By Jim Hagerty
DOWNTOWN — Although Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary has been at the same location for 39 years, a lot has changed since the days of housing stray dogs and cats in makeshift cages made out of chicken-wire.
“A couple of us started in our homes,” co-founder Jan Stewart said. “And people wouldn’t believe this building when we first started.”
In 1978, the shelter had nothing more than a few hundred square feet of storefront at 111 N. 1st St. The rest of the structure was occupied by a plating company. And while the two organizations coexisted amicably the shelter wasn’t exactly a welcomed addition to the block. Pressure from a nearby banking official nearly forced a move. A local restaurateur complained about the odor, and whether the shelter was obeying the law was questioned more than once.
“We didn’t have a permit to house animals,” Stewart said. “But we had gotten such a hold here, we worked with the city and here we are.”
More than 20,000 animals have come through the shelter since then. The facility also operates a foster network for kittens and puppies. It is manned 24-hours per day and its Playful Paws program, Noah’s Store and Noah’s Ark Animal Hospital complement it as Rockford’s only no-kill shelter. There’s also the trap-neuter-release program for feral cats, pit bull program that spays female pit bulls for $10.
Stephanie Lauer runs the day-to-day operations and spearheaded recent renovations of the storied shelter that were celebrated Saturday, Aug. 5. Noah’s Ark now has new flooring, dog wash, isolation area, cages and other additions.
“This is the grand-reopening to celebrate what’s been happening since February,” Lauer said. “It’s a way to let the community see what we’ve been doing with their dollars.”
The shelter has had more one opportunity to relocate over the years. Bigger buildings—even spacious country property has been proposed. But, the more downtown grows, the more Noah’s Ark maintains itself as a permanent fixture of the transformed urban core.
“Being downtown for 39 years, we want to be part of what’s going on in Rockford,” she said. “We are proud of the way downtown is coming alive again. So, we transformed the ‘Ark, as the neighborhood is transforming.”
Noah’s Ark works closely with other area organizations, including Winnebago County Animal Services, which does euthanize animals because of space constraints. Before euthanizing adoptable animals, county officials turn to Lauer and staff.
“Every animal that comes through here is adopted,” she said.
A second phase of Noah’s Ark is on the horizon, although details have not been released. R.