Saying the Cornelius Animal Shelter has come a long way is an understatement.
It has existed in some form since 1988, and the temporary outdoor facility used the past seven years was far from perfect.
It consisted of 12 stacked cat cages and five dog runs on a concrete pad. Both were covered by a system of tarps and poles barricaded by bails of straw that helped block the wind.
The facility and its animals were maintained by less than 20 volunteers, who also were subjected to the elements and worked out of a 10-foot, outdoor covered area.
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There was no hot water; food and supplies kept in outdoor storage occasionally were raided by resident animals.
Now, at 19110 Meridian St., the shelter is housed in a 3,265-square-foot facility that was built for the town of Cornelius by J.D. Goodrum Contractors and opened for operation about three months ago.
"The old shelter was an eyesore and an unfit environment for our animals. Our new facility provides a stable, climate-controlled environment for not only the animals but our volunteers. We now have monitored surveillance, a wellness program, out-of-house veterinarians and grooming facilities," said Heather Simmer, 33, the vice president of adoptions and fostering.
She has been with the shelter for about two years.
"Our new facility will impact the community by providing more volunteer opportunities to the citizens of Cornelius, as well as (give us) the capability to house more animals," she said.
The facility cost about $550,000, which was paid for with private donations and about $200,000 from the town. Contractors, engineers and others involved in construction helped keep costs low by offering some free services.
The new building houses the shelter and Cornelius Animal Control, two groups that have worked together over the years. Additional space is allotted for a planned 500-square-foot garage on the approximate two-acre site.
The new facility has 19 dog enclosures, four dog runs, 36 cat cages, an animal nutrition center, an indoor adoption room and an outdoor adoption patio, secure indoor storage, on-site laundry and office space with complete connectivity to the outside world via Internet and telephone.
"Visually, it was offensive," volunteer coordinator Bruce Forrest said of the old layout. "Really there isn't a comparison. We made the best of a suboptimal situation."
Today, the shelter and its 100-plus regular volunteers maintain a euthanasia rate of about seven percent while similar public shelters throughout the state maintain a 70-plus percent euthanasia rate, Forrest said, citing online statistics published by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and others.
"In the three years I've been associated with the facility, that (statistic is) something to be very proud of, especially when you're running that far ahead of what other facilities are running," Forrest said.
The 64-year-old moved to area in 1999 and started volunteering at the shelter after retiring from the telecommunications business in 2004. He also volunteered at the shelter as a way to keep busy and give back after his wife, Bea, 55, died of ovarian cancer in 2002.
In 2007, he became the shelter's volunteer coordinator. Along with the other volunteers, Forrest helped establish the nonprofit Cornelius Animal Shelter Alliance. Forrest also is the chairman and president of CASA, which is run by a six-member board that helps with adoptions and fostering, day-to-day operations and fundraisers.
The 100-percent volunteer, nonprofit operation also includes people who help with graphic design, internet technology and even accounting.
"Nobody does the animal welfare job alone," said Forrest. "We partner with rescue organizations, the town and, especially, animal control and the police department. Other people would kill to have the talent that resides in this organization."
For the past seven years, Kenny Russel, 55, was the only officer working with Cornelius Animal Control. Today, he's assisted by 25-year-old Chris King. Because the new shelter houses two full-time employees, and it will be manned more frequently, more adoption opportunities will take place.
For the majority of 2009, before the new facility opened, the shelter averaged about 21 adoptions a month. Now, with an extended volunteer force, expanded hours and increased awareness and publicity, the shelter is averaging about 46 adoptions per month.
"It's accentuated what everybody's been trying to do," Russel said, regarding the building of the new facility. "It's a much nicer facility for the customers and the animals. It's a whole 180-degrees. It's gone from black to white. It's a total change in every aspect. The town and community have really stepped up and shown how much they care for the animal population. And having a good shelter helps with public safety in general."
Other upgrades beyond the facility will eventually include changes to the adoption fees, which now include all vaccinations, microchipping, spaying or neutering and a full veterinarian exam. The cost starting in January will be $85 for cats and $95 for dogs. Before, there was no adoption fee, but animals were given only the minimum number of vaccines required by the state.
"It's a major upgrade to the service we provide," Forrest said. "And they're not only healthier (pets), but we're taking a bite out of the overpopulation problem."
Forrest also said there's been a seismic shift in day-to-day operations.
"Now that we're a certified facility, we're held more accountable to state regulations and our amount of work has doubled," he said. "It's not just a pretty new lobby."
Correction: In the Dec. 9 edition of Lake Norman News, Ann Brotherton was misidentified in a photo caption that accompanied a story about Wayne's Second Friday Feast.