Family, friends and state and local leaders celebrated the ribbon cutting of the Linda L. Kelley Animal Shelter on Tuesday. Calvert County’s first shelter is set to open Nov. 1.

“We are here today to dedicate this building but not just this physical building, but the spirit of Linda Kelley that is embedded herein,” Commissioners’ President Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) said at a ceremony in her honor, on what would have been Kelley’s 76th birthday.

Kelley, a four-term commissioner, died in 2017, just eight days after the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners voted to name the county’s new animal shelter in her honor.

“Linda worked tirelessly for animals. She had a passion for them. She looked to [better] all the animals that she could,” said Calvert County Department of Public Safety Director Jackie Vaughan, who has purview over the animal shelter’s division.

Vaughan thanked Kelley for her vision and commitment to the county and noted the shelter will be a wonderful tribute to her.

Del. Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) recalled meeting Kelley for the first time in Dunkirk, while she was out rescuing feral cats late at night behind one of his stores.

“It was like an instant friendship from that day on,” Clark said, noting the pair would later serve eight years on the board of commissioners.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s) recalled his friendship with Kelley and interactions over the years. Miller has taken Kelley’s advocacy for animals to heart, as he adopted two dogs from a shelter, and has “a cat that just showed up” that his family has been taking care of for the last two years.

“Her footprint from being commissioner is all over the county, but by far this has to be the biggest,” Kelley’s husband Tom said in an interview with The Calvert Recorder.

Tom Kelley spoke during the ceremony, thanking the county commissioners, developer Rick Bailey and Marrick Properties for the shelter in his wife’s honor.

“Linda Kelley was my GeeGee,” said Trenton DePompa, 11, Kelley’s great-grandson. “I know the shelter was like a dream come true for her.”

Trenton said he hopes the shelter saves many animals’ lives, hopes to volunteer at the shelter when he is older and knows that “she is smiling down” on everyone at the celebration.

Slaughenhoupt thanked Miller, Clark, Sen. Steve Waugh (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) and Del. Michael Jackson (D–Calvert, Prince George’s) for stepping up to the plate for financial support for the shelter, by way of bonding authority to finance the shelter and other capital projects in the county.

Waugh was not at the ceremony. Nor was Del. Mark Fisher (R-Calvert), who said he supported the need for an animal shelter but felt the $6 million price tag was too much.

Slaughenhoupt recalled Bailey approaching Kelley about the possibility of a public-private partnership for the shelter, its benefit to the county and Kelley’s vision coming to fruition through the facility.

“It’s hard to believe that about two and half years ago George Stewart with Marrick Properties was reading an article in the Wawa gas station. He read that the commissioners wanted to have their own animal facility and withdraw from the Tri-County” Animal Shelter in Hughesville, Marrick Properties Project Manager Eric Bailey said.

Bailey said Stewart sent it to him and his father Rick Bailey suggesting the public-private partnership that would ultimately be presented to Kelley.

“We can work with you guys. We can expedite the design, the development — open a project I think Calvert County can be proud of,” Eric Bailey said, recalling his father’s conversation with Kelley.

“Linda made up her mind pretty much on the spot: ‘That’s what we are going to do,’” Bailey said. “… When she made her mind up, it was going to happen.”

The afternoon event drew scores of dignitaries, citizens, animal welfare organizations to include Friends of Felines, Pets with Disabilities, Patuxent Animal Welfare Society and The SPOT/Southern Maryland Spay & Neuter, as well as members from the Tri-County Animal Shelter.

Scott Travers, regional director for U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), presented a proclamation to Dowd on behalf of the senator. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) sent warm regards via representative Gretchen Hardman.

“This was a very special dedication to Linda. We talked many times about shelter animals,” said Lynda Bowman, a longtime friend of Kelley’s, who came with her Shitzu-miniature poodle blend Nina.

The day began with a demonstration of the shelter’s website and social media accounts at the commissioners’ meeting.

County webmaster Caitlin McDonald said the website, Facebook and Instagram pages will go live Oct. 29, a few days before the shelter opens its doors for business.

The celebration concluded with the ribbon cutting and tour of the 12,910-square-foot facility, with fenced-in play yards for the animals, cat condos and patios, indoor and outdoor dog meet-and-greet areas and many more amenities.

The facility also boasts a separate 1,380-square-foot barn to house livestock and a separate pavilion for local volunteer organizations to gather.

During the tour, Northern High School freshman Sommer Hill donated several bandanas to the shelter for the animals. Hill had been collecting the bandanas for several months in anticipation of the shelter’s opening.

“This is a huge, huge step toward opening and helping animals find a home and reuniting them with their owners,” said Animal Shelter Division Director Crystal Dowd, who has been overseeing the project since she was hired in 2017.

Twitter: @CalRecTAMARA

Twitter: @CalRecTAMARA