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Berkeley Animal Shelter Gets a New Home

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday June 18, 2009 - 07:44:00 PM
Mia Lancaster, 8; Elanie Cassero, 9; and Mirei Machiyma, 9, shake hands with Autumn, an 8-month-old red and white pitbull mix who was found in the basement of an abandoned house during a police raid in Albany three weeks ago. Her owner, the person who was squatting on the property, has not claimed her yet.
Riya Bhattacharjee
Mia Lancaster, 8; Elanie Cassero, 9; and Mirei Machiyma, 9, shake hands with Autumn, an 8-month-old red and white pitbull mix who was found in the basement of an abandoned house during a police raid in Albany three weeks ago. Her owner, the person who was squatting on the property, has not claimed her yet.

The Zoning Adjustments Board approved a use permit for a new facility for the Berkeley Animal Shelter Thursday, June 11.  

Named in honor of late Councilmember Dona Spring, a staunch advocate of homeless animals, who fought for the new facility, the state-of-the-art, two-story, 100-animal-capacity shelter is expected to be completed by the end of 2010 or early 2011. It will be located on the northern edge of Aquatic Park. 

Running on a $1.4 million annual budget, the Berkeley shelter rescues homeless animals from Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville and Piedmont and offers adoption services, counseling, lost and found pet reports and free or reduced-cost spaying and neutering programs for pets of Berkeley residents.  

The 90-capacity shelter currently has 39 dogs, 25 cats, three chickens and one rabbit. Last year, it took in 898 dogs, of which 300 were adopted, 359 returned to owners, 104 transferred to animal rescue groups and 75 euthanised. Of the 870 cats that arrived there over the same period, 302 were adopted, 59 went back home, 352 were taken by animal rescue groups and 105 euthanised. 

When the time comes for the shelter’s inhabitants at 2013 Second St. to move into their new home about a block away at 1 Bolivar Drive, a former drug treatment center, shelter volunteers will walk them over or carry them in their arms, said Kate O’Connor, shelter manager. 

Unlike most animal shelters around the country, the Berkeley Animal Shelter is considered a haven for uncared for, abandoned and often neglected animals, but the Second Street site has its fair share of problems, O’Connor admitted. 

The single-story 1950s building has seen better days, and decades-long wear-and-tear on its narrow cement kennels is visible, with paint peeling off the walls and new cracks forming every day. 

Drainage is a nightmare, according to Berkeley Humane Commissioner Jill Posener, who shepherded the idea of a new shelter for over a decade and led the campaign for the $7.1 million to fund it.  

Every time it rains, the gutters flow over, sending dog feces all over the kennel floors and leaving its occupants susceptible to illness. At the new shelter, every kennel will be equipped with its own drain. 

“We are thrilled to have a new place,” O’Connor said, praising the architects for doing a “tremendous job.” 

The city hired former Berkeley Public Works Director Rene Cardinaux as a consultant on the project. Primitivo Suarez-Wolfe, assistant architect for Berkeley’s Public Works Department, is representing the city. Local architects BurksToma collaborated with animal shelter consultants ARQ to design the new building. Berkeley-based Design Community and Environment was brought in to make the shelter’s landscaping consistent with that of the proposed East Touchdown Plaza abutting the I-80. 

Inspiration for the new facility came from modern shelters across the region, including Contra Costa, San Jose and Redwood City. The new building’s metal and stucco exterior will reflect the neighborhood’s industrial past. 

The new shelter, like the old one, will feature indoor-outdoor kennels, separated by guillotine doors that will remain open during the day and closed at night. This feature, O’Connor explained, helps to reduce stress in animals and plays an important role in controlling disease. 

Another highlight of the new shelter is the “cat condos,” which will have their own ventilation, to curb infection, and individual rooms separating healthy felines from sick ones or newborn kittens. 

Thanks to a brand new medical suite, dogs and cats can be spayed or neutered in-house, rather than having shelter staff drive the animals to veterinary offices. 

Other features include a meeting room for volunteers, two outdoor fenced-in play areas and a more inviting lobby, which will offer increased privacy for visitors and allow shelter dogs to enter and exit through different routes. 

“At the moment, the shelter is so small, the staff and the public are on top of each other,” said O’Connor. “The new building will have a lot more space. We want to make it as stress-free for the animals and the volunteers as possible. And, of course, welcoming for the public.” 

Posener said she hoped the new location would draw even more visitors. 

“In the modern era, shelters are supposed to be integrated into a complete civic center,” she said, citing as an example Oakland’s new animal shelter, which is right next to a housing development. “There is this myth that animal shelters are bad neighbors. People think that animal shelters will decrease a neighborhood’s desirability, when in fact they can be an anchor.” 

Posener told the zoning board that she took exception to the Planning Department’s report, which said that the new shelter would be a good fit for the area because of its proximity to freeways and industries. 

“City staff have adopted an old-fashioned attitude hoping we don’t upset anyone,” she said. “I have concerns with the way the report says the new shelter won’t make a noise, won’t disturb anyone. That’s not what animal shelters are supposed to be. We want the shelter to be a buzzing and happening place. We want to bring people there, not keep them away.” 

Posener also expressed concern about the lack of vehicle access at the back of the new property, which she said would make it difficult for animal control trucks to back out, increasing the likelihood of accidents. 

Anne Wagley, a member of the Humane Commission and the arts and calendar editor for the Daily Planet, said that the city had looked at the possibility of securing an easement from the east side of the property, which she acknowledged would be “expensive, but probably far cheaper and infinitely more preferable than a city vehicle in an accident at the entrance to the new shelter.” 

Cardinaux said that, although the city would like to get an easement, it would not be possible at this point. 

The zoning board asked the city’s traffic engineer to look into the possibility of having the trucks back into the sallyport, instead of backing out. 

Wagley added she was worried that the I-80 bike ramp ended very close to the entrance of the new shelter, making the spot dangerous for both cyclists and drivers, a concern shared by at least two other commissioners. 

The board voted to ask the city’s traffic engineers to look into safety signage for warning both cyclists and drivers, but it did not specify what kind or where it should be placed. 

For more information on the Berkeley Animal Shelter call 981-6600. The shelter is open seven days a week, except on city holidays. For hours and services see