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ShelterSpeak: Coping with Outdated Facilities

ShelterSpeak: Is there an outdated or malfunctioning feature of your building—such as deteriorating flooring, clogged ventilation, ugly paint, labyrinthine halls—that frustrates you and creates operational problems? (Or was there in the past?) How do you/did you work around it? How would you improve it if you had the resources?

ShelterSpeak: Is there an outdated or malfunctioning feature of your building—such as deteriorating flooring, clogged ventilation, ugly paint, labyrinthine halls—that frustrates you and creates operational problems? (Or was there in the past?) How do you/did you work around it? How would you improve it if you had the resources?

Eric Blow
Louisville Metro Animal Services
Louisville, Kentucky

I really don’t know where to start. If I tell you that our facility was designed in the mid-’60s and opened in 1966, that should speak volumes concerning “outdated and malfunctioning features”! We have indoor-outdoor runs, no designed medical or isolation areas, bad ventilation, etc., etc.!

Let me take just one problem. The indoor-outdoor kennel runs have a trench or gutter running both inside and outside, the length of the building (approximately 85 feet; two buildings with runs on both sides; 84 runs). These gutters are of concrete and have four drains spaced evenly apart. In the mid-’80s, the cracks in these gutters—particularly the outside gutters and those near the drains—kept getting bigger and bigger. In fact, to call them “cracks” does not do them justice. They were more like fissures or chasms. No amount of water could flush and clean them. You couldn’t put enough water in them to make them overflow. Heaven only knows where the water was going!

We tried concrete patches, but they lasted only days or weeks. We finally located a small company that applied “resin-compounds” to floors. After viewing the gutters, they applied a resin coating that was approximately 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch thick. This proved to be quite effective. The crevices were sealed and remained so for over ten years. I suppose the only drawback to this remedy was that the resin was translucent. It always appeared that the gutters had a layer of “slime,” even when they were dry. Perhaps adding a color would have helped.

Recently the coating has been deteriorating and is beginning to peel or crack in places. The chemicals and weather do take their toll. And unfortunately, we’ve not located another business to supply the coating. It’s our hope that we’ll have a new facility before the “cracks” widen and begin to swallow small children! If you suffer a similar problem, contact an industrial floor-coating company.

Nicky Ratliff
Executive Director
Humane Society of Carroll County
Westminster, Maryland

Kennel flooring is a huge problem. There are very few companies that can do a good job of refinishing these older floors. Finding one that can do the job is hit or miss. Flooring companies think it’s a standard job, but it is anything but. All the animal oils that exist on the old floors—and the high-pressure washers used to clean the new ones—make it very difficult to find an application that will work, and when it is found it must be applied by experts.

When a company is finally identified (based on referrals and a proven track record for replacement kennel floors), the cost usually prohibits a shelter from using them, especially if you’re a county entity. Governments are usually looking for the lowest bid, or at least one of the lower bids, and these proven companies are usually the highest bidder.

Humane organizations find it equally hard to come up with that kind of money. The old adage “you get what you pay for” must have been created by a frustrated animal shelter director. My floors are in rough shape now. The last finish started coming apart almost as soon as the job was complete. I know who can do it and make it last 15-plus years, but I’m waiting to see if the county will understand the benefits of using that company—and even if they do see the benefit, can they come up with the $300,000 to do it? Last time the bid was awarded to the $38,000 bidder. I have my fingers crossed.

Belinda Lewis
Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control
Fort Wayne, Indiana

We are in a relatively new building, finished in 1998. We are fortunate to have had good design and quality building. However, there are still a couple things I would have done differently. We used a “glazed” block throughout the kennels and the hallways. It is attractive, was recommended for shelter construction, and still is. But there is a certain level of porosity to glazed block that holds body dirt, etc. If I got to choose again, I would use “fired” block. It has a higher sheen, so it’s not quite as attractive, but it’s definitely the more efficient sanitation and disinfection surface.

