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Animal Friends moves ahead with plan

Sharon Elliott

They own the property. They have the county permit. Now St. Croix Animal Friends will focus on raising $2 million to build an animal adoption and education center.

St. Croix Animal Friends was organized five years ago after an animal shelter in rural River Falls closed. To date SCAF has offered limited assistance to St. Croix County residents who can't afford to care for their animals.

But on Aug. 26, the County Board of Adjustment approved a special exception permit for a "commercial kennel" and early in September, SCAF completed the purchase of property near Roberts, said SCAF President Sharon Elliott.

Now, she said, the organization will plan a major fundraising campaign and is looking for someone to head that effort.

"What was difficult was finding property that was acceptable," said Elliott.

The group looked at another site in the town of Kinnickinnic, but that land was zoned agricultural/residential and that meant all structures would have had to be at least 700 feet from bordering property.

The requirement was almost impossible to meet, said Elliott, explaining that the recently purchased property is zoned commercial and is regulated differently.

The special exception permit will allow SCAF to house up to 45 dogs and 75 cats at any given time and requires the group to begin using the site as an animal shelter within a year and complete construction of the kennel within two years. SCAF can ask for two 6-month extensions to the deadlines.

After the shelter in rural River Falls closed, Diana Neubarth, who is now SCAF's vice president, began calling people she thought would be interested in forming a St. Croix County group, said Elliott, who lives in Roberts.

"Animals have always been my cause," said Elliott. "I just think they deserve as much as anybody else."

SCAF, which serves only St. Croix County, earned nonprofit status in February 2006.

Its newsletter now goes out to over 400 dues-paying members, it has a website, and its board holds regular public meetings.

So far SCAF is able to offer three programs to people who can't afford such services: A discounted spay/neuter program, some help with animal food and an emergency medical fund. The group's website also helps find homes for unwanted animals and posts photos of missing or found pets.

"We've never had an animal we haven't been able to help out," said Elliott. Fundraising events and donations have supported the existing programs.

One person donated the money to buy the Roberts property, said Elliott, so SCAF has no debt.

But, she said, since it has no history of borrowing, it has no credit either. Elliott, who retired from her job as secretary at Rocky Branch Elementary School in River Falls Sept. 30, intends now to begin the search for someone to work with fundraising and applying for grants.

"That's all we seem to be doing," said Elliott of the amount of time the six-member SCAF board spends on fundraising.

Mark Schmidt of Knapp Schmidt Architects prepared the site plan for the county permit and will design the adoption and education center.

The plan is to provide shelter for animals until new homes can be found for them, to offer limited veterinarian care to those animals and to provide some instructional programs on pet care and preventing animal abuse.

The building must be sound-proof and have an appropriate air-handling system to prevent disease transmission, said Elliott, who is happy to be working with an expert like Schmidt who specializes in designing veterinary and animal care buildings.

The SCAF Board of Directors meets at 7 p.m. the first Thursday of each month at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 502 County UU. The public is welcome to attend.

For more information about the organization, go to its website: People willing to help with fundraising may call (715) 749-FRND.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.