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The Nancy J. Brua Animal Care Center was surprised by a large donation of $1.2 million.

SIERRA VISTA — A $1.2 million gift left to the Nancy J. Brua Animal Care Center has helped jumpstart an expansion plan at the facility that was put on hold for lack of funding.

Last month shelter officials learned that Sierra Vista resident Sue Hirsheimer, who passed away in February, left $1.2 million to the center. Hirsheimer, a 20-year resident of the city, was 75 when she died, said her friend, Fred Seage.

Her donation was a surprise to shelter officials who said they were not familiar with Hirsheimer.

“She was not a volunteer here,” said animal control supervisor Arleen Garcia on Wednesday. “The only thing we know is that she had a Jack Russell terrier that was licensed with us.

“We are definitely grateful for her donation.”

Seage, who met Hirsheimer about five years ago and became her companion, said he knew Hirsheimer had donated money to the shelter, but he had no idea it was that much. Seage said he was aware that Hirsheimer loved animals and at one time owned seven horses.

“She had to give up her horses because of her illness,” Seage said. “She once told me she preferred horses over people.”

Seage said he and Hirsheimer were at her attorney’s office discussing what she would do with her money and Seage suggested that she leave some of it to the animal shelter.

“I told her, ‘I’m sure they could use it,’ “ Seage said. “And she did.”

He was somewhat taken aback on Wednesday, though, when he learned the bequeathal was for $1.2 million.

“I thought it was $200,000,” he said.

Garcia said the money would be put to good use.

“We were in the planning stages of an expansion and it was put on hold because of our budget,” Garcia said. “With this donation we can do that now.”

The expansion plan includes adding 14 kennels to the shelter’s indoor-outdoor area where the public views dogs for adoption. Another four kennels are planned for the isolation area where dogs are kept when they’re sick.

An expansion is also in the cards for the shelter’s feline population, Garcia said: “We’re adding another room where people can view the kitties.”

Other areas of the facility will receive some upgrades and improvements. That will include an overhang that would provide shade in the indoor-outdoor kennel section, Garcia said.

Donations such as Hirsheimer’s have been the lifeblood of the Nancy J. Brua Animal Care Center, Garcia said.

The animal care center was made possible partly through a $1 million bequest from the estate of Nancy J. Brua, a former Army nurse who was stationed at Fort Huachuca early in her career. Brua donated the money several years ago, prompting the facility to expand into a full-service facility that is just largerthan 12,000 square feet.

Another large gift — $286,000 — was donated to the center about two years ago by the estate of Georgette Sperry Huna, Garcia said. That donation enabled the construction of the facility’s medical suite.

“When we get a donation, it’s incredibly impactful because we can provide and grow,” Garcia said. “Anytime someone wants to make a decision like that and they want to make sure it (the donation) doesn’t go to waste, I want to let them know that this all goes to helping the lives of these animals.”

Anyone interested in making a donation of money or supplies such as food, blankets, toys, etc. can call 520-458-4151.