It’s paws-itively good news for Sarnia’s strays.
City council’s unanimous support for a new animal shelter clears the way for a larger facility with services not possible at the current one, says Donna Pyette, manager of the Sarnia & District Humane Society.
The shelter at the corner of Exmouth Street and Harbour Road is 39 years old and too cramped to serve the 3,000 animals that come into care each year, she said.
The building has structural problems, high maintenance costs, heating and cooling issues, and is on a lot too small for expansion, council was told last week.
Following a public meeting, council approved regulatory amendments to permit the new shelter immediately east of the current one in Centennial Park.
What’s proposed is a land swap that will see the current shelter demolished – at the Human Society’s expense – and the empty lot returned to the city. In return, the city will enter a lease agreement with the Society for 8,862 square metres (2.19 acres) of currently empty parkland just to the east, fronting Exmouth and between Front Street and Harbour Road.
The current design is for an L-shaped, one-storey building. It would provide new amenities, such as a pet supply store selling gently used donated items, a cat café, a veterinary surgical unit for shelter animals, a self-serve dog grooming station, and indoor/outdoor dog kennels for day use only.
A third party would operate the cat café and offer coffee and snacks to patrons as they watch cats behind a glass wall, Pyette explained. Cat cafes are proven stress-relievers and can help increase adoptions.
The existing shelter was built in 1983 and has served the community well, said Pyette. But it lacks space for animals, volunteers, staff, and visitors. While its air quality meets minimum standards the risk of airborne disease is high, she said.
“In short, our facility is busting at the seams…how we treat animals is a direct reflection of our community and our humanity,” Pyette added.
Mayor Mike Bradley said he had reservations about leasing city-owned parkland and asked if the Humane Society has considered other locations.
Several other sites were assessed including Germain Park and lands in the Modeland Road area, Pyette said. “But they did not pan out.”
Centennial Park also provides volunteers with a safe space to walk shelter dogs, she said.
The site is currently identified for development in the waterfront masterplan, according to a staff report that recommended approval.
“I support this with some reluctance, because of the parkland,” Mayor Bradley said. “But the arguments are quite compelling and I don’t see any (other) viable options.”
The number of animals served by the shelter has doubled over the past 10 to 15 years and could increase again when the Glencoe animal shelter shuts down, noted Coun. Bill Dennis, who read a statement in support.
A new lease agreement must be reached first and a site plan approved for buffering, landscaping, exterior lighting and drainage.
Construction costs in 2021 were estimates at $2 million to $2.5 million. Shelter officials said a public fundraising campaign would begin once final approval is received.