A four-year odyssey to transform the former Wild At Heart animal refuge is nearly complete

Greater Sudbury animal rescue group Pet Save’s four-year odyssey to craft a new shelter for its charges is nearing its end and the new facility has officially opened its doors.

In a February Facebook post, Pet Save director Jill Pessot provided an update to the group’s efforts, highlighting the challenges of the past four years and the excitement of moving into a new home.

It was in January, 2020, that Pet Save took over the former Wild At Heart Wildlife Refuge Center in Lively, a building which was only 10 years old at the time.

Wild At Heart was struggling financially and in 2019 when the decision was made to close the refuge, Dr. Rod Jouppi, the refuge’s founder, struck a deal with Pet Save to transfer Wild At Heart’s assets to Pet Save, including the building.

A rendering of approximately what the new Pet Save shelter out in Lively looks like on the exterior. The work to ready the site for use as an animal shelter is nearly competitive, but Pet Save’s buy-a-brick campaign is still ongoing. They hope to host a grand opening this summer. Image: Facebook.com/JillPessot

As Pet Save was in the planning stages of constructing its own 4,000-square-foot shelter at the time, the opportunity to move into a building that was significantly larger — at nearly 8,000 square feet — was a good fit.

“It was kind of an easy decision to take it over,” Pessot said at the time.

Pet Save planned to start renovations as soon as possible in 2020, with hopes to move into their new building by August 2020. Turns out things didn’t go quite according to plan.

“Our plan was to strip the building and put on an addition, and extend a third floor out to create extra space to accommodate our cats,” Pessot wrote in the latest update. “We could have never imagined that a pandemic was around the corner. A project that was budgeted for about $500,000 turned into $1 million (and not quite finished yet) and our timeline of 18-24 months became a long and painful four years.”

Pandemic lockdowns and restrictions in 2020 moved the project along “at a snail’s pace,” Pessot said of that first year.

“Year 1 was practically a write-off,” he said. “We focused on removing several outbuildings and demolishing the rest. We put in our new road around the back of the building and converted the moose pen to a dog area, removing lots of bush and seeding it.”

Still dealing with pandemic fallout preventing them from getting materials, the year’s 2021 and 2022 (years two and three of the renovation) slowed the work as wait times for construction materials sometimes lasted up to six months, “which made this project feel like the never -ending project,” Pessot said.

With the pandemic behind them, she said Pet Save made great strides in the past 18 months (though she said her decision to tile the walls of the cat room created some extra delays).

“This building was built to last,” Pessot said. “We capped all our beautiful new windows in aluminum, have steel door frames and doors, and ceramic tiles on all floors and walls in the paint and dog areas.”

The building has three separate HVAC systems, one for each floor, “making it a safer building for our furkids.”

“Ventilation is the biggest challenge shelters face when animals with airborne viruses enter the building,” Pessot said. “In the spring, we will finish the outside with stone and siding (color choices a little different than the architectural illustration in the photo).”

And while the work is almost done, paying for that work is still a challenge. Pet Save estimates it needs another $200,000 to complete the exterior work to the building and “put the new roof on with our upgraded solar system to help us save money.”

If you want to help Pet Save continue its mission of rescuing pets, a “Buy A Brick” campaign is currently running to help get this project across the finish line.

“When you purchase a brick, you will have a plate engraved on our donor wall inside the new building,” Pessot said. “You can buy a brick for yourself or give one as a gift to another animal lover. It is a gift that will help save lives forever! Be a part of something wonderful!”

You can find more information on Pet Save’s brick campaign here.

Pet Save plans on hosting a grand opening this summer to show off their new home.

Pets & Animals is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.

By fersz