By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group East Bay
The Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society has reopened its Ninth Street building that was heavily damaged in a fire last year, but it still has a long way to go before it can resume full operations, the executive director said.
The society held an open house Friday to get the word out that it is placing cats and dogs with new owners on weekends, providing medical services to animals from the city of Berkeley animal shelter and offering spay and neuter services to low-income individuals.
But it may be two more years before the nonprofit can rebuild completely and offer shelter and adoption services at the level it did before May 20. That's when a fire killed 12 cats and destroyed one of three buildings it owned at the corner of Ninth and Carleton streets.
Since then, the society has moved its administrative headquarters to a building a few blocks away and was doing adoptions out of the parking lot there.
Executive Director Stacey Street said rebuilding is estimated at $4 million. The society recently sold one of its buildings at Eighth and Carleton streets for about $1 million and has raised $600,000 in donations since the fire, but it needs much more. Money will be coming from a fire insurance policy, she said, but details have yet to be worked out with the insurance company.
"Our hope is that we can be back here in 2013," said Street, who took over as head of the society just a few months before the fire. "We'd love to be able to bring in more animals, offer more medical services and have better areas for people to interact for adoptions. But our first priority is to get back to saving animals and that's what we are doing now."
She said the society is taking in cats and placing them in homes, but only on weekends. During the week the cats live in foster homes. It's the same situation with a limited number of dogs.
Street said that while the fire was a tragedy, it has forced the organization to look at itself with a critical eye and "strengthen what we do -- from programs to fundraising to business planning, so we can have a long-term sustainable program."
Street said she is not sure if the rebuilding plan will include simply gutting the inside of its two adjacent buildings and rebuilding, or tearing both of them down and building from the ground up.
Street said since the day after the fire, the staff has been overjoyed with the amount of financial and in-kind support from animal lovers in the Bay Area.
"People have come out of the woodwork to help, from offers of painting, to construction labor to school kids holding bake sales and donating the profits," Street said.
"Animals touch everyone, and this outpouring has reinforced with us that what we do is important."