We also used a seamless flooring system. Where it was applied appropriately, it has done well. Where there were problems, it is a problem. Since we are government, our construction goes to bid. While we wrote strong specifications for the seamless flooring system used, we should have written better specifications about our requirements for application, warranty, and follow-up.

I hope someone can learn from our mistakes.

Christie Smith
Executive Director
Potter League for Animals
Middletown, Rhode Island

I don’t think any of us have “perfect” shelters. There is always something we would like to see improved. At the Potter League, we have the peeling paint in the kennels, inefficient ventilation, labyrinthine halls, congested rooms, outdated cat housing, lack of storage, etc., that almost every shelter struggles with. Most of us have aging buildings built for dogs, not cats—and certainly not for the myriad of small animals, rabbits, birds, and reptiles that are the newest disposable pets. While we are now planning a new shelter, the existing situations are still here for us to cope with on a daily basis.

We have tried to work around our physical limitations by developing great customer service skills and always having friendly, helpful staff. The customer is able to look past the deficiencies in our building because we try to keep their interaction with us upbeat and cheerful. The shelter is clean and bright and tidy, the staff is knowledgeable, signage is professional and helpful, and the animals are well cared for with plenty of toys, bedding, long walks, and training. I think these components are most critical to our services, even if the building itself lags behind.

The one problem area that bothered me the most was our lack of space and resources for all those hamsters, gerbils, rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, and reptiles that enter our shelter. When the numbers were smaller, we housed them in the same rooms as the cats, but with the burgeoning cat population, I feared we would be euthanizing cats simply to make room for rabbits. We creatively converted a small holding room to house and showcase these less traditional animals. We invested in appropriate caging and shelving. This was a good solution for us. Some shelters have adopted habitats and housing systems used in pet stores for these small animals; visiting other shelters and pet stores is a wonderful way to get ideas of how to inexpensively and thoughtfully improve our own facilities.

When we look at problems within the building, we try to first correct ones that will best help the animals and that will make the staff’s work easier. Our staff is tremendous at focusing on the needs of each animal and not complaining about the inadequacies of our physical layout. Adding air conditioning was a huge boost to staff morale and made the summer months much more comfortable for both people and animals. Even if we can’t yet revamp the cat housing, we can provide any necessary equipment, feral cat boxes, toys, socialization, and volunteer labor that helps the staff and reduces stress for the animals.

The board of directors can be supportive by approving budgets that earmark funding for adequate repairs and upgrades. The administrative staff can be helpful by always looking at ways to make small improvements and recognizing the hard work that goes into caring for animals in aging buildings. And even without the fanciest new shelter, each of us can still have pride in the efforts we make on behalf of the animals and for our community. Our buildings will never be perfect, but we can strive to make them as workable as possible.

Susan Asher
Executive Director
Nevada Humane Society
Sparks, Nevada

Our current shelter was completed in December 1979 and was considered “state of the art” at that time. Office space, storage, garages, a clinic, and model kennels—for dogs, that is.

Cats apparently weren’t sitting at the design table with the architects, as their caging was relegated to the hallways and small alcoves. We had no separate air exchange, no relief from the people/animal traffic parading by cats’ stainless steel, reverberating kennels, no feline housing enhancements at all. We had no isolation cages outside of the euthanasia area. As a cat lover, I was really bothered by this when I started as an office clerk in March 1980. We did the best we could for a very long time.

Fast forward to year-end 1996. Very generous grants from two local foundations, as well as gifts from private donors, funded the design and construction of a dedicated cat adoption center. We found the space for this in the attached caretaker’s apartment. Bye-bye caretaker, hello happy kitties! Natural light, an enclosed outdoor exercise patio with a fountain, a separate isolation/treatment room, a cat kitchen, built-in Snyder caging with Plexiglas viewing, and enough space to keep cat kennels far enough apart to inhibit disease transmission. Did I forget to mention that this area came with its own HVAC system? This also increased our cat adoption holding by at least 30 kennels. Wahoo! And to top it all off, we were able to do this for $50,000!


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