Some five years after senior staff at the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA began dreaming of establishing a new animal sanctuary for behaviorally- and medically-challenged cats and dogs, the imminent purchase of a 261-acre plot in La Honda is bringing the nonprofit one step closer to giving animals with few opportunities for adoption a place to live a quality life.

Ken White, president of the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA, said the project is one of many steps the organization has taken to reduce euthanasia of animals and has been the subject of much research in recent years as staff and board members explored best practices for sanctuaries and how to fund the project.

Knowing well there are many animals that may never be adopted at the nonprofit’s Burlingame shelter, PHS/SPCA staff visited animal sanctuaries in other states to learn about how to best provide a place where dogs and cats with behavioral or medical issues could live the rest of their lives, said White. Acknowledging the ambitious nature of the project, the PHS/SPCA board’s ability to raise from private donors the some $4.75 million needed to purchase the La Honda property is not lost on White, who noted the project will continue to be funded by charitable donations.

“It’s really been a dream,” he said. “There are just some animals that we all know could be happy, but they’re just not going to find a home … the question has always been ‘what is the best way to do this?’”

White said the nonprofit will now set its sights on shaping plans for the site, which he hopes can be approved as early as next summer and allow ground to break on the sanctuary in the next 12 to 18 months. Included in the plans for the sprawling space are a series of houses where small groups, or families, of dogs can live as well as a larger structure where unsocialized or medically-fragile cats have space to interact with each other or spend time alone. Both sets of homes would be fenced to allow for safe playtime as well as to keep the native animals out, he said.

White said maintaining animal “families,” which can be a group of five to seven dogs, has helped staff and volunteers look after the nearly 900 animals in the PHS/SPCA’s care. Though he envisions the sanctuary will largely hold dogs and cats that likely won’t be adopted, White said staff is also working to ensure the sanctuary is able to house rabbits and farm animals, such as goats, sheep and cows.

Acknowledging the nonprofit has reduced the number of animals it has euthanized since 1970 by 98%, he noted the sanctuary will allow that number to drop even further.

“This gets us to the point where we can honestly as a community say that the only animals that will die will be those animals for whom there is absolutely no other option,” he said.

The sanctuary will not be open to the public because it is expected to become home to dogs and cats with fatal illnesses, pets that have survived abuse and neglect and fractious and unsocialized cats, noted White. He acknowledged some of the animals may be moved to the Burlingame shelter to be adopted if their chances for adoption rise, and said the internet will allow staff and volunteers to share live video of the animals in the sanctuary with the public.

White expected many of the nonprofit’s volunteers to gravitate toward caring for animals at the sanctuary once it is complete, providing loving homes for animals that might otherwise be euthanized. Though he acknowledged the difficulty of estimating how many animals the sanctuary will serve since they are in the preliminary planning stages, White hoped it will be able to serve some 200 dogs and 500 cats, in addition to farm animals, when it is complete.

He said staff will be focused on serving animals within the PHS/SPCA community at the new sanctuary and said he hopes the new facility can serve as a model for other humane societies to leverage in the future. On Monday, White also announced his retirement at the end of 2020 after 41 years in animal welfare, and said the project marks a major career accomplishment.

“My best hope would be that other people would see this and go ... let me build one here,” he said. “I would love to think that others … jump on this bandwagon.”

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