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Groundbreaking nears for Cape’s first animal shelter
September 13, 2018

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A year from now, Cape Coral residents will no longer have to drive to Fort Myers to visit an animal shelter.

Work on the 7,756-square-foot structure is currently underway, but it likely wouldn't have happened if one resident didn't speak up and ask City Council why one didn't already exist.

JoAnn Elardo got city officials involved and the community followed. The result is a labor of love that's going to help the city's furry friends find their forever homes.

The official groundbreaking ceremony for the state-of-the-art no-kill shelter won't be until October and the 4.6-acre site will be located next to Sun Splash Family Waterpark at 325 2nd Avenue S.W.

The non-profit facility will feature an intake area with the newest dog and cat kennel housing, a reception and adoption center, medical, animal grooming and feeding areas, a play yard, laundry space and a retail sales area for post-adoption products.

Veterinary technician students from the Cape Coral Technical College will also work with the shelter where they will train to eventually work with animals.

"It's great for them to be able to work with a brand new shelter with the newest technology right in their own community," Elardo said.

Cape Coral has leased city property to the shelter for $1 a year for 99 years. Mayor Joe Coviello also said certain building permitting fees were waived by City Council, which also approved a reduction in the landscaping buffer amounts to further help reduce the shelter's costs.

The idea for the new shelter began in 2013 and with the help of the City of Cape Coral, LAI Construction Management, Koogler Homes, Clary's Site Work & Developments, Guymann Construction and Maastricht Engineering Inc., the shelter slowly became a reality.

Elardo remembers the timeframe well. The Cape Coral resident just opened her company, Dolphin Distillery, and since she needed to get permits for her business, Elardo was no stranger to City Council members and City Hall workers.

Around this time, Elardo wanted to donate to an animal shelter, but she couldn't find one nearby.

"At the time, the city had about 170,000 people so not having (a shelter) didn't make sense," she said.

In 2013, Elardo asked City Manager, John Szerlag why the city was lacking.

"I thought this would be a big challenge, and I was going to have to make this happen," she said.

Elardo asked if Cape Coral would provide the land if the community was interested in the project. As an animal lover, Szerlag thought it made sense and became one of the shelter's main supporters.

Coviello agrees and thinks the shelter will be a "welcome addition to the community."

In an email, he said it also has the potential to eventually reduce the city's expenses.

"With our city growing and having the potential to reach 200,000 residents in the near future, having a shelter to care for our pets is essential to our community," he said. "Currently we are using facilities in Fort Myers and this carries a cost to the city. This shelter has the potential to eliminate that cost."

But getting the shelter up and running wasn't a walk in the dog park.

"A lot of people go into it thinking they'll take care of some animals and that's it, but there are so many hurdles and things you need to know," Elardo said. "You're opening a medical facility for animals and it's difficult"

Elardo wants to make sure she's adopting animals out to the right people while also making sure the animals are ending up in the right location.

"Not just being adopted out, it makes a big difference," she said. "It's not a simple process."

In 2016, a board of directors was formed and the group began to seriously start fundraising for the shelter. A successful capital campaign resulted in $1.8 million in pledges and donations. Multiple small to large events were also held to help raise money.

The idea for the shelter came to fruition because Cape Coral residents from all walks of life and positions of power banded together to see it through. But for some residents, they didn't find the shelter. The shelter found them.

When Elardo approached Susan Thrasher to get involved in 2015, Thrasher said she wasn't quite ready. She recently lost her Dalmatian and she thought it would be hard to be around other animals.

Fast forward three years and Thrasher is one of the shelter's donors and a member of its board.

"You wake up one day and you want a new job or new car," she said. "I woke up one day and said I'm ready to save other animals."

Thrasher says the shelter gave her a purpose and she thinks it will have a big impact on the community.

"We could not do this without the support of the community and its generosity," she said. "Because this is a community effort, and a community shelter, the community needs to be involved."

Elardo says this is one of those things she's been able to sit back and say, "Wow, look at the impact."

"To take a minute and just sit and think how this is going to impact Southwest Florida or the whole animal population," Elardo said. "To make sure everyone involved in this has a legacy in forming something that was difficult to do and that will make an impact not only on pets but on the community; that's something."

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