York Baker walked past the tiny, decrepit cinderblock shelter next to the employee parking lot twice a day during her sixteen years working at the Bruce Museum, and it crushed her every time. Whimpers, howls, and cries wafted from the old, crumbling building that continues to house abandoned animals of all kinds today. “It’s very heartbreaking because you know they’re just miserable, and it just seemed like there was something we could do about it,” Baker, now retired, said.
The Greenwich Animal Control Facility, situated directly adjacent to the employee parking lot of the Bruce Museum of Arts and Science in Greenwich, Conn., hasn’t changed much since its opening fifty years ago. Lacking heat and air conditioning, the shelter’s floors are ice cold in the winter and sweltering in the summer. Since Connecticut law does not allow blankets for shelter animals and raised beds do not fit in the cages, dogs and cats are forced to lie on the concrete inside their tiny cages. In the one room shelter, cats live right above the dogs and their cages. “They can look directly down at the dogs and dogs can look up at them, and this creates a very stressful situation,” says Senior Animal Control Officer Ilyson Halm. The building, according to Halm, is deteriorating on a daily basis.
But the unveiling of more than fifty valuable dog-related paintings from international private collections and museums worldwide at the Bruce Museum, coupled with a benefit in honor of the construction of a new Greenwich shelter has recently helped to change the fate of the shelter by raising awareness and providing the additional funds needed to relocate and rebuild.
Why would the Bruce Museum, a museum of fine and decorative arts, science and anthropology, be interested in supporting the reconstruction of a rundown animal shelter? The museum, which houses some of the world’s most expensive and significant art that span from European work by Jan Verhas and Alessandro Milesi to American work artists such as Ammi Philips and Francis Silva, has always existed independently from the Animal Control Facility situated on its property. One reason for their recent partnership, according to Baker, is that because the Animal Control Facility is technically on museum property, she and other animal loving employees have been moved by those desperate cries of the strays every day.
It was four years ago that a group of dedicated Greenwich animal lovers, including Baker, decided to take action. Leora Levy founded Shelter Our Strays, an organization devoted to relocating and rebuilding the dilapidated Greenwich Animal Control Facility that housed many abandoned animals. After four long years, the work of Shelter Our Strays has brought success: public officials recently designated a local site where the shelter will be rebuilt. To raise money and awareness for the construction of the new site, Shelter Our Strays hosted the benefit for the shelter at the Museum.
The new shelter, with aid from donations raised by the Shelter Our Strays and Bruce Museum partnership, will be designed with twelve indoor-outdoor runs – as opposed to the four in the current building – and house a separate room just for cats. “We hope to be able to have an outdoor area with overhang for bunnies. We deal with all sorts of animals: pigs, chickens, even alligators,” says Halm. “We’re compassionate, and try to accommodate any living animal that needs help.”
It was no coincidence that the museum unveiled its newest exhibit, “Best in Show: Dogs in Art from the Renaissance to the Present”, at the benefit. The museum’s newest collection features fifty of Europe and America’s most significant paintings involving dogs. Brought in from museums like the Louvre in France or the Prado in Madrid, Spain, the art was revealed this time to raise money and awareness of the worthy cause, according to Baker.
Taking part in the reconstruction of the shelter gives the museum an opportunity to give back to its community, according to Peter Sutton, executive director and chief executive officer of the Bruce Museum. “It was a win-win situation, because not only the subject of our exhibition a good one with a very high quality art, but it was also very fitting at the time since we knew the Animal Control Facility was not up to code,” he says of the decision to open their newest exhibition in support of the shelter relocation. “I’m a dog lover as you can tell.”
– Brittany Jasnoff