Safe Harbor Animal Sanctuary opened its doors during the summer of 2005. For years it was a place of hope for many strays, owner surrenders, and animals in need of long term care. It was the first “no kill” animal shelter around, and the go-to place, mainly for cats, in the Southeast Missouri Region.
In recent years Safe Harbor began a rapid decline. Overcrowding, poor conditions, and wide spread illness among the animals eventually brought the Missouri Department of Agriculture to Safe Harbor’s door. In the fall of 2014, after many months of inspections and warnings, the state filed a petition to close Safe Harbor and brought neglect charges against Alice Wybert, founder, owner, and administrator of the organization. It was a devastating blow to Wybert and the region; for the animals as well as the people who had grown to rely on the services provided at the Sanctuary.
A judgment was ordered, Wybert agreed to the terms, neglect charges were dropped, and mass transports of animals began clearing out the remaining 100+ cats still residing at Safe Harbor. Rescues from several states stepped up, laid claim to the animals and moved them out to their own facilities, with the final transport in late July 2015. Safe Harbor is now empty except for a handful of dogs, some of which are there to live out the remainder of their years due to age or issues that make them unadoptable.
With Wybert prohibited from participating in animal affairs, remaining staff and volunteers stepped forward to form a new board and set forth in the task of cleaning the place up in an attempt to get re-licensed and continue the good work Safe Harbor was once known for. A visit to Safe Harbor proved to be an eye opener to the changes that have taken place since the closure and evacuation of the animals.Staff, board members, and volunteers have worked feverishly to bring the facility back to par.
Present during the visit were Montica Babers, board member and manager; Connie Schmitz, board president; Kris Sneed, board secretary; and volunteers, Pat Coomer and Roberta Patton. All were accommodating and willing to provide a tour and answer questions.
A company sponsored volunteer group from Proctor and Gamble had made two visits to Safe Harbor to do the needed carpentry work. Ray O’Howell, one the P & G volunteers felt that it was such a worthy cause he stayed on to help even after the rest of his group was finished with their involvement. He was present, sawing and hammering away, during my visit with Safe Harbor representatives.
Aside from having been cleaned up, many things stood out around the facility and the group attending were happy to show off their accomplishments.
The rooms once teeming with cats walking the floors, or laying in the many cat trees scattered about, were now empty. Shelving that once lined the walls for the cats to perch on were gone. The floors had been scrubbed and sealed. The only objects in the rooms now are non porous surfaces that can be easily cleaned and sanitized. The floors and woodwork in the outdoor rooms have been cleaned and sealed and look like new. The fenced walls between rooms are separated with easily cleaned dividers and the metal rails that hold fence in place are being replaced. New lighting is going in throughout the building.
A room designated for kittens only is a new feature. Kittens were previously kept in kennels in the entry area. A separate area, away from general population rooms will be used as an isolation area for sick animals, and all cats being newly introduced with have an area to be conditioned before going into population.
A house on the property, once used as a “medical house” for ill cats is now closed and will not be reopened due to an ongoing water issue that has caused mold to take over the building. Babers and Schmidt stated that the old house will not be used by Safe Harbor for any reason, not even storage. “It’s too far gone to repair and a health hazard for the cats,” said the pair. “We have no use for it at all.”
On the back of the property an entire row of dog kennels have been removed and will likely not be replaced. All but a handful of the remaining kennels are empty and those occupied appeared clean and in good condition. The dogs that do still reside there seemed healthy and well adjusted to their environment. “At one time we had about 30 dogs, and that’s too many,” said Schmidt who is the main caregiver for the dogs. “It’s really just too many for one person to take care of properly.” Schmidt said that if and when they can reopen they may be able to house about 15 dogs. Babers agreed.
The Omega House building that once housed FIV and FLV cats, long term, is closed. Babers and Schmidt say they hope to remodel the building to use it for indoor/outdoor kennels for the dogs at a future date, doing away with the existing outdoor kennels all together. “We think it would be better for the dogs to have access to both indoor and outdoor runs, so we are hopeful we can accomplish that after we get the main building reopened for the cats,” said Babers.
Babers says that they expect a pre-inspection from the Dept. of Ag in the coming weeks. The MDA will check to make sure there are no animals there and that the place is sufficiently cleaned up. They may make recommendations to the organization at that time as to what additional work might need done.
After that Safe Harbor intends to apply for their license to reopen. After the application is submitted the MDA will do an official inspection and will be instructed as to what changes need to be made, if any. For the next 90 days Safe Harbor Animal Sanctuary will be allowed to take in, but not be allowed to adopt out, animals.
At the end of 90 days MDA will re-inspect and if the organization is in compliance they will be allowed to open their doors for adoptions once again. If they are hit with any non compliant items at that time they will have to wait six months to reapply. “If all goes well,” says Babers, “we may see adoptions happening just in time for Christmas.”
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