CONCORD, N.H. — Lyman Pope loves dogs. All dogs. And cats. And, maybe most of all, animal shelters that care for those pets. Pope is 85, retired from the real estate business where he made a lot of money. Now he’s spreading hundreds of thousands of dollars for construction, improvements and other expenses on animal shelters bearing his name in Maine, Vermont and, soon, New Hampshire.
The newest, a 7,700-square-foot SPCA shelter on Concord’s south end, is under construction, and Pope – and his 100-pound German shepherd Max – stopped by on Wednesday to check on progress. He donated $525,000 toward construction of the shelter, nearly pushing the SPCA over the top of its $2 million goal. The gift also includes an additional $500,000 that the SPCA will receive after his death.
Other recipients of Pope’s generosity are the Pope Memorial Humane Society of Knox County, Maine, and the Pope Memorial Frontier Animal Shelter in Orleans, Vt. The Knox County group announced last week that Pope would match all capital campaign donations received by the end of the year, up to $100,000. If the full amount is raised, it’ll put $1 million in the bank toward the shelter’s goal of $2.2 million to build a new facility.
“Lyman has been wonderful,” said Betsy Hampton, a board member at the Frontier shelter in Vermont. “He is really the one and only person that has been with our shelter since the very beginning.”
Dogs – specifically German shepherds – were always a part of his life, but Pope came late to philanthropy. He grew up in Haverhill, Mass., an industrial town on the Connecticut River. And at 45, with just $17,000 on hand, his mother loaned him $22,000, and he bought a manufactured home park in Somersworth. One of his two sons still owns the park.
“I made my money in real estate, and I’ve been spending it as fast as I could ever since,” he said.
Pope, who owns a home in Jackson, N.H., and rents another in Ogunquit, Maine, started visiting shelters around 1999 and was dismayed at the number of abandoned or abused animals he saw. And when an earlier German shepherd – also named Max – died from Lyme disease a few years later, Pope began to use his wealth to help out. For the past six years, his new Max has been a constant traveling companion on his visits.
“If you care about dogs, you know once they arrive at an animal shelter, they’re in some trouble,” he said. “The shelters are always in trouble. They never have enough money. It doesn’t take long to become empathetic, very sympathetic, because it’s a difficult thing for the people who manage them and for the animals who are in there.”
Pope has noticed a spike in rescue animals that are brought by volunteers to New England, where the shelters have a high rate of adoption. These transport drives serve two purposes, Pope said. People connect to the plight of the relocated puppies and kittens then get exposed to the older pets already at the shelter, leading to more adoptions.
“It’s good business, he said. “If they get 25 puppies in Kennebunk, people line up on the sidewalk. Then they look at these other local dogs.”
Tracy Sala is the executive director of the Humane Society shelter in Maine and said Pope offers much more than just financial support.
“He has been to all these shelters, and he knows what works and what doesn’t work,” she said. “He tells you what you’re doing well and where you can improve, so he has raised the bar. He’s been walking the walk for so long, and you’d be foolish not to listen to him.”