- Associated Press - Saturday, March 19, 2016

NORFOLK, Neb. (AP) - With an extensive foster system, the Animal Shelter of Northeast Nebraska has operated for years with no central location.

That is no longer the case for the organization that was given the go-ahead to accept animals after completing its final inspection.

“We passed with flying colors,” said Sydney Hurley, executive director, of the USDA inspection that took place one Wednesday afternoon.

The Norfolk Daily News (https://bit.ly/2554Tcz ) reports that part of the building previously used as a chicken hatchery underwent a major renovation to bring it up-to-date and make it a functional shelter space.

While the facility in its entirety is an ample 21,000 square feet, only 5,500 square feet of that was gutted and remodeled for animal care use.

“We wanted to build the facility for the future,” Hurley said.

With that in mind, the design process required extra time and thought to be spent. The orientation of the building was changed.

Not only did that allow for the best utilized space, it also presents better to the highway. The location on east Omaha Avenue previously operated with the front door facing east. The new layout switched the front door and lobby area to face north, overlooking the highway.

The spacious lobby will be the first thing potential adopters see as they walk in, along with two display-type enclosures. Floor-to-ceiling windows allow visitors to get a glimpse of the newest feline residents or litters of kittens that may come in to the shelter.

Many big-ticket items such as the granite countertops, flooring, tiling, cabinetry and two sets of washing machines and dryers were all donated by various individuals and business in the area.

The facility’s layout maximizes space but also promotes the safety of the future residents.

Twenty-six cat kennels and 30 dog kennels are for general population animals. The addition of 10 cat and three dog isolation kennels ensures the well-being and health not only of those already housed in the facility, but also the animals fresh from intake.

The isolation rooms give animals time to adjust to their surroundings. With a separate HVAC system, any illnesses that could be spread through the air would be contained, Hurley said.

In the “cat” room, no enclosure looks into another. This promotes calm, relaxed behavior, therefore helping adoptable felines put their best paw forward in hopes of finding a home.

In the kennel room, rows of gleaming top-of-the-line kennels are spread out so that, again, no enclosure looks directly into another. Four of the 30 kennels serve as acclimation kennels. These kennels are set away from the bulk of the runs and are larger than the others. They will be used by puppies, particularly shy dogs and pregnant mothers, to get them used to the kennel environment.

An intake area, grooming room and food prep area also make up the newly renovated space.

Currently, the organization has an extensive volunteer foster care system, which will stay in place even with the facility’s opening.

“When we get filled, we can utilize our foster care network,” Hurley said. “And that’s a huge testament to our volunteers.”

Hurley is the only paid staff member, and until the organization has a year or two of operating expenses under its belt, there won’t be any further renovation, even though the wish list for the facility is longer than what was done. It’s also unlikely there will be any additional employees hired.

“Once we get that cushion, that rhythm, then we can look what the community needs and wants,” Hurley said of additional expansion. “I see the facility filling up as quickly as we allow it to. It will really be what I can handle.”

The facility itself is a long time coming. A generous donation of land north of town on Highway 81 several years ago led to the beginning of the fundraising process for a facility.

After being approached about the old chicken hatchery property, the organization determined that the cost of a new build versus the remodel would be similar, so the determining factor was the location. Because the organization relies so heavily on volunteers, the Omaha Avenue location made the most sense.

Now that the facility has been completed, there are few things left to do: open the doors for the animals and open the doors for the public.

Animal intake was immediate after passing the inspection, and the facility is already a temporary home to two cats and two dogs. So now, the only thing left is a celebration of sorts.

The grand opening for the new facility will take place on Saturday, April 9, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“We wanted to make sure these animals are being kept at a high standard of care - we wanted to set that standard,” Hurley said. “We’re proud of it. It took us a long time to get here, so we really want to show it off.”

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Information from: Norfolk Daily News, https://www.norfolkdailynews.com

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