By SOPHIE HOTTINGER
The notion of owner-surrendered pets may evoke a mental image of a place not unlike the lonely Island of Misfit Toys in the children’s tale, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” But, fortunately, thanks to a nonprofit organization known as the Animal Care Society, the reality is something vastly different – and far more pleasant – for hundreds of Louisville area cats and dogs each year who have found themselves in need of a family.
Founded in 1983, The Animal Care Society was created with the purpose of providing responsible and humane care for abandoned and surrendered cats and dogs until safe and loving permanent homes could be found. The private adoption center carries the distinction of being Louisville’s first no-kill shelter, meaning no animal under their care will face the threat of euthanasia as a result of not being adopted. Instead, in the rare instance that a cat or dog is not eventually taken home with someone, he or she will continue to live comfortably inside the shelter located on Westport Road, and be cared for – and loved – by employees and the many volunteers of the organization.
Now, after more than half a year of extensive construction, the Animal Care Society has revealed a host of updates to their original facility that will mean an even more safe, comfortable and welcoming environment for resident pets and their prospective owners. The renovation began with a re-imagined space known as the intake area. Making possible an entirely different, streamlined process of admitting new pets, an attached building that was once a garage has been transformed into a second entrance for animals whose health history is unknown. It’s also a vehicle-accessible door for dropped-off donations of any size, with convenient storage shelving to save volunteers from excessive heavy lifting.
“The intake area … allows us to evaluate (incoming pets), do things like heartworm tests on them. That takes time. It also gives the dogs a little bit of an area where they’re not feeling so frantic because so many people are walking through the door, whereas before, there were people walking past and we’re trying to look at a dog and evaluate it,” explained Bunny Zeller, executive director of Animal Care Society. “That’s the advantage of our intake area, that it allows us to have alone time with the dogs and the people so we can kind of assess whether we can bring the animals in or not.”
Another major update took place in the main lobby, which saw a significant expansion thanks to the incorporation of what was formerly office space. “The lobby is so much different than the way it was before,” enthused Zeller. “We had a very small area where you walked in and then you bumped into a counter, and then you kind of had to go around to go to the other areas. We now have a much more open area which allows more people to come through, the flow is a little bit better. … I think it’s much warmer, more inviting to people.”
Throughout the building, new flooring and a fresh coat of paint brighten up every room, including all of the spaces where dogs and cats are housed. Crates have been replaced with more permanent, roomier kennels for every dog, Zeller proudly pointed out. “We can actually house every animal in a kennel now – in a nice kennel. It has more space, it feels a little bit more like a motel room versus a crammed cave or something.” Another room that was once an office has been converted into a cordoned-off “Meet and Greet” space for prospective owners to interact with their favorite pets, away from the noise and distractions of the rooms where the animals are housed. “One of our policies is that everybody in the family has to come out and meet an animal, including, if it’s a dog, any other dogs in the family,” revealed Adoptions Counselor Colleen Morton. “So we like to give them a room where everybody can feel comfortable.”
One of the most significant updates, however, is the introduction of an entirely separate isolation ward in order to house pets that are, or may become, ill, a feature which protects the larger population of animals. The building’s original isolation ward, described Zeller, had its own ventilation system but was connected to the main building, meaning airborne illnesses still had the potential to flow through an open door to the rest of the animals. Now, however, two doorways and a storage space in between them serve as barriers to prevent the spread of any germs or bacteria. “So now it truly is a separate heating and air conditioning system,” smiled Zeller.
Inside the Alice Chiles Cat Room and the Jim and Sherry McKinney Kitten Room, brand new windows have replaced old, foggy, double-paned glass. A garden window extends from the outside wall, inside which several content cats can be found at any given time, relaxing in the sunlight. Other updates throughout the shelter include a larger, handicap-accessible restroom and the eagerly anticipated arrival of commercial-grade washer and dryer units, obtained through individual donations and a grant from a District Neighborhood Development Fund and the Metro Council.
It’s thanks to the generosity of donors, in fact, that the entire renovation of the nonprofit adoption center was even possible, Zeller noted, sharing that an individual bequeath allowed them the security to borrow against existing designated funds and complete the renovation. “You can’t generate enough adoption money to cover all the costs of everything in the building,” she stated, adding, “but we make sure our babies are warm, we make sure that they’re not hot. It’s definitely comfortable for everybody, and mostly the animals, because they’re the ones who have to live here most of the time.”
Between donated supplies, bequests and funds raised through efforts such as the Animal Care Society’s annual yard sale, Bow Wow Meow Boutique and Bark in the Park, the shelter manages to continue providing the best – and most loving – care possible for all of its animal residents. They also actively take in owner-surrendered animals, so long as they meet certain criteria, so pet owners who aren’t able to keep their cats or dogs are invited to reach out to the shelter to determine their options. And, assured Morton as she pointed out a cat who’s patiently waited for a home for at least five years, they truly live up to their no-kill mission, a value at the heart of all that the organization does.
“If they don’t get a home, they’re safe here until they do.”
The Animal Care Society, 12207 Westport Road, is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. The shelter is closed on Mondays, Tuesdays and major holidays. For information call 502.426.6303 or visit www.animalcaresociety.org.
Photos by TONY BENNETT | Contributing Photographer