Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
The Stratford-Perth Humane Society unveiled Wednesday conceptual drawings for a new 8,500-square-foot animal welfare centre on Griffith Road to replace its cramped Douro Street shelter, marking the start of what executive director Jack Kinch described as a communications campaign to gauge the public's interest in supporting an estimated $1.2 million capital campaign.
"We want to make sure everyone has an understanding of where we're going," Kinch said from the proposed new site, where the humane society hosted a social evening for members of the Stratford & District Chamber of Commerce.
The plans, designed with the help of NA Engineering, are still preliminary, but as shown include separate rooms for administration, animal care, and treatment; a large adoption area; space for cats to play and socialize; dog kennels with accessible doors; and rooms to host educational opportunities like summer camps, birthday parties, and after-school programs.
Kinch said the new building would not only provide better and safer accommodations for animals and more appropriate space to facilitate adoptions, but allow the agency to expand its role within the community and facilitate greater understanding about what it means to be a responsible pet owner.
"What we're trying to do is create a place for the community," he added.
According to Stratford-Perth Humane Society manager, Jessica McCann, the shelter has badly outgrown its present building, which was designed to accommodate 70 animals but at peak times holds as many as 200.
The new building would have larger rooms so that cats are not confined to a small cage.
"Cats are social creatures, they need to be together," McCann noted. "It helps them to be happier and ultimately get them adopted faster."
Similarly, dogs would stay in kennels but have access to inside the building and out at all times, whereas at Douro Street they must be walked through the shelter before exiting, which from a disease control standpoint is not ideal.
"Everything would be an improvement," McCann said. "Having the animals come into a bright, open environment like this, right from when they are a stray to when they're adopted – we're caring for them leaps and bounds ahead of where we're at now."
The former warehouse at 125 Griffith Rd. was purchased by the Kitchener-Waterloo Humane Society for just over $600,000 after it merged with the local shelter, formerly a branch of the Ontario SPCA, in 2012. The humane societies joined to form the Animal Welfare Agency South Central Ontario, which is governed by a volunteer board with representatives from the different communities. But the two shelters still maintain separate finances.
One advantage to the arrangement, Kinch noted, is donor money stays in the community it originated, which he said wasn't always the case when the shelter was operated by the OSPCA.
If the new animal welfare centre does move ahead, the hope is that in time the Stratford-Perth Humane Society will have the financial wherewithal to purchase the building from Kitchener-Waterloo.
Kinch estimates it will cost roughly $600,000 to renovate the building and an additional $600,000 to help cushion the humane society against operating costs during the transition and for up to six months after. Kinch said he would like to see the project tendered this winter and for the work begun in the spring or summer, with the building move-in ready a year from now.
Everything rests, however, on running a successful capital campaign.
"It's up to the community to determine if this is something they feel is important," Kinch said, noting the humane society will be taking every opportunity in the months ahead to show its plans and answer any questions or concerns, including at party Oct. 27 to celebrate the shelter's 40th anniversary in Stratford.
Kinch said he is optimistic the project will proceed, though he noted there are still some people in Stratford who are focusing on the past more than the future. That past includes a tumultuous first year for the shelter after the merger, a period marred by the resignation of the shelter's manager after 21 sick cats were euthanized while she was away on training.
Out of that controversy the humane society adopted a no kill policy which aims to achieve a 90 per cent live release rate for the animals in its care. Kinch noted the shelter has also placed greater emphasis on fostering sick animals and improved hygiene and cleaning practices.
Kinch said a new animal welfare centre would also include a veterinary clinic and health services, which would further support the humane society in its new direction.