In May of 1912, a group of citizens from Gloucester and Mathews Counties gathered at Elmington, the home of DeWolfe and Laura Dimock, to “detail numerous instances of criminal abuse toward dumb animals…that it was the duty of every enlightened community to put down with a heavy hand.” Mr. Percival Hicks of North in Mathews County, also attending the meeting, stated that he, too “had been witness to many acts of gross and inhuman brutality practiced toward dumb animals in this section of the country and is was his opinion as a resident and livestock owner that some drastic measures should be employed to abate the violations of the laws of common humanity.” From this initial meeting, these caring citizens formed and incorporated the Gloucester-Mathews Humane Society on July 2, 1912, whose current-day members will this year celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ongoing animal-human bond on the Middle Peninsula.
While the initial focus of the GMHS was on the humane treatment of farm animals in this rural, agrarian community of the early 20th century, the decades to follow would bring additional attention to the treatment of companion animals, and to the growing number of homeless animals in Gloucester, Mathews and Middlesex Counties.
After the opening of its initial animal shelter in 1977, and a subsequent move to its shelter located on Rangtang Road in Gloucester in 1984, it became clear to the GMHS Board of Directors and its many volunteers that the success of the Gloucester-Mathews Humane Society in caring for homeless pets on the Middle Peninsula was taking a heavy toll on its facilities. A Capital Campaign was initiated to raise funds for a new facility that would be compliant with all modern animal shelter specifications, and a Building Committee of the Board was appointed to research current best practices in animal shelter design and construction, and to adopt plans for the construction of a new shelter.
“We began our shelter’s building campaign just as the nation’s financial crisis unfolded, but we had no other choice,” said Cam Williams, who served as the Co-Chair of the GMHS Capital Campaign along with Peggy Bowditch. “Our facility (on Rangtang Road) had come to the end of its useful life and was going to either fall down or be shut down. The local families we serve in rural Southeastern Virginia responded with magnificent generosity. They devoted their time, skills and money to help us build our new shelter on time, under budget and free of lasting debt. Our shelter is so much more than a building. It’s a tribute to this area’s commitment to animal welfare and our donors’ understanding that the way we treat our animals reveals our own humanity.”
With the fundraising process optimistically underway, the GMHS Board asked Director Ralph Jackson to chair a newly-formed Building Committee, tasked with choosing the best design for the new shelter.
“The Building Committee soon realized that the best way to understand recent successes, and failures, in modern animal shelter design was to go out and tour other recently-built shelters to get a ‘hands-on’ understanding of the choices they made, what worked well for them and what they might wish they’d done differently,” said Jackson. The entire Committee even hopped aboard Jackson’s RV and toured animal shelters in Richmond, Charlottesville and Harrisonburg – all in one day! “I believe I speak for all of the volunteers who helped to plan the shelter in saying that we dedicated ourselves to this task for the sake of the animals, past, present and future, who touch and make whole the lives of the people of this community.”
The new shelter facility of the Gloucester-Mathews Humane Society, named the Gloucester-Mathews-Middlesex Animal Shelter in recognition of the three counties it serves, is a blend of artful architecture designed for light openness and the technology necessary for hospital-worthy cleanliness standards. The shelter’s main lobby features an open ceiling with exposed beams and braces, set off by uplighting and plenty of natural sunlight.
The lobby houses two dog “homeroom” kennels with glass-front doors, a separate room for small animals such as rabbits and ferrets, and one of its most popular destinations, the Puppy Room. Here visitors can usually see a number of different varieties of pups at play, and can even sit and rock one of the “babies” in a massive antique rocking chair donated by a volunteer.
Behind the lobby are three kennel hallways where adult dogs and older pups can be found. The kennels were designed so that dogs do not face other dogs, which reduces their stress levels and need to bark. There is even a beautiful dog walking trail in the woods behind the shelter, made possible by a grant from the PetSmart Foundation, where volunteers can take the dogs out for exercise and socialization.
Back in the shelter, visitors will find the wide-open spaces of the Gloucester-Mathews-Middlesex Animal Shelter Cat Mall. Here, cats live either in comfortable three-tiered cat kennels, or in one of two open “cat condo” rooms where 10-12 cats live and cavort in community over a series of steps and platforms donated to the shelter by its general contractor, David Nice Builders. There is even a screened “lanai” where cats and kittens can spend time on warm days playing with toys or lounging on climbing towers.
Sound like a lot going on? The Gloucester-Mathews-Middlesex Animal Shelter was designed and built to encourage happy interactions between domestic animals needing homes, and people who are either seeking to add a new pet to their family or just wanting to spend some time “quality time” with a friendly, fuzzy face. A visit is worth a thousand words – so come and see for yourself!