Humane Society Is Planning 'State-of the Art Facility'

(Sarah L. Voisin - The Washington Post)
By Sue Anne Pressley Montes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 7, 2007

Right now, dogs and cats brought to the Washington Humane Society's small private shelter in an old rowhouse on Georgia Avenue NW wait in kennels in the basement.

The society, which rescues 15,000 animals a year for the D.C. government, hopes to remedy that situation with a new centralized facility that would open in 2009.

"It is a very big deal," said Ilene Steiman, the interim executive director. "It's something we've wanted to do for 12 years."

The new facility would be able to handle 12,000 to 15,000 animals a year. Society officials are hoping the District will agree to sell $5 million in revenue bonds to make it possible, a debt that would be repaid in full, spokeswoman Tara deNicolas said.

The Georgia Avenue shelter, which has a capacity of 24 dogs and 40 cats, was purchased as a "temporary stop-gap measure" nearly 30 years ago, deNicolas said.

For more than a decade, the Washington Humane Society has held the contract to operate the District's New York Avenue shelter, which can hold 56 dogs and 49 cats. The property the society has obtained for its new facility is in the New York Avenue corridor, Steiman said, but many details have not yet been finalized.

"If we are fortunate enough to have the contract [with the District] when we complete the building, we would provide a state-of-the-art facility for homeless and abused animals in the District," she said.

The construction of a new center will end the society's present scattered existence. Currently, it operates the Georgia Avenue shelter for animals brought in by its law enforcement officers or surrendered by owners. The officers' headquarters is two doors down. A third office is rented on Eastern Avenue for staff.

Although still in the early planning stages, the new center would be "much more visitor-friendly," Steiman said. "We will have rooms where cats can socialize, where dogs can run together. There will be space for behavior and training classes."

That would be a sharp contrast to the current shelters, which suffer from aging conditions and overcrowding. The buildings require major renovations, and the society has to contract with private kennels to house overflow animals. Noise levels are high, and "potential adoptees are forced to walk the gauntlet between excited, barking dogs," deNicolas said.

Unwanted animals continue to be a major problem in the area. The two shelters on Georgia and New York avenues take in a total of about 33 animals a day, Steiman said.

"There's a constant stream of stray animals, homeless, abused, unwanted, unclaimed, especially now during the summer months," she said. "There are litters and litters of puppies and kittens, and we need foster homes for all of them."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company