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Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter’s Expansion Finally Breaks Ground

SCCAS long-awaited renovation includes the addition of a “community cat room”

A cat named Happy enjoys some attention from Erika Smart, program and development manager at Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter. PHOTO: JOHANNA MILLER

The Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter (SCCAS) has broken ground on an extensive, multiple-phase expansion of its main campus in Santa Cruz.

The project was originally planned to kick off in 2020, but the pandemic halted construction for more than a year, as the shelter dealt with closures, restrictions and an influx of animals during the CZU Lightning Complex fires. Last week, work finally began on the first phase of the project, which includes increasing the size of the shelter’s on-site spay/neuter clinic, extending out the rabbit room, and adding on a community cat room to the front of the facility, where there is unused landscaping space.

Pam Lowry, secretary of the SCCAS Foundation’s board and longtime volunteer, says that she’s looking forward to seeing the area utilized in a way that won’t seem overwhelming to locals.

“What’s nice is that from the outside, people aren’t going to realize that this has been such a significant change,” Lowry says. “They’ve designed it so it fits in really well, with the same roof angle and everything, which is important. It’s not this big thing that will change the look of the neighborhood.”

However, says SCCAS program and development manager Erika Smart, the inside will feel a lot different.

“We’re going to have a lot more room, a lot more natural light coming in,” Smart says. “The cats especially like to hang out in the windows, in the sun. They like to look out and see what’s happening. It’s going to be great.”

The community cat room will act as an extra area for prospective owners to meet cats in a more relaxed, open atmosphere—similar to the cat cafes popping up in big cities.

“Instead of people coming in and looking at a cat in a cage, they can sit on a couch, they can play with the animals,” says Melanie Sobel, general manager of the shelter and president of the foundation’s board. “It will be wonderful, having an open space, for those cats that thrive in that type of environment.”

Sobel adds that it will also allow their adoptable rabbits to have a bigger area.

“We can set up more pens, so they can hop around—it’ll be great for them,” she says.

Plans to expand the shelter have been ongoing for years. With the organization continuing to grow, staff and volunteers found that they needed more space, especially in the clinic. 

“Our clinic is very small,” Sobel says. “There’s not much room to move around. Cats and dogs sometimes have to be housed together after recovering from surgery, which is not ideal. With [the expansion], the surgery suite will more than double in size, with more surgery tables. It will speed up the process and spread things out.”

SCCAS offers the only low-cost spay/neuter program for cats, rabbits and dogs in Santa Cruz County, which since 1994 has mandated spay/neuter procedures for pets. 

“The problem is…it doesn’t make sense to have a mandate if you don’t have an affordable resource for the public,” Sobel says. “It’s not fair to those who can’t afford it.”

In 2011 SCCAS launched Planned Pethood, which offers residents low prices on procedures. Smart says they’ve never had to advertise the program—they are constantly getting people asking for their services. 

“We have about 150 animals waiting at any given time to get surgery,” Smart says. “It’s definitely a need. To have a bigger space—it means we can do more.”

Lowry says the expansion will be better for the animals, more accessible to the public and improve things on an administrative level. 

“Right now, we have one room to do staff meetings, training and volunteer meetings…plus it’s the break room,” she says. “This will help that issue, too. When you have more admin space, you can get more done.”

The second and third phases of the SCCAS’s expansion are still in the works, but are planned to include a remodeling of the Shelter Annex next door and a new training and education center on-site. 

Lowry says that so far, nearby residents and other businesses have been very supportive of the project.

“It’s great to know that this community supports what we are doing,” she says. “And we want this to support them, in turn.” 

Learn more about the shelter’s plans at scanimalshelter.org/campus_expansion.

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