A once-in-a-generation expansion and renovation project is set to get underway at the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons in East Hampton this Memorial Day weekend.
The groundbreaking for ARF’s “Forever Home” is scheduled for Friday, May 28, at 4 p.m., with the actual breaking of the ground duties handed, naturally, to the animals that will benefit from the project — canine residents of ARF with an affinity for digging.
Forever Home is the name chosen for what is the largest building renovation project in the history of the animal rescue organization, which was founded in 1974. It is being described as a state-of-the-art project, designed by the Bacon Group, that will help enhance the organization’s mission of finding homes for the thousands of dogs, cats and other animals it takes in every year. The project, which is both a sanctuary and year-round training facility, will be anchored by the Richard Wells McCabe Welcome Center.
Dogs will move into a new 40-kennel building constructed with high-quality materials and a nitrogen-reducing waste treatment system along with flexible rooms for dogs with special needs, meet-and-greet rooms for adopters, and new outdoor exercise areas. A sophisticated HVAC system will cool, heat, and dehumidify the air, as well as treat it with UV light.
The project also includes plans to renovate the catteries and kitten room, to include custom-built features for climbing and play.
One of the most exciting new features for those involved with the project is the new 8,400-square-foot, year-round training center that will enhance the organization’s ability to train and socialize the animals and provide the kind of enrichment activities that will help them become or remain adoptable. The training facility will also enable ARF to expand its offerings to the public when it comes to training classes.
The renovation was made possible by several generous donations from animal lovers across Suffolk County.
ARF Executive Director Scott Howe was excited about the project, pointing out that it represents the first major renovation since 2002, on a building that was originally constructed in 1985. The addition of the new training facility will be a gamechanger for the organization as well, he said, and added that the plans that are now coming to fruition were put in motion several years ago, thanks to foresight from several board members.
“The concern on the board at that time, especially for the older animals that might be considered hard to adopt, was, should we build something more like a semi-permanent home for our dogs,” he said. While the goal is always to see the animals matched with a family or individual, he added that ARF commits to the animals “for life” once they take them in.
“Our board went through a lot of conversations with our supporters and we realized instead of just getting bigger, we wanted to make ARF better,” he said. “We wanted to reduce stress on the animals and make sure the conditions were healthy for them, and we also wanted to make it a good place to work.”
Better ventilation, temperature control, sound mitigation and reducing sightlines for the animals were all factors taken into consideration. Making the facility better for visitors was important, too, Mr. Howe said. He knew first hand how important the creation of a better meet-and-greet space would be.
“When I met my own dog in 2014, I remember the meet and greet was downstairs on a couch in the employee lounge; it was the only space they had on that rainy day,” he said. “So we designed custom meeting areas.”
Mr. Howe described the new training facility as an “open gymnasium for dogs.” It will enable the foundation to conduct training and other classes that have always been offered outdoors indoors and at night as well.
“It means we’ll have a place for our animals to exercise and give them agility and enrichment while they’re waiting for adoption,” he said. “They need to be mentally and physically stimulated, and that comes through play and also meaningful interactions with people. Enrichment is still like training but it’s not obedience. It’s other ways to physically tire out the dog and stimulate them and give them a rich life. That building is going to be the heart of how many people experience ARF after they adopt.”
Howe said both he and the rest of the board and others involved with ARF were beyond grateful for the many generous donations that have made the ambitious project possible. He mentioned the support of Richard Wells McCabe in particular. Mr. McCabe, a 91-year-old Sagaponack resident, is a lifelong dog lover and long time supporter of ARF. His gift, one of the largest in ARF’s history, was announced last year. Mr. Howe said he was excited to finally be able to celebrate that generous donation in person with Mr. McCabe at the groundbreaking. The rest of the board members are also thrilled about Mr. McCabe’s generous donation.
“We are inspired by Mr. McCabe’s love for animals and honored that ARF’s welcome center will bear his name,” said Katharine Rayner, who chairs ARF’s board of directors. “His commitment to ARF will transform how people and animals experience ARF and it will help us ensure a vibrant future for ARF for many years to come.”
Creating a safe and sustainable haven for animals was the overarching goal for the Forever Home project, and Mr. Howe said he believes it will serve the community for years to come.
“Our goal has been to make this the best investment possible that will carry ARF for the next 20 or 30 years,” he said.
The plans are particularly thrilling for longtime employee Debbie Downs, who started at ARF as an animal care associate in 1985 and is currently the shelter manager. She lives on the premises, and “tucks the animals into bed every night,” said Mr. Howe, adding that the facility is “just as much her home as it is theirs.”
She has watched the evolution of the foundation over the years, when it first primarily took in animals that were abandoned locally, and has watched as ARF has branched out and taken in animals from kill shelters far and wide.
“I’m excited for it all,” Ms. Downs said. “The renovations to the kennels will greatly reduce the stress for our dogs and their reactivity to the other dogs and their surroundings. And the new catteries will enhance the lives of our cats. The new training building will give us a space to work year-round with our dogs in a more efficient way and to effectively work with them one-on-one.”
Every new improvement and renovation included in the Forever Home project is in service of finding true “forever homes” for all the animals that come through ARF’s doors. Mr. Howe mentioned one dog, a long-time resident that was recently adopted, although her departure was bittersweet. “Smushy” was widely known as the center’s best digger, and would have been a perfect candidate for the official groundbreaking. Mr. Howe said last week that the foundation was still trying to determine which dog would take over that all-important role. Whether or not they can find a dog to adequately perform the ceremonial task will hinge on one important factor, he said.
“Who knows what they will do and if they’ll get stage fright or be distracted by the crowd of people,” he said, with a laugh. “It will all come down to what we bury.”