The Snake River Animal Shelter (SRAS) was founded by Sylvia Medina, an entrepreneur and animal advocate who has personally fostered over 300 animals. When Sylvia moved to Idaho Falls directly from college, she began volunteering at the local Humane Society. During this time, she found that the euthanasia rates of the area’s municipal shelters were staggering. “It triggered a spark in me that something needed to be done,” Medina said. “I found that our town was euthanizing approximately 10,000 animals annually.” She was very upset and decided to start working on what could be done so that homeless animals in the area would not just become another statistic. She worked for several years out of an old mall trying to help the Bonneville Humane Society adopt animals out on the weekends. During the week, the animals would go to local homes as the Humane Society did not have the capacity to house all the animals that needed to be adopted. It was during this time that she realized that someone needed to build an animal shelter where animals could live until someone adopted them to their forever home. Medina commented that “little did I know that that person would be me.”
The SRAS story that many people do not know revolves around two unsung heroes who would help the shelter come to be…Mayor of Idaho Falls Jared Fuhriman and Idaho Falls City Councilmember and former Executive Director of United Way, Karen Cornwell. Karen worked with Sylvia to convince the City of Idaho Falls that a no-kill animal shelter was needed in the city and a long-term lease agreement was executed on land along the Snake River.
With no experience in leading a fundraising campaign, Sylvia, with the support of dedicated board members, employees, volunteers, a bank, local businesses, engineers, architects, and donors, was able to raise $2.5 million which included in-kind donations. This campaign took seven years as the shelter committee had to educate the public that a shelter was needed, which was a larger task than expected.
On August 10, 2015, the 7,300-square-foot shelter opened at its location at 3000 Lindsay Blvd in Idaho Falls, positioned beautifully along the banks of the Snake River. “The board members, companies, and people who raised the money were animal lovers and wanted to make a difference in the lives of homeless animals,” Medina said. “One of the most significant donors was Bill Maeck, who made a huge difference in helping SRAS to the finish line,” said Medina. The William J. and Shirley A. Maeck Family Foundation donated $710,000 towards building the shelter. Bill Maeck passed away in February 2018 and was dedicated to supporting Sylvia’s vision of a non-kill animal shelter to save the lives of unwanted animals.
Other significant contributors included Zions Bank, Kennedy Architects, North Wind (owned at the time by Sylvia), the CHC Foundation, and Tiffany Redden.
The building has separate quarters for cats, small dogs, and large dogs. Under Sylvia’s leadership, the facility was also improved to include a working veterinary clinic to complete medical care for the shelter’s animals, including their spay and neuter surgeries and vaccinations.
Snake River Animal Shelter’s first executive director was Mary Sturgill and then Erin Kennedy whom both worked to educate the community on the importance of the area needing a shelter of its kind. Cami Smith Cotton was then hired for her successful fundraising experience and community endorsement to run the successful campaign of bringing the funds needed for the shelter, working with the construction of the shelter, and bringing the shelter to operations.
Early board members and supporters:
Deb Coleman (HSUV)
Edstrom Construction, Inc.
William J. and Shirley A. Maeck Foundation
Connie Morishita (BHS)
Sylvia’s accomplishments outside the Snake River Animal Shelter include founding the environmental engineering company North Wind, Inc, in 1997 which she later sold. With her love of animals, she is now writing environmental children’s stories through her company Green Kids Club. The stories promote environmental conservation, especially in helping the plight of animals from extinction.
Bill Maeck is also considered a Founder due to his huge contributions in making this facility happen!