Stephanie Henke, Project Coordinator, Nantucket MSPCA
August 1, 2010

1. What issues do you face that might be unique to sheltering on an island?Living on a remote island, in my case, has meant running a kind of “fantasy shelter.” I don’t see the numbers of animals being surrendered or harmed that most shelters in big areas do. We don’t have 60 animals in need walk through the door each day, for example. That’s a good thing.


On the other hand is the transportation issue. Someone might be interested in an animal we have advertised on, but when they learn we are 30 miles out to sea and they must take a boat or plane to come see the animal, they decide they can’t make the trip (but not ALL off-islanders opt out—25 percent of our adoptions go to homes OFF island.)

2. What is your role at the MSPCA--Nantucket?

I “run” the adoption center. We have a staff of two people (including myself), so Marcia and I each wear many, many hats. We clean litter boxes, walk dogs, take in homeless animals, socialize kittens, advertise our pets in the papers and on, work with volunteers, adopt animals to good homes, hold fundraisers, educate people about responsible pet ownership, talk to the press, do routine medical care on our animals (vaccines, wormers, tests, etc.), and help trap and release and feed the feral cats. You name it, we do it!

3. Have you always worked with animals?

In an official capacity, I’ve been working with animals for 6.5 years, since I started with the MSPCA. Unofficially, I’ve been finding homes for stray and needy cats and kittens since my college years.
4. Can you tell us a little bit about your facilities?

Our facility includes an adoption center, which is where the temporarily homeless animals are cared for; a boarding facility, for people who need to go away and have their pet cared for; an animal hospital; and a wildlife room, where wildlife can be cared for until released or until transferred to a rehabilitation center off island.

5. How is the feral cat situation on Nantucket?

Getting better. In  1995, a group of citizens founded the Nantucket Cat Rescue program (NCR) to deal with the ferals on the island. Using the Trap Neuter-Return protocol, they trapped almost 1,000 feral cats in less than 10 years! In 2004, we took over the program. Ferals are spayed or neutered, rabies vaccinated, and ear-notched (in order to later identify it as a cat that has already been spayed/neutered), then released to the area they were trapped. Feral kittens (typically under 12 weeks old) will be placed in foster homes to be socialized. Once socialized, they are put up for adoption. Our numbers:

















6. Why do most animals end up at your adoption center?

We have a huge summer population and a smaller year round population—this leads to a fluctuating housing situation: people sometimes do the “Nantucket Shuffle,” which means they move to one place for the winter, and a smaller, less expensive place in the summer. This shuffle isn’t great for pets, and sometimes unfortunately, they must be given up when the owners can no longer find housing that will take pets. As the economy has worsened, it’s actually worked out BETTER for the pets on Nantucket, as many landlords were desperate for tenants and willing to negotiate pets. But by far, and in general, “moving, landlord won’t take pet” is the number one reason for surrenders. “Too many animals,” and “house-soiling” (for cats) are other biggies.

7. Do you see a change at the shelter from the winter months to the summer tourist season?

OH YES! Our busiest months are July through December as far as how many animals we have in the adoption center. However, as far as how many visitors we have (people wanting to volunteer, adopt, or view the animals), probably triples in July and August. Unfortunately, the time we have the most animals to care for is also the time we have the most people wanting to visit the facility, which sometimes results in people being turned away. We do try to make as many appointments as we can, so that even if they weren’t able to visit us immediately, they can come back when we can give them the attention they deserve.

8. What kind of animals do you regularly encounter?

Cats and dogs. Hands down. That does not mean we haven’t had everything from roosters, pheasants and ducks, iguanas, turtles, and snakes, to ferrets, bunnies, and chinchillas, because we have. But the majority of our incoming animals are cats, and then dogs.

We often send our reptiles to a rescue group on the mainland, and our water fowl usually head up to the Methuen MSPCA, where they have the proper facilities to care for them.


On the flip side, we often have room for one or two more cats, and have taken them from the Cape MSPCA as well as the Methuen MSPCA. We do this for dogs as well. While the import of dogs from other states has stopped for us, due to new state laws, we are still able to help out the other MSPCAs when they get overcrowded with dogs. Last year we took three pit bulls from the Methuen MSPCA, and they all (eventually) found the best homes (ironically, all off island. . .).

9. How many people work at the MSPCA-Nantucket?

In the Adoption Center we have two paid staff. We have as many as 150 volunteers, but only about 20 or so that come regularly. . . once a week or month or so. We have one volunteer that comes every day! And another who basically runs our feral cat program for us. Some volunteers just work with us on special events, and others come in to walk dogs or play with the cats. We also have several people that can be relied on as foster homes for our feral kittens—they get them when they are young, socialize them, and hand them back over when they are ready to be adopted out—a hard job!!

The boarding facility employs 5 animal care givers. The hospital currently has: three doctors (one seasonal), three receptionists, a practice manager, and three techs/assistant techs. We also have a business manager and a maintenance person (part-time).

10. What is your favorite part of working at the MSPCA?

Just one thing?? If I had to pick one, I’d say it’s when a long-term dog finds the perfect home. Watching Tobey, our recent 6-month resident Beagle, get on the ferry to his new home in Northern Mass, brought tears of joy to my eyes, no lie!

But kitten season is another. Though it’s a lot of work and coordination, who else gets to take a break by lying on the floor of the kitten room and having them crawl all over you—instant mood lift!      

Oh, and then there is the diversity of experiences. I’ve found myself out on one of our many wharves, talking to a man on a huge tanker who only spoke Russian, trying to help him rescue a rare sea bird; I’ve had the fun of filling up a bath tub in the wildlife room and putting a duck in it to swim and wash up; I’ve watched a chinchilla take a sand bath; I’ve gotten to provide hospice care in my home for some of our terminally ill animals; I’ve felt the thrill of finding a tiny kitten—or a huge adult cat—in one of our Nantucket Cat Rescue traps; I’ve come into work to find four tiny perfect baby guinea pigs born to a mom overnight!

11. Do you have any advice for young people interested in perusing careers with animals?

 If you love it, do it. When I was younger, I had the belief that I could never work with animals because obviously EVERYONE wanted to : > ), and how would I ever land such a plum job? I learned that NOT everyone wants to actually work with animals, so there are plenty of opportunities to do so! Start volunteering for a rescue group, do an internship at a veterinarian’s office, or just google “working with animals.” There are so many ways to work directly (and indirectly) for and with animals, there’s just about something for everyone who has that desire.


12. Do you have any pets at home?

Seriously? Is this really one of the questions? Yes: I have three dogs and two cats. If I did not have a lease that capped it, I’d probably have many more (so I am actually grateful for my lease). All five animals have been adopted from the Nantucket MSPCA Animal Care and Adoption Center!