Gateway Pet Guardians rescue turn grade school into animal shelter

    By Julie Tristan

    School is officially in session but the new students look a little different! 

    “Its funny when people walk in, some people are still like man I feel like I’m back at school again or this smells like my grade school,” says Jamie Case, Executive Director of the Gateway Pet Guardians. 

    This former Miles Davis Elementary School elementary school in East St. Louis is now an animal shelter for the Gateway Pet Guardians.

    “The building was appealing to us for many reasons, one of them was every classroom can be utilized for something separately, there’s a large HVAC unit, there’s an internal courtyard that is completely surrounded by the building,” Jamie says.

    The courtyard which might have been used for recess still serves as a place to run and play, especially for the furry kids in doggy daycare. 

    “It’s really helpful to have doggy daycare because we can get the foster dogs back here for socialization and it can help socialize our shelter dogs who aren’t good with other dogs,” says Brittany Fleming, Adoption and Foster Manager.

    Brittany has quite the office always filled with dogs.  Fosters can schedule days to bring in their dogs for a day full of fun and play. Then they pick them up all tired out. Gateway says it gives them a chance to learn more about each pup when they are in the building so it helps them know what type of family would work best for their energy level and personality.

    Other classrooms have been converted into a cat room, dog room, volunteer lounge, pet spa, retail space and a clinic. Their clinic is the first and only one in the area, filling a huge void.

    “This community is a resource desert and so prior to us being here there was no pet store there was no veterinarian and really very few places to find quality dog and cat food,” Jamie says.

    45% of the population in the area lives below the poverty line and part of the Gateway Pet Guardians’ mission is to help residents take care of their pets by empowering pet owners. 

    “We have vaccine clinics. You can make an appointment anytime for general wellness…and that is open to the public, anyone and everyone, no matter where you live (you) can get those services,” Jamie explains.

    They also help by supplying free pet food in their pet food pantry. 

    “Once a month community members that apply are given pet food for dogs and cats along with litter as they need it,” Jamie says.

    That along with successful spay/neuter clinics for residents at no charge. 

    “We wanted to create a space that anybody that needed anything could come and talk to us. We are in the midst of hiring a case manager, a social worker, to help support further what people need for their pet,” Jamie says.

    As Gateway’s mission continues, there’s one person whose growth is going in another direction. Executive Director Jamie Case is leaving this year. Emily Stuart is her replacement. She’s a social worker by training and she has a masters in Social Work from Wash U. She’s been working in the non-profit sector for 15 years primarily in social human services but animal rescue has always been her passion.

    “I am really interested in bringing a racial equity lens to the work that we do and moving Gateway to the forefront of that work in the animal welfare sector,” Emily says. 

    2021 is a new era at the Gateway Pet Guardians.  At this former school this rescue is all about learning and helping. Moving forward with a new energy and dedicated fosters, adopters and volunteers.