Breaking Misconceptions: New executive director focuses on fundraising, educating

Heather Spezzano, Director of the Jefferson County SPCA, watches a kitten play in the kitten room at the facility.

BY: Norah Machia

A top priority for the newest executive director of the Jefferson County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 25056 Water St., is to educate the public about the mission and operation of the nonprofit organization.

     “A lot of people have misconceptions about what the SCPA does, and how it functions,” said Heather L. Spezzano, who started in the position on Sept. 5. “Many people don’t realize that we receive no county, state or federal funding to operate the shelter.”

   “We survive solely on local donations, fund-raisers and adoption fees,” she said.

     Although the agency has “SPCA” in its name, it does not receive funding through the national organization ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).

   “We are not affiliated with them,” Mrs. Spezzano said.

     The Jefferson County SPCA was founded in 1891 to help protect and care for domestic animals in Jefferson County. It operates as a “no-kill” facility, accepting both dogs and cats, along with smaller animals such as bunnies or birds. It can accommodate up to 12 dogs and 40 cats.

     The organization has a policy of spaying or neutering all dogs and cats prior to adoption. Adoption fees help to cover the cost of the surgeries.

     The adoptions also include first vaccinations and worming, rabies vaccine if more than three months old, flea and ear mite check and treatment, a sample bag of Science Diet food, and a microchip for permanent identification.

     Numerous veterinarians throughout Jefferson County also participate with the SPCA in offering a complementary first visit for an adopted animal.

     Mrs. Spezzano has 15 years of experience managing local stores and businesses. She was instrumental in opening a pet adoption center at the Watertown Petco store, 21851 Towne Center Drive, a few years ago by working to secure $300,000 in grants and fundraising for the project.   

     “We need to educate people, and get out more in the public,” said Mrs. Spezzano, who developed a love of animals while growing up on her family farm. “This is a safe haven to bring animals.”

    She is working to revamp the agency’s website and Facebook page to ensure that animals needing adoption can be found quickly by potential owners. The organization recently put photos and information about six animals up for adoption on its Facebook page, and they were all adopted the same day, she said.

    “I’m trying to be more efficient, and bring the SPCA into modern times,” she said. “There are a lot of opportunities out there for marketing.”

    The organization recently created new public service announcements that will be aired on local television stations, and has ordered additional new collection banks to be placed at merchants throughout Jefferson County.

     Another goal it to “clean, organize and update the shelter,” Mrs. Spezzano said.

     The shelter itself is getting a much-needed makeover, with the exterior being repainted and new signage for the front expected to arrive soon. New logo stickers have also been ordered to make the organization more identifiable, she said.

    Inside the building, additional painting and cleaning is being done, and a new large play room has been created for all the kittens at the shelter.

   “We’re trying to create a healthier, safer and better environment for the animals while they wait to be adopted,” she said. “Sometimes we have long term residents, and we’re trying to make it more comfortable and less stressful for them as well.”

    The SPCA is seeking a corporate sponsor to make an upfront donation that would allow the agency to waive adoption fees for those on limited incomes, including the elderly, she said.

 “This would help free up more cages, and we wouldn’t have to turn people away,” Mrs. Spezzano said.

   The nonprofit organization has received commitments from at least two businesses to help in modernizing the shelter.

   NYTRIC Electrical Contractors, Watertown, has agreed to donate a new generator for the facility. The local Home Depot store has committed to donating material and labor to construct an outdoor walkway leading directly from the front office to the dog wing.   

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