Most of the strays and other homeless dogs that end up at Pinellas County Animal Services will need another place to stay for the next eight months.
A $3.5 million renovation of the department’s 30-year-old shelter will temporarily reduce space for dogs, prompting the county to eliminate adoption fees during much of the project. Animal services director Doug Brightwell announced the step on Monday, while also calling on the public to help foster dogs during construction.
“We don’t want there to be any barriers for our animals going to their forever homes,” Brightwell said.
While the shelter on Ulmerton Road usually houses 350 canines at a time, the renovation will limit available space to 140 dogs for eight months.
The first phase of the year-long project started in September with the roof replacement. Beginning in mid-December, construction will start impacting the animal areas as air conditioning is installed, kennels are replaced and buildings are strengthened to withstand a Category 4 storm.
Those interested in fostering dogs can call animal services at 727-582-2600 and press option 8 to speak to customer service. All adoptable canines can be viewed at www.pinellas.gov/dogs.
Although the project will also impact the shelter area that houses about 300 cats, Brightwell said animal services has enough rescue partners to absorb felines during construction.
He said he began planning for the much-needed overhaul in 2015. Although money was allocated soon after from the county’s Penny for Pinellas one-cent sales tax, the award was delayed until this year.
The upgrade will make animal services one of the few municipal shelters in the state with air conditioning, Brightwell said. The facility has tried to keep cool in the summers with industrial fans, misters and open doors, but the setup could be “just brutal” for animals, the 300 volunteers and 58 staff, he said.
The kennels also have outlived their useful life and recommended standards for care. The enclosures have slatted flooring that is elevated a few inches from the ground. The ceramic block walls that separate each dog are chipped and cracked from decades of wear.
The renovation will bring stainless steel kennels with solid flooring, which meet recommended care standards, Brightwell said.
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About 3,000 dogs came through the shelter last year, mostly a mix of strays and pets surrendered by their owners, according to county records.
A dog’s stay at the shelter can vary, with smaller dogs finding homes sometimes within hours or days of arrival while larger dogs can stay longer. The current longest resident has been at the shelter for about seven months, but healthy and safe dogs are not euthanized for space, according to Brightwell.
In general, euthanasia is reserved for dangerous or severely ill dogs, Brightwell has said.
The renovation will not increase the shelter’s capacity to hold more animals but it will greatly improve the quality life while they are there, he said.
“It’s like having your kitchen renovated at home,” Brightwell said. “It’s painful while it’s happening, but worth it in the end.”