PITTSFIELD — Less than a week after the board of directors of the Friends of Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter announced the shelter would close at the end of August, a groundswell of community support has organized behind the shelter’s manager, Noelle Howland.
The support won’t put off the shelter’s closure, but it may give birth to a new one.
Howland started a GoFundMe fundraiser in the wake of the board’s announcement last week, hoping to push off the shelter’s closing date. She set the fundraising goal at $30,000, not daring to hope she’d actually raise that amount.
A community of supporters, former adopters and animal lovers met the challenge of the fundraiser contributing nearly $40,000 this week. Several local businesses like pet boutique Roxie’s Barkery, Currency Coffee, Second Drop Farm, jeweler Clay and Oak and Zucco’s Family Restaurant have committed to fundraising for Howland’s cause, as well.
“I assumed I was only going to get a couple thousand [dollars] — not this much,” Howland said. “With people spreading the word, it was very helpful. I couldn’t do it without everybody.”
Howland went to the board earlier this week with the results.
According to Howland, the board told her that the shelter’s closure had already been communicated to the state and the fundraising wouldn’t change their decision to dissolve the nonprofit organization.
But they made Howland another offer: if the manager created a new organization that continued the Sonsini shelter’s mission, they would give her all of the organization’s assets in the building.
“While we are deeply saddened to have to shut our doors, we believe that change can be beautiful,” the board members wrote on the shelter’s Facebook page on Thursday. “Let’s focus on getting these animals new homes and then, let’s keep this rally and all of the energy we have seen this week alive.”
“P.S. Noelle — you’ve got this,” the post added.
Howland said the board’s support feels like a vote of confidence.
“I was obviously honored that they would even want me to do this because I know this was something they’ve been a part of for so long,” Howland said.
The shelter was formed by a group of volunteers in 2005. The organization originally operated out of a city-owned building in the Downing Industrial business park until 2018 when city officials decided to end their contract with the organization for municipal shelter services.
The end of the contract required the shelter to find a new space, a search which landed the organization at a former garage at 875 Crane Ave. Shelter leadership maintained that this move was supposed to be temporary, but after a 2022 attempt to move to Lenox fell through, the shelter never relocated.
Howland said that’s one of her top priorities now, finding a new location to operate a shelter.
She said several people have reached out as news of the closure spread. The offers have included potential land that could be developed, buildings that could be retrofitted and one offer that would involve exploring the possibility of moving into a city-owned building in North Adams.
“That’s my number one thing, I really want to get in somewhere where you have all that support not only from the community but the city as well,” Howland said.
A new location is just one item on Howland’s to-do list. She’s increased the fundraiser’s goal to $100,000. She knows that she needs to go through all the steps of creating and registering a new nonprofit. Howland said she plans to turn to the community to help her pick a name.
Above all that, Howland, the Sonsini staff and volunteers remain dedicated to finding the animals in their care new homes.
So far, public focus on the closure has led to positive results for the cats and dogs at Sonsini. All but three of the 12 cats currently in the shelter have adoptions pending. One of the seven dogs at the shelter, a boxer mix named Roe, is headed to a new home soon.
Several people have shown interest in Cooper, a 4-year-old German shepherd mix, the shelter’s longest resident. Howland is now focused on getting Diamond, a 3-year-old pit bull-boxer mix and the shelter’s second longest resident, some love.
She’s hoping that before the final August date comes around someone with a big yard, no other pets or kids and a dedication to giving Diamond all the walks she needs will find their way to the Sonsini shelter.
It may seem like a lot to accomplish but Howland said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“A lot of people tell me I need to slow down my life and focus on my own life, but this is what I love doing,” Howland said. “I would do anything to be working with animals and this has been by far my favorite job because we’re all these animals have.”