Julie Morris, Vice President, ASPCA National Shelter Outreach
I’ve never needed to roller-blade as part of my job. At least, not until I visited the new facility of the Humane Society of Missouri (HSM) – all 93,000 square feet of it! One thing most animal shelters have in common is lack of space. At HSM, with nearly three acres of building, space is the operative word.
Founded in 1870 with the help of The ASPCA’s own Henry Bergh, the Humane Society of Missouri is the fifth oldest humane organization in the United States and, with 25,000 animals coming through its shelter each year, one of the largest. It took seven years for Executive Director Kent Robertson, his board, staff and volunteers to plan and raise the new building. Their goal: “to develop a positive public image, expand community connections and better serve the animals and people of Greater St. Louis.”
They appear to have succeeded. For example, when I visited HSM in mid-1998, it was promoting the idea of “Someone for Everyone.” The message was impossible to miss; it was printed on flags that were flying on street poles all up and down the avenue leading to the shelter. So effective was the campaign that when the new facility opened on January 6, 1998, staff were deluged with visitors wanting to adopt a companion.
Space for animals
The adoption center features separate housing for male dogs, female dogs, puppies, cats and kittens and “rabbits and more.” The kennel area has high acoustical ceilings, skylights and a large planter filled with greenery, which prevents dogs on opposite sides of the kennel from viewing one another. This “green screen” also absorbs sound and improves air quality, as does the shelter’s digital heating/cooling system with 100 percent fresh-air exchange.
The adoption housing areas, as well as four get-acquainted rooms, are located off the adoption lobby or “mall.” The mall is bright and inviting, featuring skylights, planters and bench seating for visitors.
There is more to successful adoptions than presentation, of course. Knowing that not all shelter animals are ready for adoption, HSM has expanded its “Cinderella Program,” designed to give a second chance to animals with behavioral or medical problems who previously would have been euthanized. So far, it’s working; adoptions are up, and hard-to-place and special-needs animals are finding loving new homes.
Space for caring and learning
HSM has a full-service veterinary medical center handling more than 81,000 patient visits annually. Nine exam rooms along with two surgery suites and five wards to hold sick, injured and surgical patients are available to serve the public. One feature I really liked was a large window (at child’s height) situated in front of each surgery suite so that visitors can observe spay/neuter operations taking place. Robertson hopes to have more than 30,000 school-age children tour the facility annually.
The HSM education center houses a 200-seat lecture hall and two fully equipped classrooms. During my visit, a day camp program called “Kids for Critters” was in session. This program utilizes crafts, games, songs and stories to teach children about problems of pet overpopulation, endangered species, farm animals and more. Space also has been dedicated to a new “Interactive Learning Center,” which HSM hopes to complete within the next three years. This ambitious project will include displays such as pick-a-pet interactive computer kiosks with touch screens, a “pet IQ” tester, a multimedia walk-through exhibit on the benefits of owning a companion animal and a “respectful zone” that is sensitive to the issue of pet death and grief.
Frankly, I found all this space exhilarating. So much light and air allows visitors to take their time and concentrate on viewing individual animals without being overwhelmed by clamor and claustrophobia. This is one community where prospective adopters need not worry about feeling apprehensive or depressed by a visit to their local animal shelter.
© 1999 ASPCA
ASPCA Animal Watch – Spring 1999
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