Oct. 10—GUILFORD COUNTY — When the long-awaited Guilford County animal shelter opens on Nov. 1, Guilford County Animal Services Director Jorge Ortega thinks it will dramatically improve the care of animals, staff and visitors.
"It's not a new chapter," Ortega said. "This is a brand-new book that we're starting."
Ortega describes the new county facility at 980 Guilford College Road as functional and believes its six-wing design will make adoptions of healthy animals easier and the care of injured strays and/or unadoptable animals more manageable.
To prepare for the move, the current shelter at 4525 W. Wendover Avenue is closed to the public through Tuesday and will close again Oct. 17-19.
Adoption appointments are being accepted for the month of November at the new shelter. To make an appointment, visit https://bit.ly/3altzqr.
Pet owners also need to make an appointment to surrender their pet, Ortega said. No appointment is needed to reclaim a lost pet or if you found a stray dog running loose.
People who surrender pets will enter a lobby with an attached intake exam room to allow private consultation. That is sometimes needed when people are not willing to share their story if someone else is in the space, Ortega said, such as in cases of domestic violence where a person can't take their pet with them as they flee a dangerous situation.
Three of the new facility's six wings are devoted to adoptions and the other three for strays. Each wing is self-contained with its own HVAC system to reduce airborne diseases. Strays that arrive with highly contagious diseases like distemper or parvo can be quarantined more easily, Ortega said.
"Our primary two responsibilities are public health and public safety," Ortega said. "Our ultimate goal is to keep our community safe and healthy. All these other programs that we're doing, like adoptions, are a responsible thing to do."
Those who want to adopt animals will be able to view dogs, cats or other small animals like hamsters or birds through glass panes and to interact with a selected animal in a courtyard with artificial canine grass or in a get-acquainted room on bad weather days.
Guilford County began construction of the new facility in June 2020, with elected officials noting at the time it had been 70 years since the community invested significantly in the welfare of unwanted, neglected and abused animals. The new shelter includes a spay and neuter suite, surgery prep areas and an animal ICU.
"Even though it's brand new, this building does not have a lot of bells and whistles," Ortega said. "It is state-of-the-art but really focused on the animals' well-being, mental and physical. Also the well-being of our human population — meaning our staff, volunteers and guests."
Indoor/outdoor kennels allow dogs to go outside in gated, fenced areas. At the current shelter, strays have no chance to go outside. The goal now is to let dogs stretch their legs and socialize with other dogs in play groups. There are even outdoor areas for cats.
When animal control officers bring an animal to the current shelter, it is unloaded outside and exposed to the elements whether rain, heat, snow or sleet.
"Dangerous or not, dying or not dying, it's all happening outside where the general public can see," Ortega said. "It's an eyesore sometimes depending on the animal that's coming in."
The new building will allow animal control officers to unload an animal in a covered area.
"Here, everything's private and climate controlled," Ortega said. "We can do an assessment of the animal in the vehicle without the animal being in distress. If it's an euthanasia decision — the animal's been injured, hit by a car or whatever it may be then the animal goes into one section of the building. If a sheriff's deputy finds a stray dog in the middle of the night, they will have access to the building after hours and be able to drop an animal off. It's similar to what they do now, outside in a cage."
That outside transfer was difficult for officers and animals, especially during summer downpours or freezing rain and ice storms, Ortega said.
"In the new building, it will be climate controlled," Ortega said. "This allows us to keep everyone comfortable."
Designed to adjust to fluctuations in animal populations, the building can house up to 550 animals. If it reaches or exceeds capacity, it would likely be in response to a disaster or an emergency. Ortega recalled that the shelter staff went to other counties, picked up animals and brought them for an overnight stay after hurricanes. An animal welfare organization from another state picked them up the next day.
"Even if we're just doing an overnight stay, having this additional space will help us do that," Ortega.
It could also help neighboring counties in cases of animal hoarding or cruelty.
"If we do come across those cases, it would be nice if we could be able to house them on an emergency basis," Ortega said. "But if we get to that number day-to-day, we need to look at the entire system because we have failed."
The way the new facility is designed allows some flexibility that hasn't been available in the current shelter, Ortega said.
"Just because an animal is not claimed in three days because he's a stray doesn't mean he's an euthanasia decision. We should find him a home," Ortega said. "But it also doesn't mean that we build such a large facility that we should fill it up either. If we can keep pets with their families in their homes where they are at, that's what we want."
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