April 19, 2007 — As if on cue, preceding a tour Thursday morning to update progress on the Humane Society of St. Thomas Animal Care Campus, a little fawn with a bright, white tail bounded across the front entrance to what will soon be the territory's premier animal facility.
The deer live in the hills overlooking the campus, said businessman and philanthropist Randy Knight, adding, "They come down in the morning to drink from the pond."
Knight and Humane Society Board President Joe Aubain are the driving forces behind the project, which will bear Aubain's name.
The pond abuts the campus but is on the Lockhart property. "We will have a walkway overlooking the pond to see all the animal life there — ducks, deer, rabbits, a tortoise," Knight said.
Knight has contributed a total of $1 million in his fund-raising drive. So far, more than $2 million has been raised for the campus, which is estimated to cost about $5 million. Knight said Thursday that the campus will be completed by next February in time for the annual "Doggie Ball," after which about a week of celebration will follow its formal opening.
"The project will be completed," Knight said. "We have raised more than half the money, and I have secured a line of credit, but we always need more sponsors. We need people to support a kennel."
The deer, which unofficially inaugurated our tour, seemed to underscore Knight, who said on the way to the construction site, "We are the only agency on St. Thomas that deals with all living things."
Aside from the usual animals to be housed in the inside kennels, the property abounds with plants, trees, birds, iguanas, the deer, a tortoise or two, and the fish that swim in the pond located on Lockhart property abutting the campus. Lockhart Realty donated the 4.7-acre property for the campus, located on the Weymouth Rhymer Highway across from Cost-You-Less.
The campus hillside was bustling with activity Thursday, as cement trucks plowed their noisy way for a pour on the parking lot across from the flea market. A small army of workmen scrambled everywhere in white, yellow and blue hard hats. Project manager Joe Hylton said so far, about 1,300 yards of cement has been poured in 24 pours.
All the building foundations have been poured.
A tour of the facility brought to life Knight's remark at the groundbreaking: "It's a great and wondrous thing. I hope it will be a model for all shelters. It's one of a kind."
The new shelter will include cutting-edge sound- and odor-contained kennels, where each dog will have complete privacy; dog play areas and dog runs; a real cat house complete with window sills; a dog-walking path where members can bring their own dogs; an on-campus animal treatment center; an area for the Police K-9 unit; an administration building; a bunny hutch and iguana sanctuary; the Corrine E. Lockhart Education Center; an animal boarding center; nighttime drop-off, a livestock holding area; a crematorium; and a picnic area.
It will also include a grooming room, where one can bring pets for a modest fee.
In the groundbreaking tour last June, volunteers pointed out various piles of dirt, indicating what they would be. Thursday those imagined sites were more than dirt; they were the physical proof of a dream, more than five years in the making.
The Flea Market is an impressive 33-foot-by-105-foot cement slab, gleaming in the sun. Underneath the market will be cisterns and a water treatment facility. Aubain proudly indicated the new space.
"This is our main money maker," Aubain said. "Now we will have storage areas, a proper sales floor and bathrooms." It will be a handsome structure. The current Nadir facility, Aubain noted, is always overflowing, with merchandise, furniture and books spilling out of the rickety storage areas.
The first stop coming up the hill is a woody grove, which will be the V.I. Police Department K-9 facility. "It will cost about $1 million to complete," Knight said. "We have $200,000 already appropriated, and legislation by Sen. Dowe for another $900,000 was recently approved. It just has to be signed into law by the governor."
Knight said the facility will be a boon for the VIPD and for the shelter. And it's a better location. "Now, they're situated in Bournefield, so this is a more central location when they are called," Knight said. "The facility will provide tremendous opportunities. It will be the training ground for the K-9 corps and an educational facility. We will bring school groups in to learn about it."
Next, it was up to the kennels and the cat house. Right now, the kennel area is marked off by rebar sticking out of the cement, denoting the 32 individual kennels and 12 quarantine kennels. Aubain pointed out that each kennel has its own waste stream. A series of white pipes was lined up awaiting installation for that purpose.
"What's really cool," Aubain said, "is the classrooms we will have to teach the little ones here on campus. And we have our summer education program, too, where the older kids come in and learn to care for the animals — walking the dogs, learning how to groom and take care of all the animals."
Throughout the morning, the shelter group stressed the importance of education on the campus and in the community. Though it has been proven time and again — through animal care groups throughout the states, and repeatedly over the five years it took to get the anti-animal cruelty bill passed here — adult criminals often have a record of having abused animals in their childhood. This is key in teaching children that animals are to be loved.
Knight put it succinctly last June, when he spoke of the animals and the children who "will be welcomed at our Corrine Lockhart Education Center . . . where they will have the opportunity to learn that until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened."
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