It’s been a long time coming, and now all that is keeping the doors of the Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation’s new shelter closed is an occupancy permit from Island County.
“It could be any day, could be tomorrow,” said WAIF Executive Director Charles Vreeland.
When the county does sign off on the project, the new shelter will be able to provide more space and more comfort than ever before. The new facility, located just south of Coupeville and across the highway from WAIF’s current shelter, is 12,544 square feet. The cost of the building was $2.78 million, while cost of the overall project is more than $4 million.
“The cost is $4.4 million, which includes everything from the property, consultants, feasibility studies, everything,” Vreeland said.
According to WAIF Development and Communications Manager Cinnamon O’Brien, the original project estimate was $3.8 million, but because of additional costs, such as a 17,000-gallon water reservoir for fire suppression and the need for multiple septic tanks, the cost was more than originally anticipated. So far, the organization has raised just over $4.23 million through community donations.
The new shelter and an annex stand on nearly 10 acres of property on Rhododendron Park Drive. Volunteers and staff have cleared and will maintain six acres of dog-walking trails on the property. But even so, you could say the new shelter is the cat’s meow. When moving day does come, the felines will be the first to occupy the space.
“The plan is to start with the cats, who are winning the online donation contest against the dogs,” Vreeland said. “Cats typically outnumber dogs in shelters, and that’s pretty true across the board.”
Overall, the new shelter can hold 48 dogs and 150 cats, with room to grow. WAIF also has cat adoption centers at its thrift stores in Oak Harbor and Freeland and has some cats placed at the Petco store in Oak Harbor. Also new at the shelter is a spay/neuter clinic, which wasn’t allowed at the county-owned building that has housed the main shelter for several years.
There is a grooming room and a kitchen just for pet food. Two wings of dog kennels come complete with radiant heat in the floors and dual dog doors for better sound insulation. Four free-roaming cat rooms are at the center of the building, and there will eventually be patios, or “cat-ios,” as O‘Brien likes to call them, for the felines to enjoy some outdoor space. Walls and floors throughout the kennels have a special epoxy-coated finish to help protect against disease. Even the ventilation system is aimed at keeping animals healthy by cycling six times per hour, versus the standard one time per hour, and an upgraded septic system will manage waste.
But even more than being able to provide a safe, comfortable haven to homeless animals is how the new shelter can impact two-legged creatures on Whidbey Island. Operators want people to feel comfortable as well, whether they are there to adopt a new pet or whether they have made the difficult decision to drop an animal off at the shelter.
“We want people to be comfortable coming to us. We want to build upon being a resource for residents,” O’Brien said. “We want to be seen as not just a place to adopt an animal, but to expand upon our value to the community. People have high expectations.”
“We have an education center now where we can do behavior training, summer programs, educational programs for kids, agility training, tours with the elderly and different certification programs,” Vreeland said.
With new programs, of course, are new financial challenges.
“It costs to add new programs,” Vreeland said. “It’s one thing to build a new shelter. Our maintenance costs will be higher as well, because now if something breaks, we can’t just call the county, we have to fix it.”
WAIF currently operates with 400 volunteers and 38 employees, including the thrift store staffs. The organization was founded in 1990, and fundraising for the new facility began in 1998.
Naming opportunities for rooms in the new shelter are still available for various donations. Information is available by going to WAIF’s website.