Dakin unlikely to reopen animal shelter in Leverett

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 10-04-2022 5:25 PM

LEVERETT — A shelter for unwanted and homeless pets established on Montague Road in 1995, creating a small campus for the adoption of dogs, cats and other small animals, is currently closed, and it’s possible that the site may not reopen.

The Dakin Humane Society of Springfield, which owns the building and property that began as the Dakin Animal Shelter, is in the midst of determining the future for its Franklin County location, though for the time being intends to keep the site vacant as the region emerges from the pandemic.

“We have a multitude of programs and services, many that require a medical component that the Leverett building does not have the space or construction to provide,” Dakin spokesperson Lee Chambers wrote in an email.

Dakin’s board of directors explained in a May letter that the pandemic has prompted changes to the organization’s service to the region.

“As a result of the pandemic dramatically impacting the normal course of business for virtually all organizations, our Dakin leadership implemented the closure of our facility in Leverett, Massachusetts,” the letter states.

The letter goes on to explain more about those circumstances:

“We would like our stakeholders to know that Dakin is in the process of identifying possible reuse or repurposing opportunities for the building that respond to community needs. If we are unable to identify a new use for the building along these parameters, we would explore the leasing or selling of the property to another party, including to an animal care or related enterprise.”

Chambers said Dakin is soliciting community feedback to determine what Franklin County needs to best serve its pets and people. Input can be provided at feedback@dakinhumane.org

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The organization was founded in 1982 as the Friends of Amherst’s Stray Animals by Janet Wilder Dakin.

For many years there was no place to protect stray dogs and cats, prompting Dakin to gather women around her kitchen table out of concern that abandoned dogs spending the maximum of 10 days in the town’s care would be euthanized.

Dakin died in 1994, just as the organization was purchasing the Leverett kennel that would become its shelter.

In 2006, Dakin Animal Shelter and the Pioneer Valley Humane Society merged, and in 2009, the organization extended its reach to the entire Pioneer Valley when it bought the Springfield building owned by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, as the MSPCA pulled out of western Massachusetts that March.

At the same time, the growth into Springfield meant the closing of a shelter Dakin operated in Greenfield, but it also meant service to more animals.

Leverett Selectboard Chair Tom Hankinson said many residents have been disappointed in the decision that led to the shelter’s closing, in part because they were pleased Dakin was part of the community. Many residents, he said, would like to see Dakin come back.

“The extended closure of Dakin has imparted a collective sense of sadness for the loss of an effective, community-based animal welfare organization,” Hankinson said. “Not all Leverett residents could tell you where the Leverett Safety Complex is located, or why the Bradford Field Building is also called the Field Family Museum and the Old Library, but they all know Dakin was a center for all manner of animal welfare.”

While the property is vacant, Hankinson said there are no concerns from a municipal standpoint about the building’s future, though some people have begun contemplating whether there might be adaptive reuse of the property for a town purpose. But there have no been no formal discussions, and no contact from Dakin yet, he said.

With the Leverett site closed, Chambers said Franklin County residents are encouraged to adopt rescue pets from a shelter of their choice.

“Our research and recent experiences have shown us that people in New England typically travel about an hour to conduct adoptions, and our Springfield facility serves many residents of Franklin County,” Chambers noted.

Dakin has also been promoting a foster network, considered both good practice and more humane, as a preferred means of getting dogs and cats to families, reducing the need for adoption floor space, with 64% of animals Dakin received in 2021 placed in foster care.

Chambers said Dakin is not abandoning the upper Pioneer Valley. “Our ties to Franklin County remain strong,” she said. The letter also notes “the Leverett facility represents an important part of our history.”

In late July, Dakin worked with Franklin County’s regional animal control officer in an intake of more than 70 cats from a Franklin County home, and continues to partner with organizations in the county through its Pet Food Aid Program to assist people facing challenges in keeping pets fed.

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