Following a devastating fire at Sweetpea For Animals animal shelter and boarding kennel last Sunday night that took the lives of nearly 50 cats and dogs, thousands of people from the Worcester area and from various parts of Massachusetts, the nation and the world have rallied around the Paxton shelter to offer support.
As of Saturday morning, more than $123,000 had been donated by nearly 3,000 people on Sweetpea’s GoFundMe page. Donations range anywhere from $10 to $1,000 and the organization is well over halfway to their goal of $200,000.
All but $5,000 of the donations have come in after the Nov. 22 fire. The GoFundMe page was set up in February.
The nonprofit shelter was founded in 2000 and is run by president Dick Clark of Rutland, a retired animal control officer and Worcester Voke grad; and Clark’s daughter and Sweetpea’s shelter manager, Melanie Kenadek of Warren, a Worcester State alum.
Kenadek said, “Morale is excellent. My volunteers have banded together and they’re doing super with organizing donations and it’s keeping them busy. They’re very busy, but nothing has really sunk in yet. The shock is there and eventually it’s going to be a reality.”
“There isn’t even a word to describe the impact from the public,” she said.
Although Kenadek and the Sweetpea volunteers appreciate the support and donations, they can no longer accept cat and dog food.
“I think it’s great. There’s overwhelming amount of support and it’s super. One of the things I do need to say is that everybody is collecting dog and cat food. Those are not things I need. I have no animals on the property. We’re overwhelmed and there’s so much that’s been coming in here, at this point, I’ve got to figure out how to store some this stuff,” Kenadek said.
Sweetpea will donate dog and cat food they can’t use to food pantries, to be given to people with pets. Kenadek is encouraging anyone who has picked up dog and cat food products, but has yet to donate them, to give them to other shelters.
“We don’t have animals to feed, and we’ve gotten so much,” Kenadek said. “By the time we rebuild, the food is going to go bad and will be out of code. We’re getting rabbit food and bird food and we don’t even deal with those animals.”
The tragic incident has even gotten the attention of Dog Hair Inc. — a retailer of dog products in Montreal — which has designed a special dog bandana, with part of the purchase price going to Sweetpea.
“The shelter is rebuilding, undaunted, and we would like to help be a part of that rebuild. So we’ve designed a special bandana dedicated to Sweetpea and the animals lost that night. 30% of every bandana purchased will go directly to rebuilding, and sustaining this marvelous organization,” Dog Hair Inc.’s website says.
The fundraising will continue through December, and Sweetpea’s local followers will have two opportunities to continue to offer their support. A week from today, Dec. 6, Sweetpea will give families an opportunity, for a $10 contribution, to have their children and pets’ picture taken with Santa Claus. All proceeds will go toward Sweetpea’s efforts to rebuild its shelter.
The second event, Sweetpea’s Road to Recovery Benefit, will be 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20, at The Country Music Ranch & Saloon on James Street, Worcester. The benefit will raise funds for Sweetpea’s rebuilding efforts and will feature live entertainment, food from local restaurants, and a large assortment of raffle prizes.
Andrea Castinetti, a real estate agent in Worcester, coordinator of the recovery benefit and an animal rescuer, said she and the other coordinators were able to put the event together within hours thanks to the outpouring of enthusiasm and support for Sweetpea.
“We have people from all over the world reaching out to us wanting to donate, and sending us things to raffle off. It’s been unreal. It far exceeds our expectations,” Castinetti said.
Among the donations for raffle prizes are tickets to sporting events including Patriots, Celtics, Bruins and Red Sox games, as well as gift baskets and dog-grooming products.
According to Castinetti, 1,000 tickets will be printed. The group hopes to sell all of them, with a goal of raising at least $20,000 at the event.
“They [Sweetpea] want to rebuild [the shelter] as soon as possible,” Castinetti said. “They want to get back to rescuing dogs and cats and getting them off the street.”
Admission to the benefit is $20, and tickets can be purchased at the door.
“We hope that we raise enough money and receive enough donations that we can pay-it-forward to other shelters, too,” Castinetti said. “What I would like to see is to get tons of donations of anything imaginable — money, dog food, and clothing and treats — whatever we can, to help as many as we can.”
The shelter is currently on three acres in Paxton, and according to Kenadek, they will have to find another location on the land to rebuild while their insurance company investigates the fire, which initial news reports said appeared to be accidental. The shelter will rely on the money raised to help build a new shelter.
“We’re going to need money to build a new facility. Our insurance company may take four or five years before we have a finalized investigation and a payout. We have to concentrate on going to the town and planning board, and look to build somewhere else on site,” Kenadek said.
Recently, Sweetpea posted a wishlist of items lost in the fire. They’re looking for donations of permanent markers, different kinds of tape, first-aid kits for both animals and humans, dustpans and brushes, two power washers, and office supplies, among other things.
Anyone wishing to donate one or more of these items can mail them or drop them off to Sweetpea for Animals, 1090 Pleasant St., Paxton, MA 01612.