TAVARES — Armed with a nearly $8 million budget, Lake County’s new, modernized animal shelter is ready to break ground this month, on what is expected to be a larger and far more high tech shelter than the one hosting stray animals today.
The Lake County Animal Shelter will celebrate a groundbreaking ceremony on Monday, Jan. 14 at 11 a.m. at 12280 County Road 448 in Tavares, just southeast of Lake Idamere Park, noted Tiffany Henderson, lead public information officer for the Lake County Office of Communications.
As Henderson noted, once completed this new shelter is expected to “have the necessary amount of space to temporarily house hundreds of dogs, cats and other pets as they wait for adoption.”
The new shelter will double the size of the current building to 31,000 square feet.
Why is Lake County Building a new Animal Shelter?
The current shelter at 28123 County Road 561, Tavares, was built in 1994, but that 13,000 square foot facility is considered too small and has frequently struggled with overcrowding issues.
The shelter has also suffered in recent years from faulty air conditioning problems that’s made housing animals there in the summer a major challenge.
In response, last year the Lake County Commission voted to approve the construction of a new animal shelter, financed by a one-cent sales tax that voters reauthorized in 2015.
The commission also made the need for a new shelter more urgent by adopting a no-kill policy for Lake County, meaning animals are only to be euthanized if they’re too sick or too aggressive to be adopted.
Instead, the county has pushed for a strong adoption program to find homes for stray cats and dogs, and the shelter has responded with special adoption programs throughout the year, including hosting events like “Hot Dogs, Cool Cats” in the summer as a special pet adoption party for the general public.
“Hot Dogs, Cool Cats” became an ongoing event to help find more homes for the animals now at the shelter, a day offering free pet adoptions, plus hot dogs and popsicles courtesy of LEASH, Inc., the non-profit volunteer organization that works to help the shelter and to find homes for stray animals.
The no-kill policy has been working, and the county has placed more than 3,700 pets in recent years. But the shelter remains full and employees continued hosting events like “Hot Dog, Cool Cats” to place even more of the animals now living there.
What Will the New Shelter be Like?
As Henderson noted in a news release, the new 31,000-square-foot facility will adhere to the county’s commitment to remaining a no-kill shelter, but is expected to be a considerably more comfortable place for the animals they take in.
It “will feature an open-air cat porch, a dog viewing site and an area where animals and their potential owners can get to know each other,” Henderson wrote in the release.
Lake County Animal Shelter director Whitney Boylston called this an exciting new development for them, adding, “Since our transition to becoming a no-kill community, we’ve struggled with overcrowding at the shelter. The new facility will allow us to better serve the pets as they wait for new homes.”
Lake County Commissioner Leslie Campione noted that after being designated as a no-kill shelter in 2017, this new shelter will be specifically designed to address concerns about overcrowding.
“After all of the commitment, dedication and hard work by so many over the past two years, it is extremely rewarding to be breaking ground on a new animal shelter,” Campione said. “We reached our first goal in 2018 when we achieved the no-kill designation for our current shelter, and now we’re working to achieve our second goal of building a new shelter for the betterment of our animals and community.
“It has been so heartwarming to see the lives of the animals and those who have adopted them, so I know this is going to really enhance that for future adopters,” she added.
The public is invited to attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the new shelter on Jan. 14, and join the shelter’s staff, volunteers and Lake County commissioners for this special event.
The new shelter, Henderson noted, will be truly high tech and will feature an education room, a surgery room, cat and dog isolation areas and adoption areas. It’s expected to be completed and open by the end of the year.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Of Cats And Wolves.” Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.