Spaced Out

A new building features ample room and thoughtful touches for neglected and abused animals.

Light. Bright colors. Heated floors. Soothing music.

As a lilting version of "Hey there, you with the stars in your eyes" drifts from the sound system, stars seem to dance in the eyes of Tramp, Victoria, and Annikin, three of some 200 animals settling in at the Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County's gleaming new facility near Shelby Farms.

Officially opening this month, the 23,000-square-foot, multilevel structure at 935 Farm Road marks a striking contrast to the three buildings the Humane Society occupied in Midtown. One of them, located at 2238 Central with about 3,000 square feet, served as the organization's headquarters for two decades, housing dogs, cats, and all employees. A few years ago, a nearby building became home to cats, another to administrative offices. Even so, the nonprofit -- which was chartered in 1933 and provides shelter, food, and medical care to neglected, injured, and abused animals -- was bursting at the seams.

Then in 2003, former Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout and other officials approved a 99-year agreement to lease to the Humane Society four acres near Shelby Farms for $1 a year. That gesture launched a capital campaign that to date has raised $5.6 million for a building that accommodates more than twice as many animals as well as a veterinary clinic and space for adoption counseling, grooming, acupuncture, dog-obedience training, volunteer training, humane education, community meetings, and more.

The organization still needs funds to fully furnish the building, says Humane Society president Ginger Morgan: "People can purchase a kennel, a community room, or educational materials, or just make donations." And more volunteers are always welcome, she adds: "A bigger place with more animals calls for more volunteers."

One of the building's most significant features, according to Morgan, is the ventilation system that keeps diseases from spreading through the air. In the dog and cat isolation rooms, where animals are kept till they're cleared for adoption, "the air is channeled out so it doesn't contaminate any other part of the building," Morgan explains. "We didn't have that on Central."

Also better for the animals are "lifestyle rooms," supplied with bedding and other furniture "that gives the place a homey feel," she adds. The canine "rooms," which often contain two compatible dogs, range in size from 6-by-10 feet to 10-by-13.5 feet, compared to 3-by-6-foot kennels at their former home.

Numerous tall windows enhance the building's spacious ambiance and give the cats, in their separate area, several sunny spots for napping or watching wildlife. Cheerful touches throughout the building include walls painted in primary colors and decorative paw prints scattered across the concrete floors.

Outside is a 23,000-square-foot play area. Here the volunteer dogwalkers can oversee the canines as they romp, catch Frisbees, or simply socialize in the shade of four big oak trees. "These trees were the only ones on the acreage," says Morgan, "and we were able to save them all."

How 'bout that sound system? Does it ever get rockin'? "It's Muzak for animals," says Morgan, "so it's classical in the kennels and WRVR The River in the main area. But about 8:30 in the morning," she adds with a laugh, "we'll crank up 'Who Let the Dogs Out.'"

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