By LOIS KINDLE
The Critter Adoption and Rescue Effort animal shelter in Ruskin has been raising money for years to either upgrade its current facility or build a new one. Either option was financially daunting for the small, no-kill dog and cat rescue.
After researching all of its options, the C.A.R.E. board decided the most cost-effective and forward-thinking choice was to find land and build a new shelter.
“We needed to replace our aging buildings and expand our footprint, and it was cost-prohibitive for us to do so,” said board president JoAnn With.
Thanks to a $1-million estate gift received from Janette Layer, of Ruskin, and several other estate gifts, the 501(c) (3) organization amassed a building fund of $2.1 million, and in June 2022 spent $600,000 from it for five agricultural acres not far from its current shelter.
Recently, the private Caspersen Foundation awarded C.A.R.E. a $1-million capital improvement grant, and by adding it to the $1.5 million the building fund currently has on hand, C.A.R.E. is now able to move forward with the construction project. Preliminary site plans were submitted to Hillsborough County Nov. 13, and the exciting news was shared that evening at C.A.R.E.’s annual membership meeting, said board president Joann With. Ground will be broken in early 2024, and architectural plans are currently going out for bid.
“John and June Caspersen loved animals and cared about them for their innocence,” said Caspersen Foundation board member Dennis Brozak. “They made their wishes clearly known to our four-member board, which matched perfectly with C.A.R.E. and its mission.
“We liked its momentum and big vision, how extremely well led it is and how [strongly] it’s supported by the community,” he continued. “We’ve awarded only five gifts at this level, and we’re very excited about this one,” he said. “It was a unanimous decision.”
Brozak said he learned about C.A.R.E. through his sister-in-law, who volunteered at the shelter and took him on a tour of the facility.
The new concrete-block, air-conditioned and heated shelter on 14th Avenue Southeast in Ruskin will be 7,584 square feet under roof, more than 2,500-square-feet larger than the current facility’s three buildings.
“We presently have three cat rooms plus an isolation unit for up to 40 cats,” With said. “The new building will have a larger fourth room for an additional 15. All cat rooms will have screened lanais.
“We currently use 11 indoor kennels and are expanding to 16, plus four isolation kennels we currently don’t have,” she added. “And depending on breed and size, we can accommodate additional dogs or puppies in our treatment room and office.”
The new building will have two separate laundry areas; a larger surgical suite, including a treatment room and prep area; board/community room; break room for staff and volunteers; expanded office space; a reception area in the lobby; food prep rooms; and a meet-and-greet area for prospective owners and pets; three bathrooms; outdoor kennels and four play yards. It will also have adequate parking for visitors, volunteers and staff and plenty of room to grow.
Additional expenses to come out of the building fund will be incurred for fencing, landscaping, a lift station, fire hydrant and more.
Board President With said she cried for joy upon learning about the Caspersen grant.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” she said. “We’ve been working with the group for a couple of years now, and our efforts finally paid off.
“We are truly honored to accept this grant from John and June Caspersen and pleased our vision fits well with what they hoped would happen with their estate.” With continued, “Dr. Hall Ott had a vision when he founded C.A.R.E in 2000 and opened our shelter in 2001. Thanks to this generous gift from the Caspersens, we’ll be able to continue building on his dream.”
Ott, who retired from veterinary practice in 2021 and now lives in Palmetto, is looking forward to seeing the larger, modernized facility when it’s finally built.
“We started out of a mobile home,” he said. “The lady who lived on the property had a boarding kennel, and there was an open garage with a tractor in it that became the cattery, where our cats were all kept in cages. The surgery [space] was absolutely tiny.
“I’m thrilled to see C.A.R.E. be able to expand,” he added. “It’s very exciting.”
After 23 years with the shelter, animal care manager Gloria Blue remembers well how things started.
“There were no fences, no exercise yards, nothing,” she said. “Everything was donated. It will be nice for our volunteers and staff to work in a new building. I’m excited for the future.”
C.A.R.E. board member Beth Stein agrees. “This had been a long time in coming,” she said. “We’re excited to be able to expand our services to the community. Our animals deserve this new home and so do our volunteers.
“Some of the animals we care for end up for various reasons living with us the remainder of their lives,” she said.
It’s important to note C.A.R.E. must continue to rely on the community for donations, bequests, memberships, business partnerships and volunteers, plus its annual fundraising efforts, to keep its doors open. Operational expenses related to animal care are part of the annual budget and do not come out of capital funds.
“Without the community, we wouldn’t exist,” With said. “We are grateful for its ongoing support as we move into the future.”
For more information, call 813-645-2273 or visit www.careshelter.org/.