A gray cat ran across the floor, stopping to deal with another cat busy licking its claws. Meanwhile, a stocky tuxedo cat dozed off in a nearby closet, curled up and unaware of the cat’s stunts.
Cats live in New San Luis Obispo County Animal Services Shelterwhich opened to the public on Friday, September 9.
The $20.4 million building is located on 865 Oklahoma Ave. Down the road from the old shelter built in the 1970s.
The shelter includes two cat rooms with screened outside patios, individual housing for dogs next to a grassy patio where they can play, and rooms for reptiles and other small animals.
The 20,000-square-foot building can house about 50 dogs and 130 cats, depending on their size, according to San Luis Obispo Animal Services Director Dr. Eric Anderson.
“It’s not an increase in the number of animal houses, it’s really a qualitative improvement,” Anderson said. “The ancient place was really gloomy to the point that people did not want to enter it.”
Anderson said the new shelter is “comfortable and inviting,” which will attract more potential pet parents and hopefully increase adoption rates.
Cats and dogs have a new place to play
In the old shelter, the cats lived in individual cages until adoption.
However, the new shelter includes two large rooms where the cats live in the community. The rooms are connected to exterior patios that have been checked out and are filled to the brim with toys, nooks and crannies where cats can curl up for naps.
“It gives them a more natural activity to climb and play — and it allows for social activity,” Anderson said.
Anderson said the room also allows potential pet owners to play with the cats and get a glimpse into their personalities, “(as opposed to) interacting via a set of cage bars.” “We’re trying to immerse you in this animal experience.”
Down the hall, the shelter also contains a designated feral cat housing space, where cats are kept in individual enclosures for six days before joining the community cat rooms.
“Having all these different rooms allows us to be flexible,” Anderson said. “I can turn that feral cat room into a room for moms and kittens.”
Dogs also have a new housing condition.
In the old shelter, they lived in a large barn with five rows of about 45 dogs. The dogs were close together – so if one dog started barking, they all started barking.
“A dog in a row starts barking, and that spoils the whole place,” Anderson said. He noted that this constant agitation was not good for their mental health.
Now, each dog has its own booth with indoor and outdoor access. Anderson said the dogs had more space and more privacy, alleviating their anxiety. There is also a fenced outdoor patio where dogs can play and get to know potential owners.
Anderson said he’s excited about the shelter’s new amenities, which give the animals a higher quality of life.
“The physical and mental health of the animals, I’m really excited that we can provide that,” he said.
The shelter also includes a room for small animals, such as guinea pigs, rabbits, and even two chinchillas. On the other side of the shelter, the reptiles are kept in temperature-controlled enclosures, a big improvement over the last resort, where they kept snakes in buckets with heated rocks and heat lamps.
The shelter also plans to build a barn of four to six stalls between now and next summer. They currently shelter livestock in an open field, he said, and usually get a few horses each year. In 2018, they captured 37 horses from a farm in Northern County, and saw a total of 55 to 57 horses that year.
“You never know what you’re going to get,” Anderson said. “If you get a pair of cows, you can’t put them in someone’s lunchbox or desk.”
Shelter design improves workflow
The shelter receives animals in two ways: County residents turn over animals they can no longer care for or that they find on the street, or animal services pick up stray animals in the field, he said.
Once the animal enters the shelter, it is vaccinated, photographed for website, and electronically chipped, and taken to a shelter while it waits for adoption. The building was designed with this workflow in mind, with the animal reception room leading directly into a room where vaccinations are given. Below the hall is a medical room, quarantine rooms, a personal care room, and more.
Typically, dogs stay at the shelter for 10 days, and cats for 18 to 20 days. Anderson said that stray animals are held for five days until they can be adopted, while animals that are given up by their owners can be adopted immediately.
The new shelter also has a room for euthanasia, which is done when the animals are sick or aggressive, according to Anderson. He said that animals taken to the shelter had a 93% rate of live results, meaning that 9 out of 10 animals were adopted.
“As long as the animal is physically healthy and sound in terms of temperament,” Anderson said, “we will keep it until we find it a home.”
In the old shelter, euthanasia was carried out in the common task room which was also used to fold laundry and wash dishes.
“It was really a bleak area,” Anderson said. “This is a psychological depression for the animals and staff.”
Anderson said the new room is quiet, well-lit, and dedicated to euthanasia in order to create a comfortable experience for animals and staff.
Anderson said the sanctuary also has its own medical center, equipped to offer minor animal shelter procedures such as dental treatment or abscess treatment. The shelter will still send the neighboring animals to Woods Animal Welfare Society to spay and neuter, and he will rely on vets for more intensive procedures such as repairing broken legs, he said.
Down the hall, the shelter provides visiting rooms where people can meet potential pets one-on-one.
Anderson said the sanctuary is open to the public daily from 1-5 p.m., and people can visit the animals during business hours, or they can call 805-781-4400 to schedule an appointment to meet individual animals.
Cats can be adopted for $81, dogs for $148, small pets and birds for $5, and exotic animals or livestock for $75, according to Animal Services. website.
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