NEW PORT RICHEY — When Gail Fawcett learned that a water pipe break had flooded the SPCA Suncoast shelter last week, her first thought was the shelter's 100 animals.
On that front, at least, the news was good.
"The animals are fine," Devlynn Saunders, the shelter manager, told Fawcett. "We're not."
When Saunders opened the shelter Thursday morning, she found herself standing in three inches of water. A copper pipe in the bathroom wall of the 50-year-old building had broken, flooding most of the interior and destroying many shelter supplies.
A half-ton of food supplies for the animals was ruined. The shelter phone, computer and air conditioning systems were disabled, the shelter's walls soaked through. The building's medical bay, administrative offices and staff break and supply storage rooms were also affected.
But the shelter's four-legged residents were safe and dry in other areas of the property. For Fawcett, who volunteers as executive director of SPCA Suncoast, the animals' safety and well-being is paramount. It's why she came to the shelter in the first place.
"I don't get paid to be here, and as a private (nonprofit) organization we don't get national funding," she said. "I'm here because animals complete my life."
Fawcett, Saunders and their 10-person staff had been making plans for additions and improvements for the SPCA Suncoast building, constructed in 1964.
"Now those improvements will have to be put on hold," said Fawcett.
The animal shelter now faces significant repair costs, mass replacement of pet and office supplies, sanitizing costs, plumbing repairs and wall and floor replacements.
Special equipment has been brought in to help dry everything out, including UV lights to kill bacteria and germs and sizable fans to dry the area and combat mold and mildew.
Since Thursday's flood, community sponsors such as Gulfport Networking, SERVPRO, Gladiator Construction and Petco have come forward with offers of help and materials for the shelter. In addition, residents have stepped up with donations of pet food and other supplies.
Fawcett credits her staff with seeing the shelter through tough times.
"These people are amazing," she said. "They're working in extreme heat, doing whatever it takes."
Staff members are continuing to care for the animals, even performing needed spayings and neuterings in limited space in the medical bay.
"We're piecing everything together, trying to make it work," said Saunders.
It will take more help to restore the shelter's operations. Cash donations are most needed; additionally, donations of everything from dry wall to pet food, computer to phone equipment is appreciated.
"This is devastating," Fawcett said. "Little by little though, we'll make our way back."