.
The big dog stands perfectly still for the needle, and then leans into vet tech Trish Murphy, covering her face in wet kisses.
Castano, who works at the Deptford Animal Hospital, is volunteering today at the revamped Almost Home Animal Shelter in Pennsauken.
Threatened with closure due to dwindling resources in December 2015, Almost Home regathered itself in March, and is re-opening this week with a more streamlined, sustainable operational model and a renovated facility.
Subsidized by donations, grants, and volunteerism from professionals like Castano, the shelter is hoping to hold out as an alternative for animal services to residents of northern Camden County. More resources are always needed, but Castano’s contributions as part of a new line of low-cost services there are just one among the many ways that Almost Home hopes to revive itself as a leaner, more efficiently run nonprofit shelter.
“I grew up doing rescue work,” Castano said. “It’s a big reason why I got into veterinary medicine.
“Most people don’t realize the cost of owning a pet,” she said. “They find out in an emergency. It’s important to make basic care available to owners who want to rescue pets.”
Veterinary help isn’t the only professional assistance Welsh has gotten. She negotiated nonprofit rates for the shelter’s dumpsters, a lower monthly rental rate from her landlord, and received material help with the shelter’s facelift from area professionals.
Renovations to the vet room were completed by Almost Home employee Steve Dalton with the assistance of volunteer John Wapenski. Cherry Hill painter Abe Karetny donated his time, materials, and expertise, as did Collingswood electrician Tom Williams.
Williams’ TJW Electric installed high-efficiency lighting donated by Bill Wexler of Bright Ideas LED, which helped cut monthly costs by a few hundred dollars. Collingswood plumber John Rossi shored up leaky fixtures and helps maintain the HVAC equipment at Almost Home. The shelter’s new marketing materials were designed and printed by volunteer Jay Miller.
“This has been such a community effort,” Welsh said.
There is still more work to be done. Welsh envisions adding a dog training room to the main kennel area as a way of expanding client services. The exam room needs additional clinical equipment, and a quarantine/lab area has yet to be outfitted. Almost Home is hoping to find sponsors for each of these items to not only offset their cost, but to memorialize the contributions of those involved.
In the feline holding room, cages are bigger and cleaner, and the headcount is lower. Many of the 100-plus animals that were adopted when the shelter was headed for closure a few months back have not been replaced; only nine cats and five dogs remain.
Welsh said keeping a smaller roster of pets on hand is another way to help limit monthly operational costs that had spiraled into the tens of thousands of dollars.
Most of the staff and volunteers have adopted multiple animals from Almost Home, like volunteers Kathleen and Joseph Mayes of Collingswood, who “fell in love with all the cats,” and now have five of them. Or office clerk Cindy Rossi, who’s adopted a dog and four cats in the six years she’s been working at the shelter.
“The animals need a chance,” Rossi said. “This whole area needs a clinic like this; a place where people can surrender their animals.”
For now, Welsh said she’s going to accept pets surrendered locally by their owners, and be more selective with animals she rescues via municipal animal-control contracts with Audubon, Gloucester City, Oaklyn, Pennsauken, and Woodlynne. Those dollars help support operations at Almost Home, but the bulk of its operating funds comes from private donations.
“We need support,” Welsh said. “We hope they’ll support us for this. It’ll be really good for the northern end of Camden County and their pets.”
Clinic hours at Almost Home Animal Shelter are held 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday. The shelter is open from 1 to 5 p.m. weekly, until 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and from 12 to 4 on Saturday and Sunday.