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Keys Animal Shelter Looks To Go High And Dry

Nancy Klingener

The animal shelter run by the Florida Keys SPCA provides outdoor play areas for the dogs and cats in its care, runs spay-neuter clinics and generally tries to keep up with current approaches in humane treatment of animals. But it's a matter of making do in old quarters.

There are play yards so the dogs spend at least four hours a day outside. The cats have colonies with access to covered areas outside. But none of that is much help when the Keys get heavy rain, a common occurrence during subtropical summers.

"It floods. And it floods bad," Fox says. "We have to dig trenches. And that's just in a regular summer rain. In a tropical storm, we have to evacuate all of the animals out of the shelter, because we don't want to take a risk of the kennels flooding overnight and some of the smaller dogs or other animals being in standing water."

The animals go to a network of foster homes during the storms. Meanwhile, the shelter staff copes daily with rusting kennels and rats that run along the top of the kennel gates.

The Keys shelter now keeps adoptable animals as long as it takes to find them a new home. The shelter is currently home to 50 dogs, 78 cats, a few rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters — and a blue macaw. In the summer, Fox says, the numbers climb as high as 80 dogs and 130 cats.

Credit Nancy Klingener / WLRN
Tammy Fox says the old kennels are rusting — and rats run along the top above the gates. The SPCA has raised most of the money it needs for a new, modern shelter.

The shelter takes in strays, pets that people can't take care of any more, and provides animal control from Key West up to mile marker 16. It also has a "faith program," where it cares — at no cost — for the pets of people who are seeking shelter from domestic violence or abuse.

The SPCA has been raising money for years toward a new shelter and recently announced it is most of the way toward its goal, with $4.5 million out of a planned $5 million raised. The new shelter will be 20,000 square feet, about the same area as the shelter currently occupies.

"Our current facility is built off the old pound-shelter mentality from about 40 years ago," says Tammy Fox, executive director of the FKSCPA. "The goal was to bring animals in and give them a safe place to stay and then, if they didn't go home, they weren't kept for long periods of time."

But the new facility will be covered and elevated, with enough space for a modern spay-neuter clinic. The SPCA currently operates its clinic out of a small trailer. Fox also wants to host programs for kids and the public at large.

"The new shelter is not going to be just a place to bring your pets when you can’t care for them any more," she said. "It’s going to be a resource for our community on standards of care for pet ownership."

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.