Though Judy McKonly passed away two years ago at age 78, her compassion for animals lives on.
McKonly, who co-founded Columbia-based Kleen-Rite Corp. in 1959 with her late husband Harold, didn’t leave that to chance.
She made sure it would.
Inspired to give Columbia its first animal shelter in decades, and to help the borough get a grip on its vexing feral-cat problem, McKonly embraced the challenge.
She visited other shelters for ideas and took part in the early conversations about establishing one here, before her declining health forced her to lessen her involvement.
McKonly also created a foundation to support animal welfare and directed it to provide more than $1.5 million toward the construction and launch of the new shelter here.
Her goal was fulfilled on March 25 with the opening of the Columbia Animal Shelter, developed on the footprint of the former Vigilant fire station at 265 S. 10th St. The shelter cost more than $2 million to develop.
“This was her dream,” said her son Mike McKonly, who is chairman of the shelter board and president of Kleen-Rite, which sells supplies and equipment to car washes nationwide.
Her nephew Keith Lutz, vice chairman of the shelter board and vice president of Kleen-Rite, put it this way: “We’re the stewards of her vision. We’re here to carry it out for her. I think it came out pretty good.”
“She would have been pleased,” added Mike McKonly.
The public can see for itself on Saturday, June 1, from noon to 2 p.m., when the shelter will host a grand opening and open house, or during the shelter’s regular hours Tuesday through Sunday.
Mike McKonly called the new shelter state-of-the-art, reflecting best practices the leaders observed as they toured other facilities as well as input from Executive Director Tammy Loughlin.
Loughlin had managed a Rhode Island shelter for eight years before being hired to help design, launch and lead the Columbia facility, “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Shelter services include cat and dog adoptions, surrenders (only from Columbia Borough residents), spay/neuter clinics, veterinary care, seminars and youth programs.
“We are a no-kill shelter, as long as they are healthy and adoptable animals. We will do our best to place them. If we can not place them here, we will place them in other rescues or organizations that can help us, until we can get them adopted,” said Loughlin.
The new shelter reflects the McKonly family’s commitment to the community, expressed through years of effort and millions of dollars of philanthropy.
“We’re Columbia people,” said Mike McKonly, whose wife Patty also volunteers at the shelter. “This is a way to give back to our town.”
Borough Manager Rebecca Denlinger thanked the McKonly family for its generosity and community spirit.
“It’s great to have families like that in Columbia,” she said.
Mike McKonly and Lutz bought the 4.1-acre property for $409,900, courthouse records show.
Next, the Harold & Judy McKonly Family Foundation funded the nearly total demolition of the fire hall and its reconstruction as a shelter.
The building was stripped to its steel beams, which served as the “bones” for the 8,000-square-foot shelter. The inviting space has large windows, indoor/outdoor play areas for cats and dogs, two surgery rooms, clinic space and a community room.
“It doesn’t look like a fire hall anymore,” said Loughlin.
Going forward, though, the nonprofit shelter will need financial and volunteer support to keep the doors open, its leaders say.
And so far, so good. The initial fundraiser Saturday, a car show, was well attended and volunteer support has emerged in abundance.
More than 60 people have signed up to volunteer at the shelter, which on Friday had an animal population of about 40 cats and two dogs.
Though the shelter has two full-time and four part-time employees, Loughlin said, “You can’t run something like this without volunteer support.”
One objective of the shelter is to make a dent in Columbia’s feral-cat issue, which Loughlin called “huge.” More than 1,000 cats are roaming in the borough, she said, with multiple colonies.
“I tell everybody, just because we opened our doors doesn’t mean we’ve solved the problem,” said Loughlin.
Community education and spay/neuter clinics will be key tools in the effort to shrink the colonies, she indicated.