(Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)

Islands animal shelter needs a home of its own

They need a new home, even if it’s not forever.

Animal rescue volunteers in Queen Charlotte have just three months to find a new cat fostering centre for the local branch of the BC SPCA.

After more than 35 years of voluntarily housing stray and feral cats at their 2nd Avenue guest house, Dorothy and Mike Garrett are retiring. New owners will take over the house on Feb. 1.

“We’re running out of options,” says Anna Maria Husband, a volunteer with the Haida Gwaii Pro-Animal Welfare Society, or HG PAWS.

Started almost two years ago, HG PAWS had intended to buy Dorothy & Mike’s and expand on their successful idea of a self-sustaining guest house that houses both people and future pets.

It was an ideal spot — a short walk for local volunteers, and close to the Haida Gwaii Hospital, with whom HG PAWS would eventually like to run an animal therapy program.

But HG PAWS struggled to raise the $100,000 downpayment for the house. Next, they asked if they might use the garage at the QC Community Hall, but the board declined the proposal.

Last week, Husband presented another option to Queen Charlotte councillors — moving into the old fire hall on Oceanview Drive once the new one is up and running.

Village staff will look into the idea, but cautioned that the new fire hall is not yet fully funded and will likely take a year to 18 months to build once it is. The village had also planned to sell the old fire hall property to pay part of the costs for the new one.

Husband said so long as HG PAWS and the BC SPCA branch know by the end of November that they have a place to go — even a rental or lease agreement — the volunteers stand a much better chance of securing grants and fundraising for the next step.

Complicating the picture is that Queen Charlotte’s animal rescue volunteers are soon hoping to take on foster dogs as well as cats.

A BC SPCA volunteer since 1999, Shane Windatt has fostered hundreds of dogs on a 154-acre rural property north of Dead Tree Point. Windatt is looking to retire from the role in the next year or so.

At Queen Charlotte council, Husband was asked if barking noise would be a problem if the old fire hall is a go.

Husband said sound-buffering for animal shelters has come a long way, but agreed the building would have to be renovated.

“It would be two things happening in the same building,” she said, with HG PAWS offering some community services to help pay for its youth education program, and a future animal-therapy program for seniors. At the same time, the BC SPCA branch would continue to foster dogs and cats.

If the groups aren’t able to find a home, Husband said volunteers will have to go back to what they did nearly 40 years ago — relying on individual people to take in stray dogs and cats.

“Historically, that has not been a very successful model,” she said.

Councillor Jo-Anne MacMullin thanked Husband for her presentation, which finished with a photo of a dog lying on its back and giving puppy-dog eyes.

“I’d hate to see something like that go, especially when I adopted my cats through the SPCA,” MacMullin said.

Mayor Greg Martin agreed.

“I remember what it was like before the SPCA was here. It was sort of a Wild West for dogs and kitties.”

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