New animal shelter opens in Berkeley

Matthew Lee/Staff

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After 13 years in the making, Berkeley’s new animal shelter will finally be celebrating its grand opening.

While most would expect an animal control facility to echo with various shrieks and howls, the new Dona Spring Animal Shelter is surprisingly quiet, an increasingly common phenomenon made possible by its move to the new location near Aquatic Park. The Dona Spring Animal Shelter, which will celebrate its grand opening on Feb. 2, was a long time in the making.

In 2000, the idea of constructing a new animal facility was simply an idea, one item on a long checklist of improvements. Yet, through hours of dedicated support from both city and community members, animals and staff finally moved into the facility on Nov. 6.

The new building is a far cry from the old structure that lies a few blocks away, built in the 1950s with cinder blocks and chain links. Instead, the new facility is clean, with drains in most rooms, and is divided into many sections that reduce smell, noise and disease, providing a better experience for people and animals alike.

The road, however, was a long and bumpy one. Major points of concern during the process included finding an appropriate location for the shelter and designing the new building.

“It took a long time to agree with all the stakeholders, all the constituents,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Linda Maio. “When people care so much — and there were powerful feelings about this — it means you have to really deliberate with them all the time.”

On the city side, the project was championed by two former council members, Betty Olds and the late Dona Spring, after whom the shelter is named.

In 2002, Berkeley voters approved Measure I, which authorized the City Council to issue $7.2 million in bonds to improve or reconstruct a new animal shelter. Over the course of the project, costs increased, and the council had to work to secure an extra $5 million.

While expensive in the short run, the project is an investment for the long term, according to shelter director Kate O’Connor. The facility houses an on-site veterinary clinic, for example, which reduces not only the costs of transporting animals to a veterinarian elsewhere but also the trauma on the animals.

The project, in the end, was truly a community effort. The Friends of Berkeley Animal Care Services and Berkeley Animal Welfare Fund helped purchase items for the veterinary clinic, and Crate & Barrel donated $25,000 worth of furnishings for the shelter.

The bright yellow building now stands two stories tall on a lot beside the park’s lagoon. The numerous windows allow sunlight to filter into the animals’ habitats. Additionally, the animal pods each have their own air conditioning system, which helps not only to reduce the smell in the facilities but also to contain disease. For instance, the shelter has not seen any cases of “kennel cough,” a common upper respiratory infection in dogs, at all since the move.

“It’s hard since the animals are mostly rescued animals, so they have a hard time adjusting to the shelter no matter what,” said volunteer and UC Berkeley sophomore Yujin Lee, who has worked at the shelter for more than a year. “I just hope the new environment of the shelter helps alleviate that a little.”

Megan Messerly covers city government. Contact her at [email protected].