As has been reported in the press, Sweetpea Friends of Rutland Animals, Inc. suffered a devastating loss by fire on November 22, 2015. The shelter facility was burned to the ground. Dozens of formerly homeless animals that been sheltered in the facility were lost in the blaze. Despite the rapid response of public safety personnel , staff and volunteers, the destruction was near complete.

For the Sweetpea community, a dedicated group of people committed to the welfare of animals, the pain was unspeakable.

Comfort could be found, however, in the outpouring of support that resulted from reports of the tragedy. This response has strengthened the commitment of Sweetpea’s Board of Directors, staff, and volunteers to the all important mission of Sweetpea: to provide humane shelter and care for homeless and abandoned animals.

It is not an easy task. Shelter supporters have labored for years to meet an ever growing demand with limited resources. Fortunately for the Shelter, a large, loyal and dedicated group of volunteers commit untold time and energy to fulfilling this mission.

As often happens when tragedy strikes, miscommunications occur and misunderstandings arise. This can be disheartening to those who sacrifice so much for animals in need. The Board of Directors and management of Sweetpea wish to clarify the record on certain matters that may have been misunderstood in the aftermath of this catastrophe.

Sweetpea is a nonprofit, no-kill animal rescue operation. It has been located on Pleasant St. in Paxton since July 1, 2012, although it only recently acquired legal title and full control of the property. ln addition to sheltering homeless and abandoned dogs and cats, Sweetpea has operated an “open to the public” boarding facility serving nearby families and their pets. While some of the homeless animals sheltered at Sweetpea were surrendered by local animal control operations after the 7 day hold expired and the animal remained unclaimed by its owner, most were dropped off at the facility by concerned individuals. Sweetpea does not charge for animal control or private citizen surrenders. ln addition to food and shelter, Sweetpea attempts to provide veterinary services for the animals brought to the shelter. Although the shelter benefits from a good deal of donated product and services, not all expenses are covered. Adoption fees generally cover only the basic medical costs for the animal.

On Monday, December 7, 2015, the Board of Selectmen for the Town of Paxton voted to suspend Sweetpea’s kennel license pending further discussion with all interested parties. The Board cited confusion between conflicting reports of shelter deficiencies from the State which were in conflict with previously satisfactory local oversight and compliance. This was an unfortunate development. As the shelter facility had been completely destroyed by the fire, there was no need for any action to suspend shelter operations. The area occupied by the boarding kennels was undamaged by the blaze, and had continued to function in the weeks since the fire. As result of the actions of the Board of Selectmen, Sweetpea must now stop the operation of the temporary boarding facility.

Although the decision of the Selectmen is appealable, the Board of Directors has decided to forgo any appeal and focus on the hard work necessary to rebuild the shelter facility and continue operations.

The Sweetpea Board of Directors feels it is important,  however to correct certain misconceptions that may have arisen regarding shelter operation prior to the fire, and the state and local oversight that the shelter was subject to.

The shelter has been subject to many routine inspections over the past few years, by both the State Department of Agricultural Resources and the Town of Paxton. In addition, the shelter has always been operated as an open facility, with numerous volunteers giving freely of their time and energy, coming and going on a daily basis. Although the staff and volunteers at Sweetpea would be the first to acknowledge that conditions at the shelter facility at 1090 Pleasant St. were less than ideal, they strongly protest the characterization that the conditions were inhumane.

For example, one report from the State Department of Agricultural Resources, following an unannounced inspection, included a claim that the animals were not being exercised. This is a gross misstatement. There are dozens of staff and volunteers who can verify that the beloved animals at the shelter were exercised on a regular basis.

It is the fervent wish of Sweetpea and its supporters that the Paxton Board of Selectmen will move with promised speed to reactivate the business license. In the short term, Sweetpea will seek to resume its boarding operation. It was only at the Selectmen’s meeting that shelter management learned that the State Department of Agricultural Resources had any concerns relating to the temporary boarding kennels. At that meeting they were given, for the first time, a State report dated December 4th, nearly two weeks after the fire, that expressed concern regarding the boarding operation.

Management will take immediate steps to remedy whatever concerns were raised in said report. While the temporary boarding of family pets is only a small part of Sweetpea’s operations, it is an income generating activity and its resumption of operations will enable Sweetpea to continue to involve both its volunteers and the larger community.

What has not been adequately discussed in some of the coverage and attention directed to this horrible tragedy has been that plans had been in place for many months to improve conditions at the shelter. Throughout the second half of 2015, the Board of Directors of Sweetpea had participated in a detailed planning process regarding renovation and improvements to the facility. Working in concert with Jericho Road Project Worcester and local contractors, along with a request for input from the state (ARL), design development drawings were completed, quotes for construction services and materials were obtained and a fund raising campaign was initiated. While those plans must now undergo revision, given the total destruction of the shelter facility, they will proceed.

The Board, staff and volunteers of Sweetpea animal rescue wish to thank the many individuals, organizations and community partners who have expressed and offered support in the past weeks. While the recent tragedy and its aftermath have exacted a heavy toll on the Sweetpea community, the entire organization, drawing on the strength, passion and commitment of its many volunteers and supporters, remains resolute in the service of its mission.

Thank you.

The Board of Directors of Sweetpea Friends of Rutland Animals, Inc.