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Finally, humane society comes home

Dawn Olson, left, and Kelly Schwarzrock, of the Humane Society of Kandiyohi County, carry a dog housed in a carrier Wednesday into the society's new Hawk Creek Animal Shelter. The humane society officially moved into the $500,000 facility located in Willmar's industrial park. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- A young chocolate Lab named Betsy was first to exit a trailer parked outside the back entrance of the new Hawk Creek Animal Shelter.

She danced on the pavement and tugged at her leash as Dawn Olson led her to the door.

"It's our first one!" Olson exclaimed.

After Betsy came another dog, then three cats in carriers. It was moving day Wednesday as the Humane Society of Kandiyohi County pulled up stakes at the county Highway Department, trading its former building for a brand-new home in the Industrial Park.

"It's just been so long in the making. It's so great this day is here," said Humane Society volunteer Rachel Diederich.

With the opening of the new Hawk Creek Animal Shelter today, the Humane Society has a permanent home of its own for the first time. The $500,000 facility is the result of an innovative partnership between the Humane Society, Kandiyohi County and the city of Willmar. A contract for animal sheltering services was recently signed with neighboring Meeker County as well.

The new shelter significantly expands the ability to house homeless animals until they can be claimed or adopted. Humane Society leaders say it will help them keep up with the steadily growing numbers of cats and dogs who are unwanted or who have been surrendered by their owners. More than 1,000 animals came through the shelter doors last year.

The increased capacity means the shelter can increase its adoption rate. The Humane Society also hopes that with a permanent location, it can solidify its identity and foster more community involvement and education.

"I think a lot of people are going to want to volunteer," said Tari Evenson, manager of the shelter.

Wednesday's move officially started at the old location at 8 a.m. with the dismantling of the rows of cages housing puppies and cats.

Unofficially, though, staff and volunteers have been packing and moving supplies and equipment into the new shelter for the past week.

The biggest challenge, said Evenson, wasn't moving all the dogs and cats. It was keeping the shelter open and continuing to operate while preparing for the move.

"We had so much stuff," she said. "That was a challenge, just trying to get stuff packed up. We were running into each other."

Besides staff and volunteers, the Humane Society had the help of a community service crew provided by Kandiyohi County.

Metal clanked on metal as the community service workers lugged cages into the new building Wednesday morning and began reassembling them. Yellow sticky notes on the doors -- "cat room," "puppy isolation room" -- helped guide workers to the right rooms.

The first load of animals arrived at around 10 a.m., transported in a horse trailer loaned for the occasion by Humane Society co-president Becky Hompe.

The dogs seemed to know ahead of time about the move, Evenson said. "They all were sitting there this morning, looking at us and barking. Just from the look on their faces, they knew something was going on."

It took two trips for the shelter's current animal population -- 50 cats and two dozen dogs -- to be moved into their new location across town.

Barking erupted from the trailer as Betsy, the first dog, was led out. The dogs grew calmer as they were ushered, one by one, into their new kennels. As they settled in, shelter staff and volunteers began making the rounds with fresh food and water.

The shelter's cat census has been so high this fall that several kittens were bundled two to a carrier for the move. They rode in their own compartment at the front of the trailer, "packed in like cordwood," Olson said.

There will likely be a period of adjustment, both for animals and staff, as they get used to their new surroundings, Evenson said. Computers and phones were up and running Wednesday morning, but it will take time to get supplies and equipment unpacked and put away, she said.

"Volunteers will be welcome," she said. "Any little bit of help we can get, we'll take."

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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