Washington Area Humane Society to break ground for new home

Kathie Warco
Observer Reporter

For 70 years, motorists traveling along Route 136 in North Strabane Township could look over and see the furry faces of dogs of all shapes, sizes and ages peering from their cages in a chain-link enclosure at Washington Area Humane Society as they waited for new homes filled with comfort and love.

But soon those hopeful pups will be waiting for their new “furever” family behind the walls of a new facility that will be more comfortable for them and their feline friends, as well as more welcoming to prospective adopters.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, the board, staff and campaign team will be breaking ground for the construction of a 10,000-square-foot building behind the existing facility and will announce plans for a public capital campaign to help finance the project. WAHS has already raised $800,000 of a $1.5 million goal for the campaign as part of a silent kick-off in April. The project is expected to cost just over $5 million and the humane society has secured $3.7 million toward that goal. The targeted completion date is fall 2019.

The new facility will have room for 60 dogs and 60 cats, an increase of about 10 for each type of animal.

“It is not about how many animals we can take, but the quality of care they are given,” said Kelly Proudift, who has been executive director at the humane society since October 2016. “A better quality of care leads to a shorter stay and gives us a higher adoption rate.”

When Ami Andy Hillebrand joined the humane society board of directors about three years ago, there were plans for a new building.

“But that stalled because there was not enough money,” said Hillebrand, who is also chairing the capital campaign.

But fiscally responsible decisions made by previous boards eventually allowed the humane society to move forward with plans for a new building, Hillebrand said. A feasibility study was done with assistance from University of California, Davis. Tweaking some of the aspects of the initial plan, the humane society board worked with STRATA Architects of Seattle on the plan for the new building.

The current, 7,500-square-foot building is cramped and outdated with a floor plan described as “problematic.”

Hillebrand said the new building will almost be like a hospital.

“It will have better ventilation, which will be healthier for both the animals and the staff,” she said.

Proudfit said the new building will have six zones for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system compared to the one for the existing building.

The new building will have a wellness clinic for spay/neuter surgeries. It will also include a complete isolation unit, examination room, surgery prep area and post-operative area.

There will be three large outdoor play areas for the dogs and two meet-and-greet rooms.The cat space will also have a meet-and-greet room as well as a cat colony room for cats to play and interact with each other.

The new building will also have a “real life” room, where animals who need a more quiet, comfortable environment can be observed in a home-like setting.

There will be a holding area for humane case animals that will be accessible 24/7 with keypad access control for humane officers, animal control officers, dog wardens and police. The kennel will have a private area for stray dogs whose owners are being sought. There also will be an office for the humane officer.

Another feature will be a dedicated space for community events and education programs for residents, as well as an area for volunteers to check in and interact.

“The new, modern facility will enable WAHS to do a better job of meeting the increasing demands of the community, including clinics, stray intake, owner surrender, education and spay/neuter surgeries,” said Dave Kassekert, president of the WAHS board of directors.

Proudfit said the humane society waited until it had raised about half the remaining money it needed before the public announcement of the capital campaign.

There are also opportunities to purchase naming rights for anything from the building itself, for $500,000, to other rooms, including the kennel or cat adoption floor, clinic, isolation unit, lobby and post-surgery holding unit. Those rights range from $50,000 to $300,000. There are also naming rights for other areas and rooms that start at $1,000 and go up to $85,000.

Proudfit said there also will be a donor wall, offering different levels of contributions. Tags of different colors signifying the level of contribution, ranging from $100 to $1,000 or more, will be placed on the wall. Donors also have the option to spread out pledges over three years, with monthly or annual payments. The gift can also be made in honor, memory or celebration of a loved one.

After the humane society moves into the new building, the present one will be demolished using an already approved local share grant of $300,000. Proudfit said bids will be sought for the work.

Hillebrand said since Proudfit was named executive director, the humane society’s reputation in the community has improved and brought pride to the organization.

“Her pride and compassion for animals has made a difference,” Hillebrand said. Proudfit, in turn, credited the staff.

With the new building, Proudfit hopes to increase programs like the low-cost spay/neuter clinics, low-cost vaccinations, educational seminars, dog training programs, therapy dog programs and pet food bank.

“We want to meet the needs of the public and the animals,” Hillebrand said. “This new building is long overdue and we are appreciative of the community support.”

“The humane society is excited for the future in the new facility where education of the humane treatment of animals will be the key component to enable positive change for the abused, neglected and abandoned animals in our county,” Proudfit added.

For more information on the new building and donation information, go to www.washingtonpashelter.org/newhome/ or call the shelter at 724-222-7387.