County unveils larger, high-tech shelter at new location

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 6, 2017

 Jamie Fenner, of the Oakland County Executive’s Office, snuggles up to a 12-week-old kitten that was adopted at the shelter during the grand opening.

Jamie Fenner, of the Oakland County Executive’s Office, snuggles up to a 12-week-old kitten that was adopted at the shelter during the grand opening.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

PONTIAC — Visitors, of the human variety, packed into the newly built Oakland County Animal Shelter and Pet Adoption Center Oct. 4 for the grand opening of the more than 35,000-square-foot facility.

Even though there were remarks from Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, guided tours of the state-of-the-art building and even snacks for guests, it was clear the day was all about the animals.

“Look around. This is one of the finest shelters around the country already; this is the best there is. I’m glad we can finally show it off,” Patterson said at the grand opening ceremony. 

Patterson noted that with the opening, the facility had a slight name change, from the Oakland County Animal Control and Pet Adoption Center to the Oakland County Animal Shelter and Pet Adoption Center. 

“Because the focus of our mission is to humanely care for animals,” he said, “we expect relocating to Pontiac will enhance the shelter’s mission to adopt as many animals as possible. We expect to see more pet adoptions here, which is easier to find on the county campus than the (former) Auburn Hills location, and more accessible.”

Joanie Toole, chief of the shelter, said pet welfare experts from around the country were consulted on the design and features of the new building, which is divided into three public areas where visitors can interact with adoptable cats and dogs, reunite with their lost pets, and hold meetings, adoption events or other gatherings in the community room. 

Lots of those suggestions came from experts from inside the shelter too, according to Toole.

“For years, we had meetings  — what seemed like weekly — about what were our goals, what were our fantasies for the new shelter. And they really took what we said to heart and brought our dreams to life,” she said. “They looked at what the industry standard was and took it even further.”

With space to house 150 dogs and 140 cats generously, the building features plenty of amenities for animals and visitors alike. The kennel and cat condo areas have music piped in to help animals relax, and private indoor and outdoor visitation areas so prospective adopters can meet and greet animals without distractions.

Sophisticated ventilation and drainage systems were installed to keep infections down to a minimum, with 15 air exchanges per hour and a bleach-free floor cleaning system that packs major germ-killing power without the dangerous fumes of traditional cleaning chemicals.

“The county is really doing everything they can to make this the best, most up-to-date shelter in the country,” said Bob Gatt, manager of the shelter.

Toole said the new location, while conveniently located right on the Oakland County campus, adjacent to popular destinations like the courthouse and the Sheriff’s Office, still offers plenty of outdoor space for visitors to walk and play with animals.

“It’s a better, more enjoyable place. We hope families will want to come out to these wonderful grounds even if they don’t plan to adopt,” she said, adding that in the future she hopes the shelter will be able to host more public events with the animals, like dog- and cat-accompanied yoga classes, and more participants in the Fitness Unleashed program, which allows local workers to walk temperament-tested dogs on their lunch hour several days a month.

The grand opening, which was open to the public, saw its fair share of supporters as well as protesters, who have maintained for years that the shelter can do more to reduce the number of euthanizations. The county has defended itself in the past by saying the number of pets that are regularly put to sleep at the shelter is very low considering the large area under its service for animal control, which includes 53 communities.

But Toole hopes the new shelter will put animal advocates’ worries to rest, noting that the steps the county has taken to make the new shelter top of the line have drawn attention from around the country,  bringing shelter directors from other states to the new facility for ideas on what they can implement at their own locations. 

“I hope the misconceptions some people have of an animal shelter would fade away when they see this place,” she said.