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Spinning a Webb of generosity in Pagosa Springs

Joyce and John Webb are animal lovers — there’s no doubt about that.

John has his horses, and Joyce spends hours at animal shelters, walking and brushing the dogs, or playing with the cats. But when the Webbs decided this fall that the time was right for a $400,000 donation to the Humane Society of Pagosa Springs, it was not just for a love of the animals at the shelter, but for the people of the community that are dear to their hearts.

Joyce and her husband, John, have been coming to their home here in Pagosa Springs for the last 25 summers and have spent many of their retirement years dedicated to humane societies both here and at their winter home in McKinney, Texas. Nineteen years ago, they were involved with getting a shelter built for the city of Sherman in North Texas, a project that they did not take lightly. John recalls traveling all over the state to various shelters and observing what they were doing right, and what they were doing wrong.

The Webbs had followed the story of the Humane Society of Pagosa Springs through articles in The SUN beginning in 1984 when a group of local residents led by Debra Brown were attempting to get a Humane Society shelter built here. The group had no money at the time, but had a common desire to get a shelter constructed for the growing cat and dog population. Under the leadership of Brown, things began to fall into place. A donated gold coin was raffled, and a benefit concert was held. The result was more than $20,000 raised that enabled the construction of the original animal shelter in Pagosa Springs.

Since that time, Joyce and John Webb have seen the Pagosa Springs community grow, which increased both the human and pet population. The need for more space at the shelter was becoming apparent.

Under the guidance of Robbie Schwartz, executive director of the Humane Society of Pagosa Springs (HSPS), the shelter has remained viable through grants, town and county funding, and money generated through proceeds from the Humane Society Thrift Store.

“We’ve watched and admired Robbie at the shelter,” Joyce says. “We’ve seen the hard job she has.” Joyce and John both spend many hours at the local shelter and comment on how loved and cared for the animals are. “It’s not depressing to be here,” they say, and add that they see much worse care in people’s own yards.

When the shelter site at Steven’s Lake was deemed unexpandable due to water pressure and septic system overload, the HSPS set out to find a new location, as well as secure funds for construction of a new, permanent structure. The 11 acres off of Cloman Boulevard where the current Humane Society sits was secured in 2000, and a capital campaign to raise funds for the new building began in 2007. By November of that year, part of the new shelter was finished and the animals were in their new home. It was in 2007 that the Webbs stepped in and pledged more than just their time. The HSPS knew that the funds raised for the building were not enough to build a shelter to the Department of Agriculture standards the society was bound by. Joyce and John offered a substantial donation of future funds to make sure the new building would provide what both the animals and the community needed.

Visitors to the shelter on Cloman Boulevard will find that although the building is new, it is already crowded with pets, especially cats. The cat room located off of the main lobby was not intended to be a permanent home for the felines.

“The current structure was constructed as the isolation building,” Schwartz explains. When cats and dogs are brought in, there is an isolation requirement that keeps them away from the general population until they are deemed healthy and disease free. Right now, the cat isolation room is a small space not much larger than a walk-in closet, but eventually the entire cat room will be just for isolation. One of the other requirements for the shelter set by the Department of Agriculture was that the interior air couldn’t be recirculated. The building boasts a $30,000 air system that ensures the interior is getting fresh ventilation.

When the Webbs stepped forward this summer to follow up on their monetary pledge, they offered $400,000 to be strictly earmarked for construction of Phase 2 of the shelter, which will be the general living quarters for the dogs and cats. Although the HSPS is working to raise over $1 million to cover the cost of the new structure, Joyce and John felt the time was right to offer their donation.

“We didn’t want to wait any longer for the animals,” Joyce says. “We can’t wait for 1.2 million.” The money donated by the Webbs will immediately be put to use to construct covered outdoor dog runs and more exercise yards. The project will require pouring a slab and erecting a carport-type cover that will protect the dogs from sun, rain and snow when they are outdoors. The shelter is currently operating with a temporary permit from the Department of Agriculture that allows combined general and isolation populations in one building. The planned building, when completed, will bring the shelter into compliance by having both a sick room and isolation rooms for both dogs and cats.

“It was not hard to give money to a shelter,” John says with quiet confidence. “We felt it was the best place to put our money.” Both John and Joyce feel that helping the local shelter remain viable is contributing to the well-being of the residents of Pagosa Springs. “It is a community service,” Joyce adds, “not just for the cats and dogs.”

Funding a shelter for the strays keeps the animals from running at large in the community, and a large part of the shelter’s mission is spaying, neutering and education. John explains that having a private Humane Society shelter is a huge plus since most city shelters have limits on the days animals can be there.

“We do not warehouse animals,” Schwartz adamantly exclaims. “We care for them until they find a home.” Of the 5,000 animals that have passed through the Pagosa Springs facility since 2001, only 374 were put down. Those animals were either euthanized by court order or had medical situations such as feline leukemia or bad distemper that could not be treated. At the Pagosa Springs shelter, the animals are never put down to make space for new animals.

To alleviate overcrowding, Schwartz has found two shelters that she can send animals to, with assurances they will not be put down, and she notes that not all humane societies have the same policies as ours. Each shelter has its own mission, its own policies and rules. The HSPS has had a policy in place since 1998 that does not allow an adopted animal to leave the shelter until it is spayed or neutered. The policy was echoed in a state law that was passed in 2009 that stated that any shelter rescue group could not send out animals that had not been fixed. But this policy comes with a high price tag.

“There’s a cost in having animals,” Schwartz says. “Veterinary care costs money.”

Although the price of a cat or dog adoption helps to pay for part of the spaying or neutering program, the shelter offers a limited amount of free vouchers to pet owners who cannot afford to have their pets fixed, but want to do so. The shelter holds fund-raisers to help cover the cost of these important vouchers, and proceeds from the Humane Society Thrift Store also help cover additional veterinary costs. The HSPS is working hard to not only offer free neutering, but also to educate the community about the importance of keeping the pet population down.

The Pagosa Springs shelter is always looking for volunteers like the Webbs to come in and help with the dogs and cats. Children are welcome and encouraged to come as long as they are accompanied and supervised by an adult. There is playtime with the cats, and the dogs love going on walks. Joyce Webb is part of an unofficial Wednesday Dog Walking Group that meets each week at the shelter. Whether sunshine, wind, rain or snow, the dog walkers know that the orphans are waiting for their excursion and don’t want to let them down.

“There’s always plenty of room for more dog walkers,” says Webb.

The Webbs believe that the more a person gets involved at the shelter and sees the stories unfold, the more appreciative they’ll be of what our local shelter does. Their monetary donation is about more than helping the animals — it is about helping the people of their community, including those who have lost their homes and can’t afford to keep their pets.

“The shelter keeps the community cleaner, safer and more secure,” Joyce and John say. “If the animal shelter reflects the quality of a community, then we are high class.”

The Humane Society of Pagosa Springs is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The shelter is located at 474 Cloman Blvd., off of Piedra Road. For more information, call 731-4771 or visit HumaneSocietyOfPagosaSprings.org.