DOVER--Hidden behind tall grass and a long, freshly-paved entrance, the pentagon shaped facility of 11,000 square feet can be easy to miss. The ocean blue and tan building located within the county complex, with wide inviting windows and a whiteboard outside providing the hours of business is a recent addition to the neighborhood. With the orange outline of a dog, a cat, a bird, and a rabbit placed confidently above the door and window display, any person could infer what the purpose of this new building is. The building has been open for less than eight weeks, and already a temporary home to 50+ residents.
Pope Memorial Humane Society, formerly known as the Cocheco Valley Humane Society, underwent not only a name change this summer, but also the ultimate makeover; an entirely new facility. The new facility and name change are largely credited to Lyman Pope Jr., who donated one million dollars to Cocheco Valley Humane Society in 2017, and requested the name change because of his substantial donation. This is the fourth humane society to take on Pope’s name after such generous donations.
The other three are the Pope Memorial Humane Society of Knox County in Thomaston, Maine; the Pope Memorial SPCA in Concord, New Hampshire, and the Pope Memorial Frontier Shelter in Orleans, Vermont. This new facility, located at 221 County Farm Road in Dover, is the result of Lyman Pope Jr.’s generosity, but also the result of donations from businesses and members of the community. A donor’s plaque of at least 70 names hangs proudly next to the reception desk, visible to all who walk through the door. The plaque names businesses, foundations, or individuals who gave donations to PMHS larger than $1,000, but there are hundreds of donors that contributed less than that amount to assist in providing Strafford County with a new facility for sheltered animals.
“We now have four bathrooms instead of one, and we actually have a break room in this new building!” Deborah Shelton, Development Director of PMHS, excitedly said.
The previous shelter, built in 1984, consisted of a couple of trailers with additions, making it very difficult to operate. This new facility is double the size of the previous facility, which was built in the piggery of what was the former poor farm, which is adjacent to the Strafford County House of Corrections.
“I am so happy that the animal shelter finally received a larger building with enough space for the animals to be comfortable. I rescued my cat Zoe from Cocheco when they were in the old buildings, and the cat room was so cramped, it was heartbreaking. I cried when I saw how little space there was inside,” said Rhiannon Dozier, a Barrington resident.
The new facility is no longer adjacent to the jail, as Strafford County Commissioners leased county-owned land to the humane society to accommodate the larger, new building. The new facility not only benefits the animals, but the employees as well.
“One of our veterinary technicians is very tall, and in the previous facility he would hit his head on the ceiling of the surgical suite. Now he could play basketball in there,” joked Shelton.
Providing the animals with ample space and light, the new shelter also offers a host of other amenities, such as a laundry room, a grooming room, a play room for the feline residents, medical and surgery suites, administrative desks and offices, and a warehouse for donations. The new building also has a small animal room, a meet-and-greet room, a room for dogs with plans of future expansion, landscape to walk the dogs, and a community room to hold birthday parties and summer camps for kids.
“The number of animals we have sheltered here varies week to week. This new facility can hold 60 cats, 25 dogs, and about five to six bunnies, along with a few birds, and small animals,” said Melanie Burger, Volunteer and Events Manager for PMHS.
“We have two sets of rats right now. We also are willing to take reptiles, but no large animals,” added Deborah Shelton.
A plethora of services are offered to animals and the community by PMHS. PMHS offers a Pet Food Assistance Program to help low-income individuals in Strafford County keep their animals during financial hardship, and works with Chris’ Pets for Vets, which helps assist linking veterans in adopting sheltered animals, while waiving the adoption fee. PMHS also offers the Safe Pets Program, which helps community members with a medical problem or who are elderly and cannot care for their animals, for the humane society to care for them temporarily. PMHS also offers to residents of Strafford County pet surrender, and a Humane Education Program, which helps to enlighten and educate people of all ages about animal welfare and treatment.
Pope Memorial Humane Society may offer many services, but their existence relies solely on donations and fundraising. A common misconception is that county animal rescues and shelters receive funding from either the federal government, or the state which they are located in.
“Since our humane society opened in 1984, we have never received any federal or state funding, with a one-million-dollar budget annually we have to raise. I don’t know of any state in New England that allocates money to the county animal shelters,” said Deborah Shelton.
PMHS must maintain the funding for this larger facility with more animals than previously, by still relying on donations and fundraising. Some creative ways they are fundraising in the community are auctions, wine tastings, children’s birthday parties at the facility, yard sales, and matching. Shelton explained a local oil company matched for a holiday appeal last year, meaning the oil company donated $10,000, while PMHS raised $10,000. Haunted Overload, a local Halloween attraction located in Lee, donates ten percent of their annual proceeds to PMHS.
Pope Memorial Humane Society is always in need of and appreciative of item donations. Some of the items acceptable to donate are unopened cat, dog, and bird food, hay for rabbits, bleach, and rubber gloves. Also, acceptable donations include leashes and collars for cats and dogs, cat litter, unopened flea medicine, new and used toys, dog houses, animal beds, and cat trees. Many of these necessities, along with other donation items, are located on the wish list of the PMHS website.
Volunteers are something PMHS is in desperate need of also. With around 150 consistent volunteers, and about 350 one-time or event volunteers, the ratio of sheltered animals to people is disproportionate. All the dogs being housed in the shelter need to be walked three times a day.
“Just because we aren’t technically open on Mondays and Wednesdays, doesn’t mean that we are ‘not open’. The animals still need caring for on those days, and we rely on volunteers. Even if someone can donate one hour per week to walking the dogs, we will gladly accept that,” said Deborah Shelton.
Pope Memorial Humane Society may have a new name, a new building, a new address, and new amenities. Despite all the newness, one thing PMHS needs remains, and that is involvement and assistance from the community.