We talked with Second Chance Animal Services' founder Sheryl Blancato about how far Second Chance has come since she founded the East Brookfield, Massachusetts-based organization in 1999.
Second Chance relied on foster caretakers until 2002, when land was donated and they were able to build a facility. Most of their animals came from small municipalities where Blancato, an animal control officer, managed animals through intake appointments. Blancato has since retired from that role but remains CEO of Second Chance.
“We built gradually, whenever we had enough money to add on,” she says. "And we've done 2 renovations over the past 20 years."
Turning to Transport
When space at Second Chance was limited, Blancato pivoted and started a local transport program called Feline Express. This program moved owner surrendered and animal-control sourced cats directly to other shelters where space was available. Second Chance also spayed and neutered these cats so the other shelters could move them right to their adoption floor.
Within a few years, local intake numbers began to drop, as did the numbers of animals requiring care in the shelter. Blancato realized that they had the ability—and the space—to take in animals from other communities.
“There were virtually no strays,” Blancato says. “So instead of transporting pets out via the Feline Express program, in 2007, we transported pets out of other shelters. We wanted to help shelters with fewer resources that could benefit from transport.
”Second Chance accepted animals through the PetSmart Charities Rescue Waggin’ program (which ended in 2016), from a shelter in Tennessee that was operated by Karen Walsh, who now serves as the ASPCA’s Senior Director of Animal Relocation. In 2018, Second Chance became a destination shelter for ASPCA transports. Today, they are one of the ASPCA Animal Relocation Program's leading destination facilities.
“When we started working with the ASPCA, our transport intakes greatly increased due to community demand for adoptable pets," Blancato says. "The timing was perfect, and today, we’re able to help more animals. We receive transports by ground or air each week."
Many of these ground transports are made possible thanks to the generous support of Nancy K. Silverman, an ASPCA donor who has provided funding for 8 Nancy Silverman Rescue Ride vehicles that have helped 95,000 homeless animals nationwide move from obstacle to opportunity.
“When we started working with the ASPCA, our transport intakes greatly increased due to community demand for adoptable pets. The timing was perfect, and today, we’re able to help more animals.”
“We appreciated the opportunity to highlight our lifesaving work,” says Blancato, who notes that 2 full-time staff are dedicated to Second Chance’s transport efforts, working shifts of 7-days-on and 5-days-off.
Second Chance also has an adoptions staff of 2 full-time, 6 part-time, and a large volunteer group.
“We stretch our donor dollars to keep overhead low so we can focus our funding on support for the animals,” she says.
A Productive Partnership
Animals cared for by Second Chance are sourced locally—through owner surrenders, local animal control, or victims of natural disasters or emergencies. But 1,200 of the 1,500 animals they take in annually are transports. The overwhelming majority of those relocated animals come from ASPCA transports.
“The ASPCA bridges the gap between shelters that have pets and those that can place them," says Blancato. “We’re always confident that those animals are properly vetted. And it’s motivating to work with Karen who has so much passion for our shared mission.”
One such source shelter—the Mobile SPCA (MSPCA) in Mobile, Alabama—is supported by the ASPCA Animal Relocation Program which transports their animals each week.
The Mobile SPCA acts as an Alabama hub by providing animal intake assistance and ensuring their less-resourced shelters and rescue partners throughout southern Alabama can meet nationally accepted medical requirements for shelters and transports.
These animals are flown to Massachusetts and then driven to Second Chance’s 1,000-sq.-ft. transport facility appropriately named “Almost Home” in North Brookfield. Incoming animals are also quarantined for 48 hours, a Massachusetts requirement. They then are made available for adoption through Second Chance’s adoption centers and mobile units.
Blancato says her staff is enthusiastic about accepting transports.
“It’s a great balance for them because a lot of our local cases are medically and behaviorally challenging,” she says. “It’s uplifting to know our reach goes so far beyond our community.”
Blancato and her team also enjoy relaying stories to source shelters about animals they’ve placed.
“We once took in a pair of three-legged cats,” she says. “The source shelter was shocked that these tripods were adopted within 24 hours of being made available for adoption.
“We hear stories about shelters elsewhere being overcapacity,” she adds. “Years ago, these animals were being euthanized simply because there were so many. We are glad to be part of the solution.”
Expanding to Veterinary Care and Beyond
The team at Second Chance continues to operate its adoption center from its original facility, but now also serves more than 40,000 pets a year through 4 “access to care” full-service community veterinary hospitals in central and western Massachusetts.
“Pets need more than just a safe haven,” Blancato says. “They need vaccines. They need spay/neuter surgery. They need medical care. And it’s so important to us to keep pets and their families together, whenever possible.
The hospitals provide high-quality veterinary care and offer subsidized rates for pet owners from financially challenged communities.
Second Chance also offers community and educational outreach programs, training, a pet food pantry, free adoptions to veterans, dog parks, and an innovative "Project Good Dog" prison program, which pairs behaviorally challenged pets with correctional facility residents who teach the dogs basic skills that help make them adoptable.
“What the team at Second Chance does is amazing,” says Walsh. “They continue to innovate; Sheryl is a force to be reckoned with.”
Blancato admits she’s always had a soft spot for pets, and 2 of her 4 dogs are from transports.
Blancato and her team were excited to be the destination shelter for the ASPCA's milestone 200,000th transport pet.
“We always have our ear to the ground on what pets need, not just in our community but across the country," says Blancato. “People credit me with starting Second Chance. But it’s truly about bringing together passionate people to create a strong driving force for change.”