TLC for the SPCA

Foster pups Vinny and Valentine. Photo: SPCA Facebook.

Animal Shelter Hit Hard by Storm, Recovering With Community Kindness

By Duffy Perkins

On the evening of August 4, a violent storm hit the Annapolis area. Temperatures in the 90s combined with elevated humidity to produce high winds and rain, pulling down trees and electrical wires around the county. 

On Bay Ridge Avenue, where the Anne Arundel Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) complex is located, the storm did significant damage to the organization’s main intake building. The wind pulled the roof from the building. Nearly 50 animals were in the building when the parts of the ceiling began to collapse and water found its way inside. 

Christopher Jimenez, the facilities operations manager, received a call just before dawn from the building’s groundskeeper.  “It was a very upsetting phone call,” he says. “At the time, we didn’t know if any of the animals were injured or harmed. It was just, ‘Get down here as soon as you can.’”

When Jimenez arrived on the scene, the destruction was heartbreaking. The roof had been lifted off the building in several areas, and the excessive rain had collapsed it in other spots. Insulation was saturated with water, ceiling tiles were collapsing, and the building itself was flooded. 

The roof of the SPCA intake building was torn off during the storm. Photo: Chris Jimenez.

“There was a win for us,” he says. “None of the animals had been injured. They experienced trauma from feeling the roof come off, having water coming in, and being completely exposed. But none were physically harmed.”

Immediately, rescue efforts went into effect. The intake building was used to primarily house animals being transferred from other shelters, and those that had been surrendered by their owners. Roughly 20 dogs and two dozen cats were in the intake building waiting on a clean bill of health before they could move into the shelter’s main animal rooms. Because of this status, they couldn’t be moved into the same spaces as the rest of the shelter’s animals.

Organizing the animals “was like playing chess in the main building,” Jimenez says..“But by late morning, everyone was out. We put the animals in temporary crates because we just didn’t have enough runs. We put the crates anywhere safe. We even had crates in the bathrooms. And as soon as we knew the animals were safe, we started salvaging as much as we could.”

The salvage effort was disheartening. The intake building was full of medical supplies used to monitor the animals upon arrival at the facility. Everything had to be inventoried and saved if possible: electronic equipment, scales, and even refrigerators full of important vaccines had to be assessed. 

“We kept running through the positive side of it, that no animals were injured,” Jimenez says. “But we can’t effectively do what we do without that building.” 

In the last eight months, the Anne Arundel SPCA has brought in over 1,000 animals, as either owner-surrenders or transfers from other shelters. The county’s SPCA is recognized as one of the best no-kill shelters in the Mid-Atlantic region, and the destruction of the intake building interrupts the shelter’s rescue efforts for animals outside our immediate area. 

Two of those animals were Vinny and Valentine, American pit bull mixes who had been transferred from a kill shelter. The pups were only two and a half months old when they arrived at the Annapolis shelter and were scheduled to be spayed and neutered on Friday. With the intake building out of commission, the pups would have nowhere to recuperate from their surgeries.

“When I saw the shelter’s number come up on my phone, I knew exactly what it was about,” says volunteer Jennifer Swierk, who has been fostering dogs with her wife, Liz Dale, for 7 years. Together, they have fostered countless litters of puppies, and were the first choice for a temporary home for Vinny and Valentine. 

“I was already aware of the situation with the building, and had planned to come to the shelter to walk some of the dogs,” says Swierk. “We were not expecting to get them at all, but when I heard what had happened in the kennel, I knew they’d reach out to us about an emergency foster.”

One of the strongest advantages to the Annapolis shelter is its extensive and enthusiastic volunteer network. Volunteers had been communicating with each other since dawn, and before being asked they began to arrive at the shelter to care for the animals and help clear out the damaged building.  

Swierk was among the Friday morning crowd. Knowing that the animals were all seeking some level of normalcy, she and others started to cater to the dogs’ needs. One dog needed exercise, so Swierk ran a half mile with it. Another always calmed down on a ride in a moving car, so she loaded the dog in her car and went for a 30-minute drive. Volunteers showed up with toys, treats, and food, ready to shower the animals with love and attention. 

“The shelter volunteers are like public school teachers,” Swierk says. “We’re always bringing in things for the animals to play with, and rallying to get what’s needed done.” 

Vinny and Valentine left the shelter that day in the back of Swierk’s car. They were groggy from their recent surgeries and wary from the storm the night before, but Swierk and Dale were able to successfully introduce them to their other dogs at home. 

“The dogs that come to us have been through a lot in their lives,” she says. “Most often they’re homeless, or they would have been euthanized, which is the case with most pregnant pit bulls. But dogs are really resilient.”

Vinny and Valentine are, in Swierk’s words, “total puppies, but with a top 10 level of adorable-ness.” They’re laid back and social, listening when they’re corrected by Swierk and Dale, but also observing the rest of the pack and waiting for any opportunity to cuddle. Their playful, loving natures reflect none of the significant hardships they’ve experienced in their short lives.  

Swierk is not concerned about how long the dogs may be with her because she knows how much attention the pups have already gotten online. “This shelter does an amazing job of getting eyes on the animals,” she says. “That’s one reason why so many other shelters depend on Annapolis: dogs and cats here get more exposure than in other shelters, which makes it more likely that they’ll get adopted out faster.” 

With the intake building out of commission indefinitely, this process could stall. “The building is not safe for humans or animals right now,” says Jimenez. “We’re still waiting for a timeline for construction and repairs. It’s going to be a while.” 

In the meantime, the animals are safe and sound. “Animals are resilient,” Jimenez says. “They aren’t trembling from fear. They’re adjusting to their new environments, either in the shelter or in foster homes. Our volunteers have responded in amazing ways, and these animals get so much love. They’re definitely cramped, but there’s no animal that’s forgotten or left alone.” 

The SPCA has between 400 and 500 volunteers already, but they’re always looking for more—and they are in urgent need of fosters. If you want to help, the shelter needs both funds and volunteers. Donations can be made at and both foster and volunteer applications are located there as well.