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Animal Rescue League breaks ground on $16.5 million expansion in Dedham

January 7, 2021 : The Boston Globe, by John Laidler

An organization that has served animals and their owners for more than 120 years will have more room to carry out its mission through an expansion of its Dedham campus now underway.

The Animal Rescue League of Boston in September broke ground on the $16.5 million construction of a new multiuse building down the hill from its existing Dedham facility on the Pine Street site.

The 22,500-square-foot building will feature a new garage for the organization’s mobile medical outreach units; a training center for animals and their caregivers; and new office space that will enable the league to centralize its program managers in one location. The existing building and an adjacent barn will remain in operation.

The project, set for completion next fall, also involves constructing a new 2,700-square-foot maintenance building to replace an existing facility recently demolished to help make way for the future multiuse building, according to Mike DeFina, the league’s communications and media relations officer.

Dr. Edward Schettino, president and CEO of the nonprofit, said the expansion, funded with the help of a $12.6 million tax-exempt bond issued by MassDevelopment, will “increase our efficiencies throughout the organization and strengthen the outcomes for the animals and communities we serve throughout Massachusetts.”

At hearings before the Dedham Planning Board, DeFina said some neighbors applauded the project while others raised concerns about traffic and that the project might alter the site’s character. He said the new facilities are designed to “blend in with the property,” and a town consultant funded by the league found that traffic impacts would be minimal.

The league began in 1899 when Boston social worker Anna Harris Smith, concerned about abusive treatment of working horses and stray dogs and cats, opened the city’s first animal shelter. In 1907, the league purchased the 22-acre Dedham site to house and care for retired work horses.

Today the organization, funded primarily through donations and grants, provides a range of services for 20,000 animals annually through its three locations: the Dedham site and facilities in Boston’s South End and on the Cape in Brewster.

All three locations shelter and care for pets that are either surrendered by owners or transferred to the league by other organizations. Staff provide medical treatment and behavioral evaluation for each animal, and then work to find suitable adopted homes for them.

The organization also offers a full-service veterinary clinic in Boston, and through its two mobile units performs spay and neuter surgeries of dogs and cats throughout Greater Boston and provides low-cost veterinary care in several Boston neighborhoods.

Among its other services, the league employs state-designated special police officers that assist local and state authorities in enforcing Massachusetts’ animal cruelty and neglect laws, and advocates for strengthening animal protection in the state. It also helps with rescues of domestic animals, livestock, and raptors, and with providing care and adoption for feral cats.

COVID-19 has posed challenges for the league, but its services have continued, though with restrictions. For example, pet owners bringing their animals to the veterinary clinic must remain outside and allow staff members to bring their pets in and out of the building.

Schettino said the league also has adjusted by creating several programs in response to COVID-19, including one that offers temporary housing for pets whose families are facing eviction.

“Our primary goal is keeping pets and people together,” he said.

“We are very excited about this,” Schettino said of the project. “We’ve labeled it a foundation for the future.” Becoming more efficient “will allow us to refocus our resources 100 percent on the animals and people who need our services.”