It’s been a long time coming, but the Bitter Root Humane Association’s new facility located on Fairgrounds Road is very close to opening. For board members, staff and many, many critters, the new facility is a dream about to come true.
The vision of a new, safer, more “humane” animal shelter first gained traction close to 15 years ago as the old facility, constructed in 1985, began falling apart at the seams. The roof was leaking, windows that weren’t broken or cracked already, were old, single-paned and inefficient. Old wiring and plumbing ran openly across the walls. The old boiler room was a custodian’s nightmare. The list of needed repairs was growing beyond acceptable.
But a vision was born, and planning and fundraising was begun. The organization, which gets no government funding, began fundraising and enlisted the aid of engineers and architects specializing in the field of animal sheltering. According to BRHA board president Kathie Butts, fundraising efforts were dampened for some time during the economic recession and slow recovery that followed. Over time, though, and with a lot of hard work, they got close enough to their goal, having raised about $3 million, to take out a loan of $900,000, which covered the full cost and allowed construction to begin.
When they did, however, some stiff opposition arose from neighbors who were concerned about the potential increase in noise and other negative impacts the development could bring to their neighborhood.
The concerns led homeowners in neighboring Stonegate Meadows subdivision to file suit against the City of Hamilton’s Board of Adjustments late in 2019, asking the court to revoke the conditional use permit that was issued for construction of the new facility. That lawsuit held up construction of the facility which was scheduled to begin that fall. Frustrated over the delay, the shelter’s board of directors took legal action in January of 2020 to get a declaration from the courts that its proposed building plans complied with all applicable zoning regulations and the criteria required for obtaining a conditional use permit. According to Butts, in all, it cost the association about $50,000 in legal fees, “that were not budgeted for,” to get things rolling again.
Butts firmly believes that the neighbor’s concerns, especially about increased noise, have been taken to heart and are being fully addressed. She notes that the dog kennels were moved closer to the property boundary, but that the noise from dogs barking would not be going up. She said the efforts to reduce the noise of barking dogs at the facility were incorporated into every aspect of the new building’s design and functioning and this will benefit the dogs themselves as well as the neighbors. She said from floors to walls to ceiling, the acoustics were a consideration as well as ventilation to reduce smells and disease. She said that the new system of indoor/outdoor cages gives staff the ability to regulate the outdoor play much more efficiently which will lead to better control of outdoor barking issues.
Butts said that the board’s aim at this point is to get the facility functioning by springtime. The latest delay had to do with the discovery that there was not enough fall in elevation from the new facility to the sewer main located along Fairgrounds Road for the system to work. As a result, an expensive installation of tanks and pumps had to be installed. That work is almost finished. Aside from a little work on completing the kennels, the facility is ready to open.
“When we can turn water on, we will take our final walk-through,” said Butts. “Then we will have final inspections, and then we will move in.”
What visitors will first see upon entering the new shelter is a spacious lobby with a huge conference table in the middle. Except for the two public restrooms which will remain accessible, the lobby can be locked off from the rest of the facility and serve as a rentable space for conference meetings to generate some extra income for the facility.
Glass walls in the lobby allow visitors to see into the cat areas and also into a few small areas where puppies, dogs and other animals up for adoption may be seen. Plans call for decorating the other walls of the lobby with murals of trees and leaves. A donation of $1,000 will get you a name on one of the leaves, either your name or the name of someone you want to honor.
Butts said that fundraising was more important now than ever. “This board would really like to see the last $900,000 of debt for this project paid off,” said Butts. “We don’t want to leave that to the next board.”
Butts said that they were very careful and consulted experts about building the walls and the floors. The floors are all poured epoxy and the wainscoting goes high up the walls and is water resistant.
“Even a Great Dane can pee in here and not hurt the walls,” said Butts. She said the whole place was designed to be functional first of all.
She said due to the susceptibility of cats to catching colds and other diseases, they have installed three separate cat rooms, each with its own “catio”, that is a patio for cats. One end of each catio is screened and faces the open yard. In this way, if an infection does come into the facility, the potential for spread is minimized. There are cat enclosures elsewhere in the building where sick cats can be isolated and treated. New arrivals can also be quarantined and examined before mixing with the rest of the population. Shy cats get their own condo, complete with “hiding space.”
Dog-ville, as Butts calls it, is just as impressive. The kennels have heated floors, with see-through plexiglass doors facing into a hallway that is lined on the other side with plexiglass windows, giving them double separation from the public visitors who can stroll down their own hallway and look into each cage making little disturbance. If a dog catches their interest, they can ask for a closer look.
The kennels are of varying sizes up to the largest, that can hold even the biggest breed of dog and each has a door to access an outer cage from which they can then gain access to an outdoor area.
In terms of cleaning and providing veterinary care, it brings the facility into the twenty-first century. There are outlets throughout the facility dispensing water and detergent as well as providing vacuum services. If water isn’t going down the many installed drains, it can be easily vacuumed up.
There are special areas for cleaning animals and even space for staff, complete with shower. There is a laundry area complete with washer and dryer where all the blankets and towels can be cleaned. There is an area where dog food can be prepared and loaded onto mobile serving cabinets, and the bowls can later be cleaned in a large dishwasher designed for dog bowls.
There is a treatment area that may be used by visiting veterinarians. It has special lighting and special medical cabinets that can be wheeled to other parts of the facility when needed. It even has a microscope, thanks to one donor vet, that can be used for doing some lab analysis on the spot.
The plumbing and fire sprinkler and cleaning system for the whole building are all housed in one room. The building’s electrical system is housed in its own room. A specialized air control system works throughout the building for comfort and disease control.
The facility also houses a crematorium and an associated freezer.
“They’ve found that bodies cremate much more quickly and efficiently when they are frozen,” said Butts.
There is an intake entrance where animals can be dropped off which is separate from the entrance for those people coming to pick up a dog.
The building’s two-door garage is very large and is designed in such a way that it could accommodate a large number of animals in some kind of emergency, according to Butts.
Butts said that, given all the safety improvements incorporated into the design and the extreme liability involved in maintaining the old building, the insurance rates were probably going to go way down.
This is a win-win-win situation for everyone,” said Butts, “for the board and the staff; for donors and the public; and for the animals.”