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VOL. 126 | NO. 234 | Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fresh Start

City’s animal services looks for new beginning at facility

By Aisling Maki

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The city’s long-beleaguered animal services department will showcase its brand new $7.1 million facility at 2350 Appling City Cove Saturday, Dec. 3, at 11 a.m. with a grand opening celebration that will include tours for the public and face painting and other activities for young visitors.

Operations manager Chelton Beaman looks inside a “Healthy Hold” area at the new Memphis Animal Services shelter at 2350 Appling City Cove. 
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

A Rotary Club of Memphis report made public two weeks ago cited ongoing problems in the shelter’s operations. The most controversial finding was a link between problems following procedures at the shelter and the city’s robust and illegal dog fighting and gambling trade.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s first day in office in 2009 began with a raid on the shelter by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department and investigators with the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office. The shelter director at the time, Ernest Alexander, and two other employees were later charged with animal cruelty.

This Saturday, Wharton will cut the ribbon on the new facility, symbolizing what the city hopes will be a fresh chapter in addressing some of the problems that have drawn criticism from animal rights groups across the country.

At roughly 35,000 square feet, the new $7.1 million facility is three times larger than the former facility at 3456 Tchulahoma Road and is designed to provide more space, comfort and cleanliness for the animals it houses.

“Cats are seen playing as you approach the reception area through a lobby that is quiet and inviting,” said Janet Hooks, director of the city’s Division of Public Works and Neighborhoods, which oversees the animal shelter. “Dogs also have a socialization room allowing quiet interaction with potential adopters. The facility was designed to be as inviting to the public and as stress free for the animals as possible.”

The shelter features bright yellow walls and blue and green floors throughout, and colorful animal mosaics and murals by artist Deborah Brown grace the building’s interior and exterior walls.

Rooms are clearly marked with signage, and green paw prints painted on the floor lead visitors to the cat area, while blue paws direct visitors to dog areas.

Cats are housed in cat condos designed to reduce stress levels and make them less susceptible to disease, and are completely separated from the sight, sound and smell of dogs.

A separate cat playroom with toys, ledges and a floor-to-ceiling winding play staircase allows cats opportunities for exercise and socialization on a rotating basis, while allowing potential adopters to observe them through a large window.

A number of "cat condos" keep cats separate from dogs inside the new Memphis Animal Shelter at 2350 Appling City Cove.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

The dog area features two connecting cages for each dog, allowing them to move through a door into the adjacent cage when staff members are cleaning. Each cage is equipped with self-filling water bowls installed several inches above the ground to ensure dogs always have fresh, clean water.

An improved ventilation system and designated isolation room will help stop the spread of disease.

The stray area is now open to the public, which was not the case in the old facility, and the grounds include a large, concrete dog run area in back, as well as a spacious, fenced-in grassy area in the front for dogs to exercise.

Jeanne Chancellor, who runs the nonprofit group Friends of Memphis Animal Services and has volunteered regularly at the shelter for 10 years, said she was “in awe” the first time she toured the new facility.

“I really couldn’t believe it, that it was as nice or as big as it is,” she said. “The noise level is so much better, and the dogs are more spread out so you don’t walk into a room with 300 dogs in it. Now it’s 20 or 25 dogs. It’s just not as overwhelming for people who visit. … It’s clean, it’s gorgeous and it’s full of animals that need homes. It’s a much more pleasant experience now to visit here and adopt.”

The building features several meet-and-greet rooms, offering visitors quiet time to get to know potential pets and introduce their family pets to potential housemates to gauge how they will get along.

Hand sanitizer dispensers are installed outside of the rooms, and multiple janitorial and storage rooms – features lacking in the old facility – are throughout the building.

Surrendered animals are brought into the facility through a side door, where they are placed in a temporary holding area and immediately checked in by officers on new computers to ensure more efficient record keeping.

There’s also a training and education room that seats roughly 30 and will be used for staff education and volunteer orientations. That room, as well as the public water fountains and bathrooms – which did not exist in the old facility – will be accessible even when the facility is closed.

A state-of-the-art veterinary clinic that’s equipped to handle more surgeries also has its own entrance.

Although the grand opening is Saturday, the facility has been open for about two weeks. Chancellor said volunteer interest is already picking up and she said she expects that trend to continue, “because it’s more accessible to a lot of people and it’s definitely a much better volunteer environment.”

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