Tucked in a small room away from the public’s eye at the Lawrence Humane Society, six kittens with balding, inflamed ears lay in a cozy pile Tuesday afternoon.
The kittens likely have ringworm, Humane Society Executive Director Kate Meghji said, and are awaiting the results of their medical tests. If they test positive, they’ll be euthanized. The same goes for animals with parvovirus.
Though ringworm and parvo are treatable, with the cramped quarters and limited isolation areas in the shelter built 20 years ago, Meghji said the Humane Society just can’t risk exposing healthy animals. Treatment for the ailments can take months.
“When you know it’s treatable, but we can’t risk a shelterwide outbreak, that’s sad,” Humane Society veterinarian Jennifer Stone said. “We want to be able (to treat the animals), but do it safely.”
Meghji and Stone hope to make that possible with the Humane Society’s soon-to-launch $5 million capital campaign for renovations, which will aim to address many other problems, as well. In addition to the lack of space and seclusion areas, air-conditioning is faulty in some areas, ceiling leaks are prevalent throughout the building, causing rust and mold, and the kennel area layout is stressful for the animals who have to hear, smell and face one another, they said.
According to Meghji, renderings for the remodel at 1805 E. 19th St. include:
- Enclosures for 60 to 80 dogs and 120 to 140 cats in individual kennels, with small rooms and separate HVAC systems, and housing for 15 small mammals with separate HVAC systems. Meghji said these HVAC systems will prevent disease transmission. Current facilities lack these systems, and low walls and lack of separation between boarding areas facilitate airflow that’s prime for spreading illnesses.
- A veterinary clinic to include spaces for exam rooms, evaluation areas, treatment, surgery, critical care, radiology and dentistry. Currently, Stone works out of a small office — that can’t even fit a desk — with one surgery room. There are no designated evaluation areas, meaning Stone has to crawl inside kennels to make evaluations.
- Redesign of outdoor dog play areas. Meghji said that ideally each kennel zone could have its own outdoor play areas. An improved fenced-in public dog park could be constructed on the four-acre property, too, Meghji said. She thinks a park could be a source of revenue if dog owners could pay a small annual fee to access the area.
- A centralized space for storage, laundry, workrooms and kitchens. Current facilities don’t provide a sufficient, designated space for these, with work areas and storage crammed alongside each other in many spaces. For example, in the room where euthanasia is conducted, you’ll find a steel, waist-high table for the euthanasia procedures, standing amid stacks of medicines, pet foods, laundry machines and bathing tubs.
- Private adoption counseling spaces. The current adoption counseling room is open, and many adopters can be in the same area at one time. Meghji said sometimes privacy is needed to address potential adopters' compatibility with the animal and other concerns.
- A large all-purpose room for training, humane education courses and public pet training classes. Space is so limited currently that Meghji has to borrow rooms from other venues for all-staff trainings and board of director meetings.
- Space for expanded retail sales. Currently, the Humane Society’s adoption room doubles as a retail store for things such as leashes and collars.
- Office space for staff. Currently, just one staff member has his own room at the Humane Society, Meghji said. All other staff, including Meghji, have to double, triple and quadruple up in one office.
- Staff break room and bathroom facilities, including a shower, because, as Meghji said, “Stuff happens in a shelter.”
On Monday, Meghji presented the case to Douglas County commissioners, asking for $450,000 in funding from the county. As the vendor for the county and city for stray animals, about 9 percent of the stray animals the Humane Society takes in come from the county, Meghji said.
“The plan is to save more lives (with the renovation),” Meghji said.
On Wednesday, county commissioners finalized the county budget. They ultimately declined Meghji’s request for the $450,000, but did grant $43,000 — up from $28,000 last year — in funding for the shelter’s stray animal program.
"While I would have loved to have received support for our renovation in 2016, I am thrilled that the County Commission has increased our annual stray housing support at the level requested,” Meghji said.
Meghji said that though county funding was denied, the Humane Society will continue “evaluating all funding options” for the project.
“We are committed to the homeless animals of Douglas County,” Meghji said.
On Tuesday, Meghji will present the proposal at the Lawrence City Commission meeting. She said the Humane Society is seeking $2.5 million from the city because more than 50 percent of the Humane Society’s intake is from the city. Though the shelter has to euthanize specific cases of illness and unsafe animals, Meghji said the shelter still maintains an 86 percent saving rate.
“I don’t believe the county’s decision regarding our capital request is any indication of what the city will do,” Meghji said.
The Humane Society houses all of the stray animals found in the community and charges the city $360,000 for the service. Meghji said that’s just 50 percent of what it actually costs to house and care for the animals.
“(The city) is getting a really good deal on stray-animal housing,” Meghji said. “We’re a vendor, not a social service. We’re providing a service that the city and county laws required them to do.”
The City Commission will meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.
Meghji said she's been asked, "Why not build new?" But she said to completely rebuild could more than double the cost of what's needed for renovations.
Meghji said that the Humane Society is still in its “quiet phase” of the campaign, meaning that the organization is “lining up lead gifts, foundations, municipal support, etc.” before it officially launches publicly, Meghji said. Eventually, it will seek donations from individuals.
Meghji said donations to the general needs for the Humane Society can be made at www.lawrencehumane.org/donate.