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City Shelter to Get Million-Dollar Makeover

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Nearly 50 years after it was built, Richmond's animal shelter is getting a major makeover. The city plans to spend $1.5 million to add a new wing, install modern cages and flooring, and upgrade the drainage and other systems in the building at 1600 Chamberlayne Ave.

The shelter moved there in 2004 from Hopkins Road. In 2008, the city bought the building from the Richmond chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which now occupies the gleaming $7.2 million Robins-Starr Humane Center near The Diamond. The center, a private nonprofit, is big and bright, with spacious kennels and private rooms where prospective owners and pups can get acquainted. It's much more human-friendly than the shelter, where adult dogs are kept in cages stacked two high in a cold and cacophonous corridor. 

“We hope to change that image,” says Chris Beschler, the city's deputy chief administrative officer for operations. The renovations not only will bring the shelter up to state standards, he says, but also may also increase the number of pets adopted.

The old stacked cages will be replaced by a single row of modern steel enclosures, saving staff from having to lift heavy dogs. The dogs will get new runs. And the worn concrete floor, which is difficult to disinfect, will be replaced along with the drainage system, which can no longer handle the water used for washing cages and animals.

The city recently awarded Dominion Seven Architects, a Lynchburg firm that specializes in shelters, the $239,000 contract to design the renovations. The plans should be complete by June, Beschler says, and he hopes construction will start by the fall. After the new wing is added, the shelter's animals will be shifted so renovations can proceed on the rest of the building, to be completed by the spring of 2012.

The Richmond animal shelter has had a troubled past. In 1996, a whistle-blowing employee revealed that animals were suffering at the shelter because of deplorable conditions and inhumane euthanasia practices. Animal welfare groups got involved, the city investigated and lawsuits ensued.

The shelter now works with local animal-rescue groups to place as many animals as possible. In 2009 the shelter and the SPCA were given a national award for their commitment to find homes for all healthy, homeless animals at the shelter.

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