Florida Keys

This new animal shelter in Key West cost $8.4 million. It will be drier and roomier

Key West is getting a new animal shelter

Matt Royer, director of operations at the Florida Keys SPCA's Key West campus, talks about the new $8.4 million, 23,000-square-foot shelter to open later this year.
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Matt Royer, director of operations at the Florida Keys SPCA's Key West campus, talks about the new $8.4 million, 23,000-square-foot shelter to open later this year.

When it rains overnight in Key West, Matt Royer will often wake up worrying about dogs.

"I'm afraid if I hear rain, I think the whole place is flooding out," said Royer, director of operations at the Florida Keys SPCA's Key West campus, located in dilapidated digs on Stock Island. "It's going to be amazing to be someplace that's safe and not going to fall apart on us."

The SPCA's location at 5230 College Rd. on Stock Island doesn't hold up well under the elements. And it's very small. The other day an employee patched up an open wound on a Pomeranian mix in the cramped lobby. That was the only space available.

So employees and supporters of the local SPCA, which handles animal control from Key West up to mile marker 68 with offices on Stock Island and in Marathon, can't wait for the new $8.4 million, almost 24,000-square-foot shelter to open this summer.

"I was actually over here in a thunderstorm the other day," Royer said, on the site of the new shelter. "And it was the first time I've ever been at the animal shelter and not got soaked. I've got rats and the roof's caving in."

Construction on the new two-story complex, just down the road across College Road, began in November 2016 after 10 years in the making. It's on city-owned property that Key West leaders handed over to Monroe County in exchange for free animal control within Key West.

Monroe County is obligated to provide a facility for the animal control agency it uses.

Almost all of the $8.4 million was privately raised. The county kicked in $1.5 million and the city paid for the permits and fees, which totaled about $150,000.

As for its size and scope of the animal shelter, staff says it is needed. Key West may have only 25,000 year-round residents but the transient nature of the community provides the SPCA 150 to 200 animals a day all year long.

""It was designed around the number of animals we're housing and caring for each day and every year," said Tammy Fox, executive director. "I don't think people realize we have close to 200 animals housed in that facility every day. "

Dogs and cats make up most of the lot, but the shelter takes in any animal, like a snake that someone adopted a week ago and a pot-bellied pig named Carnitas that was sent to a sanctuary in Gainesville recently.

The shelter deals with some only-in-the-Keys type of surrenders, like the family from Alaska that recently decided moving to Key West would be ideal, only to find out it's not as easy as the brochures suggest.

As for Carnitas, its owners got the pig when it was small. It grew too big to live on the catamaran they call home.

Other Keys-specific issues land at the local SPCA's doorstep.

Finding pet-friendly rentals before Hurricane Irma struck last Sept. 10 was difficult enough, Fox said. It's only grown harder with the housing crisis worsening.

"We're sort of double-hit," Fox said, as people give up their pets due to housing and the shelter tries to find homes for the animals in an area that isn't always pet-friendly.

"We can't adopt them out because they can't find pet-friendly housing," Fox said. "Pit bulls are the hardest ones."

“The most exciting thing is we’re not going to have to have staff digging trenches in the middle of the night when it rains,” Fox said. “They’re going to be safe and dry.”

The new Florida Keys SPCA headquarters is for everyone in the Keys, Fox said.

“It’s an exciting time I look forward to share with everyone in the community.”

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