RIVER NORTH — Spaying and neutering 12,000 animals per year requires a lot of resources and space.
For the last few years, the Anti-Cruelty Society, Chicago's oldest and largest not-for-profit animal shelter, has had a shortage of the latter.
"For the volume of animals that we handle, this space is not that large," said Trisha Teckenbrock, an ACS spokeswoman, while standing outside the facility's veterinary clinic, which has a maximum capacity of five operating tables but can't practically accommodate more than four.
On Jan. 22, construction crews broke ground on a four-phase renovation project to reorganize and update the existing facilities. The project is in its first phase: building a top-of-the-line veterinary clinic in the basement of the newest structure on ACS's "campus," the education building erected in 2000.
The subsequent phases of construction will snake through the facility in the coming months, moving the adoption counseling area so it's adjacent to adoption processing, relocating the employee lounge and locker room and moving the receiving area where animals are surrendered away from the front entrance.
While replacing the dilapidated clinic space with a larger, more efficient and modernized facility will have a significant impact on staff comfort, separating the adoption and surrender areas is a consideration for the shelter's human guests, according to Dr. Robyn Barbiers, president of the Anti-Cruelty Society.
"It's hard when people come in right now. Both adopters and surrenderers come in the same entrance, so you've got people all, 'Oh, let's go get a pet! I'm really happy!" and then you've got people crying with their 15-year-old German shepherd that needs to be euthanized," Barbiers said. "Or, 'I have to give up my pet because of life circumstance,' and we really would like to separate those areas."
The renovations will cost the not-for-profit $8 million, $1 million more than their annual operating budget, which is comprised almost entirely of donations, Barbiers said.
The oldest structure on the four-building "campus" that houses the current clinic was built in 1936. In 1954, after the passage of a new state law requiring animals to be vaccinated led to a spike in pet surrenders, ACS opened The Hulbert Memorial Annex, which provided additional kennel space and isolation areas.
In the late 1970s, Robert R. McCormick and other notable entrepreneurs helped fund the construction of a new shelter that opened in November 1981, designed by architect Stanley Tigerman. In 1999, the society broke ground on its newest building, the education and training center that will house the new clinic.
Barbiers said the remodeling, part of a "mini-master plan" to update the outdated facilities that was first dreamed up in 2011, represents the first cohesive renovation the four-building structure has seen in decades.
The $3.6 million clinic will also get new monitoring equipment, anesthesia machines, and all new caging.
"[It will be] much better for the animals, much better for the staff, and much better for our guests," Barbiers said. "We've done little pieces over the past six years, but no one's sat down and done a plan ... We could've just done the clinic down there and said, 'OK, we're not solving any of the other problems,' but it was time to sit down and make a master plan."