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Construction moves forward on new animal shelter

Dawn Olson, a member of the Humane Society building committee, talks about the construction and the society's plans and hopes for the future during a tour of the new shelter which is now under construction. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Construction on a new animal shelter for the Humane Society of Kandiyohi County started in earnest less than two months ago, but already Dawn Olson can point to where the kitten room will be, where the dogs will be bathed and where all the pet food will be stored.

The building's roof is on. The windows have been installed.

Inside, the walls are going up and subcontractors were busy last week with the electrical work and the air handling system.

"Now I can see it and I can feel how big the rooms are going to be," said Olson, a member of the Humane Society building committee and the board of directors.

If construction continues to stay on schedule, the Humane Society will be able to move into its new $500,000 home in mid- to late October, Olson said.

The new shelter, on 28th Street Southwest in Willmar's Industrial Park, will house Kandiyohi County's homeless dogs and cats until they can be claimed or adopted. Paperwork is in the final stages for neighboring Meeker County to use the animal shelter as well.

It has been a long-awaited project. The Humane Society's home for the past five years has been in a converted snowplow garage owned by Kandiyohi County. It's crowded, for staff as well as for the animals, and there's little room to accommodate the increasing number of unwanted pets who come through the shelter's doors each year.

The new shelter will contain 5,600 square feet, Olson said. "We're more than doubling the floor space. ... We built for the future because this hopefully will be our home for many years to come."

Humane Society staff and volunteers are especially excited about some of the best practices being incorporated to help minimize disease and stress, increase the animal adoption rate and foster a user-friendly environment for staff and for the public.

"We visited a lot of different shelters. We got a lot of input from veterinarians," Olson said.

No more chain-link kennels for the dogs. Instead there will be custom-built block kennels to reduce the spread of germs and parasites and reduce doggie stress levels by allowing more privacy, Olson said.

The cats will have their own space: an isolation area for cats newly arrived at the shelter, a transition room, and a kitten room and adult cat colony for cats who have settled in.

It should help reduce environmental stress levels, Olson said. "One thing we did hear a lot was to try not to introduce as many new cats at one time."

In the unfamiliar and sometimes crowded environment of a shelter, animals can become stressed, vulnerable to disease and at risk of becoming a poor candidate for adoption. The goal is to minimize these risks and increase the turnover of homeless animals, Olson said.

"Our job is to keep them healthy and to keep them happy and to keep them here for as short a time as possible," she said.

The shelter will have its own veterinary space for basic exams, drawing blood and giving vaccinations.

The humans who staff and visit the shelter will have amenities too. The new office is "five or six times the room we have now," Olson said. "It'll allow for three full work stations. The staff is very, very excited."

For the public, there's a lobby with room for sitting down and filling out adoption applications, and space set aside for potential adopters and animals to get acquainted.

Behind the scenes there will also be ample storage for pet food and supplies --"something we don't have at all in our current shelter," Olson said -- and a commercial-grade washer and dryer.

Construction of the shelter is being funded by a $250,000 reserve-fund allocation from Kandiyohi County and a $10,000 contribution from the city of Willmar for each of the next five years. The city also donated the two-acre site.

There are additional capital needs for which the Humane Society is raising another $500,000.

"It's one thing to put up the building. It's another thing to have all the kennels and all the cages and to have furniture and do some rudimentary landscaping," said Steve Gardner, a Humane Society board member and member of the capital campaign committee.

There's an immediate goal of raising $80,000 to $100,000 "between now and by the time we have our grand opening," Gardner said. "Those efforts continue. We've been impressed with the generosity of folks. They've given generously. One major gift would really be a great help right now."

"There are going to be so many people to thank when this project is done," Olson said. "We'll never be able to catch them all but they know who they are."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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