The huge success of an effort in Orange Beach to control the feral cat population has spawned a regional effort in South Baldwin County to build Safe Harbor multi-use animal shelter.
Stephanie Christie, one of many volunteers with the Orange Beach Animal Care and Control Program, launched in September 2017, said the program utilizes the trap-neuter-return (TNR) approach to managing populations of feral cats. Christie and Orange Beach Animal Control Officer Tom Conerly helped Gulf Shores start a similar program in August, and TNR began there in October. Foley soon followed suit.
What those programs did, Christie said, was expose the growing need for a full-blown shelter to serve the entire southern part of the county.
“There are a growing number of folks that are recognizing the importance of a shelter, and that needs to be addressed,” Christie said. “We’ve been talking to folks and talking about land options, and investigating how we can make this happen as far as funding, operation costs and building costs.”
Even the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is paying attention because the effort would be helpful for the beach mouse population.
“As suggested by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, a cat sanctuary is a solution to the cat and Alabama beach mouse habitat issue,” a Safe Harbor brochure says. “U.S. Fish and Wildlife are not opposed to using Alabama beach mouse mitigation funds to establish and operate the sanctuary.”
Even if federal dollars aren’t found, Christie says, donors are already lining up to help.
“Outside of what could or could not happen with [Fish and Wildlife], we do have benefactors,” Christie said.
Christie said it was too early to name those donors and what they’ve pledged, but the group’s brochure lists several prominent citizens as supporters. Among them are Fish and Wildlife, several veterinarians and private animal shelters, Gulf State Park, John Brett of Brett-Robinson Real Estate and Development, and Brian and Jodi Harsany, owners of five Cosmo’s restaurants in Orange Beach.
Money from each of the cities now going to the county shelter might also flow to a new shelter. Alabama law requires each county to maintain a shelter. Cities with populations of 5,000 or more must also provide a shelter or pay a pro rata amount to help fund the county shelter.
The new shelter would be built in stages, Christie said, but organizers hope it would eventually include a cat sanctuary, a pet evacuation center, a life-care center for pets whose owners have died and boarding kennels. The first step is acquiring the land.
“We’re actually investigating different land options for the Safe Harbor shelter,” she said. “It’s going to be a phased-in proposal. We’ll have phase one of the shelter campus and then we’ll phase in as we raise funds. It’s not going to be a huge campus we build right at the start. We want the phased-in approach.”
Anyone wishing to volunteer to help with the effort or make a donation can sign up at OBACCP.org or GSACCP.org.
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