The Humane Society of Charlotte on Tuesday launched the final phase of a $15 million fundraising campaign to replace its cramped, outdated shelter with a new center that will have room to share with other nonprofit groups.
The existing shelter, in a densely-packed compound on Toomey Avenue in southwest Charlotte, dates to a past era of animal welfare. It was built in the 1970s as the city’s animal control facility, where strays and castoff animals were held and most often euthanized.
The Humane Society, which has been based there since 1993, runs a no-kill shelter where dogs and cats stay until they go home with somebody. Finding ways to keep unwanted animals alive is a growing trend that has seen pet euthanasia rates plunge across North Carolina in recent years.
Humane Society CEO Shelly Moore sees a chance for more progress — a community-oriented space that will be more soothing for animals and people — at the new shelter site on Berryhill Road in west Charlotte.
The current shelter sits behind tall fencing topped by razor wire. It’s right beside Interstate 77, so the steady drone of traffic is a constant backdrop.
Inside, staff members work in closet-sized offices and computer servers are jammed in a corner room whose exterior walls are disintegrating. Staff meetings are held in a trailer out back. Outbuildings store food and equipment. Administrative offices are in a separate location two blocks away.
The shelter’s two dog kennels lack full-height barriers, between runs, making it hard to control the spread of nose-to-nose diseases. Stressed dogs bark constantly, pleading through chain link fences for attention.
The Humane Society only takes animals from municipal shelters, including Charlotte’s, and those that are surrendered by their owners. Its staff works with owners to solve problems that lead to surrenders and are able to keep pets with their people more than half the time.
Spay/neuter clinics like the one the group operates mean fewer unwanted puppies and kittens are born.
Those advances still leave the shelter with many animals, such as middle-aged, large-breed dogs, that take longer to place in new homes. Dogs’ behavior deteriorate in high-stress environments like the one at the current shelter, Moore said.
Staff members managed to place in new homes nearly all of the 3,000 dogs and cats the shelter took in last year. But for a city of Charlotte’s size, Moore said, “we’re behind the eight-ball in what’s the standard of care for animal protection. It’s pretty embarrassing.”
New ways to engage
The new 46,000-square-foot facility will be nearly five times larger than the current building and sit on 17 acres.
Unlike the current place, it will have indoor kennels and separate spaces to medically screen and treat new arrivals, and evaluate their behavior and temperament, before adding them to the general population. More room will be available for prospective owners to get to know the animals before adopting, for clinical services and for educational programs.
The Humane Society plans to expand its wellness clinics, where pets can get routine services such as rabies shots, beyond the four hours a week now offered.
New programs, after school, in summer camps or in workshops, will be aimed at engaging children and helping them learn empathy and respect for animals. An education center and community dog park will be part of the facility.
“It would be a way to engage the community in a way that we’ve never had before,” Moore said. “The whole thing I’m trying to accomplish, other than of course saving lives, is to make it a place where people want to come, socially or to volunteer to be a part of the animal welfare world.”
The Humane Society started looking for a new site in 2015 and bought the Berryhill Road tract two years later. The group has already raised $11 million of the $15 million needed to start construction, largely without corporate donations.
It hopes to meet the fundraising goal by the end of June 2020.
Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera and his wife Stephanie, longtime dog lovers, will serve as honorary co-chairs of the fundraising campaign.
Because the new site is so large, the Humane Society has reserved three parcels for three other nonprofit groups to share the site. Moore envisions a non-profit campus where groups can share space and volunteers might cross-train.
“I like the fact that we’ll be bringing in some folks who normally wouldn’t be there,” Moore said. “It will be an animal resource center, but I want it to be a community center.”