People often get a second chance, so why shouldn’t pets.
That’s the philosophy of Audra Colson, the CEO and founder of Chance Shelter of Surprise, a group that helps pets find homes during rough times like the COVID-19.
After half of decade of hosting pets in foster homes throughout the city, Ms. Colson and her husband, Greg, are hoping to construct a permanent building to house 60 kennels on land donated to them in north Surprise.
“[Surprise] is definitely a city to start something like this,” Ms. Colson said. “There are too many caring people in Surprise and surrounding communities that see the need for it.”
Homebuilder Courtland Homes recently donated seven acres of land near Deer Valley Road and 183rd Avenue — the first big step in seeing her dream come to reality. The land was dedicated with a city ceremony on May 30.
Now comes the next hard part.
The group needs to raise between $3 million and $5 million for a facility the size of 12,000 to 15,000 square feet. And they need to do it at a time when COVID-19 has made wallets tighter in many local households with families out of work.
“We originally had pushed off with the ask because of the COVID [pandemic],” Ms. Colson said. “But the simple fact of the matter is the really bad situation is going on, but we still have pets who need our help, and they don’t have a voice.”
Ms. Colson said she hopes to see a building sometime in 2021, but she’s realistic that it may not happen until the year after.
But she’s doing what she can now to keep the cost down. Dirt and concrete contractors are already lined up for pro bono work.
“If you take those types of in-kind donations, that cost can go down exponentially,” Ms. Colson said. “Just knowing that some members in our community may own businesses who want to come forward will help us get this building up even faster.”
The nearest no-kill shelter to Surprise is the Sun Valley Animal Shelter, 7150 N. 110th Ave., Glendale.
“That’s not close,” Ms. Colson said.
In its first four years as a non-profit, Chance Shelter has assisted pets and their owners in crisis situations. Currently, the shelter operates strictly with volunteers and foster families.
It offers in-home animal fostering in emergency circumstances such as house fires, the owner’s death with no placement plans for the pet, natural disasters, traffic crashes and owners’s hospitalizations and hoarding situations.
In addition to the boarding services, the shelter also provides community awareness and pet CPR classes.
“We get calls from Phoenix. We get calls from Scottsdale,” Ms. Colson said. “We had a 93-year-old man who had fallen and broken his hip, and the dog was home all alone.”
The city itself feels the need for the shelter, officials said.
“The benefits to having a no-kill animal shelter include providing a resource for first responders that encounter animals in crisis situations,” Ms. Arthur said. “It reduces the time and costs of transporting pets to the county facility and provides longer hold times for lost pets allowing a better chance of reuniting with owners.”
It’s literally a life-and-death situation, Surprise Mayor Skip Hall said.
“I think it’s very needed in Surprise,” Mr. Hall said. “Our Animal Control people have to take a lot of the animals down to the county, and we don’t know what happens to them.”
Ms. Colson knows what happens to them, and she’s hoping to do a small part in keeping some beloved pets out of them.
She’s always had a love for animals but didn’t turn her passion into a career until recently.
Her husband, Greg, and their daughters moved to Surprise in 2001 at a time the city had only a fraction of the population it has now.
Ms. Colson left an advancement opportunity in the professional world to stay at home with the couple’s daughters while they attended school.
She ultimately began volunteering with the Surprise Fire Department’s Crisis Response team in 2012 to help residents get through emergency situations.
While doing that, however, she noticed that many pets needed temporary homes when owners had no plans for them in emergencies.
When their daughters got old enough, the couple decided to turn that passion to help animals into a lifestyle.
The shelter earned non-profit status in 2016 as caring citizens began giving donations. She was also able to secure some grants, but not the big ones since she said “grants are a little harder to get when you’re not brick and mortar.”
“If you ask my husband, he’ll say it was from our own pocketbook for the first year and a half,” Ms. Colson said.
But she knew it was better to shelter the animals than having them sent to the Maricopa County shelters.
Today, the Colsons have more than 65 volunteers and more than 25 foster families who are housing pets.
Some of the foster families have animals from six weeks to months, and Ms. Colson said that’s too long. She’d rather have the animals settled in their new homes quicker to keep foster families available to take new pets.
Because of the COVID-19 conditions, Ms. Colson has had to interview foster families virtually instead of making a home evaluation.
“We’ve been working with volunteers for the last four years,” Ms. Colson said. “The whole thought was to have a facility to be built by the community, for the community, for pets in crisis situations.
“It’s the old adage, ‘If you build it they will come.’ It’s true.”
The permanent shelter building has been in the works since Ms. Colson discussed it with former City Manager Bob Wingenroth.
In October 2018, the Surprise City Council approved the general concept of offering the shelter a nominal long-term lease of city property in exchange for use of the shelter space.
The site under consideration was 2-1/2 acres of city-owned land at Litchfield Road, north of Bell Road, next to the current Police Property and Evidence facility.
“That proposal never came to fruition,” Deputy City Manager Diane Arthur said, with Ms. Colson saying nearby neighbors helped put the kibosh on it.
“I’m glad Courtland was able to give then that land,” Mr. Hall said. “I think it’s a real positive.”
The Chance Shelter accepts pets frequently from homes where an owner has died.
But Ms. Colson said it’s a different story when somebody calls in to rehome a pet they no longer want.
“If its an abandonment or a stray, we tell them to call Animal Care and Control,” she said. “That’s a legal issue that needs to be addressed through our police department. For us it’s, ‘Yes we want to help you,’ but we’re trying to get to the root of why they’re needing to get rid of their pet.”
For rehoming those pets, the shelter has a resource on its website that walks owners through how to properly do it. They also have a resource on its Facebook page for that.
“We understand that people do come on hard times and feel like the only thing they can do is get rid of their pets,” Ms. Colson said.
The shelter will assist with vet bills on a referral basis.
“If somebody has fallen on hard times and needs medical assistance we evaluate the situation and make a decision on whether we can help or not,” Ms. Colson said. “We’ve helped in the past with several pets. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Sometimes the only reason people want to get rid of their pets is they can’t afford the medical bill.”
Ms. Colson is now bracing for the possibility pets could be dropped back in shelters after kids and parents start to return to school or work.
That makes donations even more important right now, Ms. Colson said.
“Hopefully, they’ll see it through the eyes of our furry friends like we do,” Ms. Colson said.
Editor’s Note: Jason Stone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit yourvalley.net.