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P.A.W.S. gets OK to open store and shelter in center

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GREENFIELD — Hancock County’s Partners for Animal Welfare Society is planning a major move that will give the organization shelter space and a storefront for the first time.

When the pet welfare organization started 15 years ago, it was intended to support activities of Greenfield/Hancock County Animal Management. Over the years, however, the nonprofit’s mission has evolved and grown. P.A.W.S. now conducts its own activities and services, which board members say have far outgrown its limited capacity.

Office work is conducted out of a small second-floor space in downtown Greenfield that doesn’t even have its own address. Animals are housed either in foster care or an out-of-county facility; and the only place the group has to conduct adoption events and meetings is at Tractor Supply Co.

“We’ve been looking for some time for a place of our own to house some rescue cats and operate some of our other programs out of,” said Nancy Rubino, P.A.W.S. executive director.

The search appears to be over.

The Hancock County Board of Zoning Appeals on Thursday granted P.A.W.S. a special exception to open a pet store in Greenfield’s Schakel Center, located in the 3000 block of West U.S. 40.

Once the group receives finals permits from the state and county, it will begin work to renovate the space – a move that could provide a much-needed boost to both the organization and the nearly-empty business complex it will call home.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Mike Dale, county planning director. Dale recommended the BZA support the special exception.

“It might breathe some new life into the Schakel Center,” he said.

BZA members thought so, too. They unanimously voted to approve the petition.

“We felt the location where they’re going to do it is very conducive to that type of operation,” said Dee Carmichael, board president.

The 2,200-square-foot space will house a small retail operation out front where leashes, collars and other supplies will be sold to support the organization’s ongoing work. P.A.W.S.’ new home will also provide additional office space and allow the group to finally house its population of adoptable cats in the county.

“(Some of) the cats are housed in a building way out in Rush County, so it’s very difficult for our volunteers to get out there to care for them,” Rubino said. “The majority are housed in foster homes, which makes it difficult for a potential adopter to meet them.”

Dogs will continue to be kept in foster homes, though some may be brought onto the property during adoption events.

P.A.W.S. will also use a portion of the new location for storage, allowing the group to restart its pet food pantry. The program provides pet food to families who otherwise can’t afford to feed their pets. Donated food will be stored and distributed at the new location.

Rubino said P.A.W.S. initially will keep limited public hours: 4 to 7 p.m.  Thursdays and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays. As its efforts grow, Rubino said more hours may be added.

“It’s an all-volunteer organization,” Rubino said. “We’ll see how it goes in the beginning … then we’ll go from there.”

The big question left is when P.A.W.S. can move into its new space.

Board member Karin Blue, who also handles the group’s legal work, said it applied to the Department of Homeland Security on Aug. 6 for a permit to be open to the public. The DHS still has not responded, and P.A.W.S. can’t get into the space until that approval has been granted.

“It’s frustrating,” Blue said. “That’s the only thing keeping us from going forward.”

P.A.W.S. will keep its upstairs offices and twice-monthly adoption events at Tractor Supply, in addition to its new location and hours.

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