RACINE COUNTY — The Wisconsin Humane Society is almost ready to open a brand new shelter in Racine County.
The current campus on Chicory Road is too small for the animals, staff, and community needs. The new facility, located at 16th Street and 90th Street in Mount Pleasant, will be about twice as big and offer a better overall environment.
"It is absolutely a challenge," said Lily Bleichner, the Volunteer Coordinator.
The current Racine campus was originally designed to be a potato barn. Shortly after WHS acquired the space in 2013, the started plans to create and fundraise for a new shelter.
Every day the staff does their best fighting tight spaces and building design. The space is extremely limited in what it can handle. For instance, the small quarters restricts the number of dog walkers to one at a time, it does not allow for group gatherings for staff or volunteers, and it forces staff to transfer more than 300 animals each year to other WHS locations. At one point, WHS added a trailer to the property for any overflow of cats.
Bleichner also pointed out that their popular vaccination clinics are hindered by the space.
"We actually have to move these cats back in order to create space to have vaccines. People wait outside currently with their animals. It’s an extremely popular program and it’s not uncommon during the summer to have that program go two to three hours past the time that we have our vaccine clinic," Bleichner explained.
The building's design also creates a stressful environment for animals.
"When you see the dog area it's just loud. It's just not ideal for the animals. Our animals deserve more, our staff deserve more," said Bleichner.
She and other staff members are looking forward to the new shelter. They say it will allow for better care for animals and opportunities for community engagement like other locations in Milwaukee and Ozaukee counties.
"they have birthday parties. They have summer camps. We can't have that currently because we don't have any space to have those programs," said Bleichner.
"We do have a very high stray intake population here and we're also involved in a lot of police seizures as well as hoarding cases. So the new building is designed with that in mind," said Angela Speed, WHS Vice President of Communications.
That new building, a nearly $7 million shelter, is nearly complete.
"All of them immediately upon walking in literally the first word is always wow," said Matt Witte, WHS Vice President of Operations.
Its biggest asset is space. It offers flexible and less stressful lodging for animals and a dedicated space for surgery that is more acceptable for everyone involved.
The new location is more visible and accessible, aspects expected to help drive adoptions. It also will include separate entrances for varying needs and an air system that brings in fresh air nearly a dozen times every hour.
Witte says animal shelters across the country are often re-purposed buildings, but there is a shift.
"More and more operators are becoming aware of the unique needs an animal shelter needs to have, in terms of its durability, in terms of its size, and the space in terms of the features that are supportive to animals," said Witte.
The new and improved animal shelter is expected to open later this spring.