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Meyer Najem and Curran Architecture Create World-Class Facility for the Humane Society of Hamilton County

by: Jack Quigley
Meyer Najem, Curran Architecture, and others spent the past five years researching and planning a world-class animal wellness center unlike any other in the state of Indiana. In March, the Humane Society of Hamilton County will relocate from its outdated 8,000-square-foot facility into a brand new 41,000-square-foot building designed intentionally to rehabilitate animals and enable the launch of education programs.

Through constant communication with humane society staff and consultations with animal design experts, the project team developed a state-of-the-art animal wellness complex that will provide staff with the tools needed to get animals healthy and ready for adoption.

Designed for Rehabilitation
Hamilton County’s current humane society building was originally designed as the county’s animal control facility. As such, the building not only lacks basic features necessary to offer animals a decent quality of life, but it also misses standard operating areas such as a quarantine space for contagious animals, an intake area for arriving cats, and a recovery/rehabilitation area for sick and injured animals. Physically, mentally, and physiologically, animals’ bodies begin breaking down like a human’s does inside a prison environment when their living quarters are not designed to support their wellbeing.

Shawn Curran, an Architect at Curran Architecture who has designed a number of veterinary clinics and animal boarding facilities throughout his career, said animals often enter humane societies with nothing wrong with them but later develop issues stemming from their poor living environments.

“Most communities’ animal shelters resemble what the Humane Society of Hamilton County is in now,” Curran said. “It’s a 6,000-or-8,000-square-foot building that is basically just a holding area for animals and that’s it. It’s not intentionally designed and there’s no design methodology put in place to improve the lives of those animals and help them become family pets.”

Hamilton County’s existing shelter is a compact concrete structure that amplifies sound and reverberation within the space. Overwhelming noise in kennels created by the structure’s loud echoing effect can serve as a catalyst for mental and physical problems in animals; some dogs housed in Hamilton County’s existing facility have lived in the building for more than a year because their physical environment provoked issues which made them less attractive adoption candidates.

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“This new facility brings in a lifestyle for these adoptable stray dogs that quite frankly, they could not have now in their current facility,” said Ryan Soots, Senior Project Manager at Meyer Najem. “While the animals are in the facility, their quality of life is going to skyrocket.”

Improving Animal Wellbeing
Meyer Najem and Curran Architecture conducted weekly meetings with humane society staff, worked with specialty consultants like Shelter Planners of America, and consulted with an infectious control doctor to ensure Hamilton County’s new building supports the health and wellbeing of both the animals and the humans committed to their care and placement.

The HVAC system in Hamilton County’s existing humane society building is not designed to handle the volume of animals taken in regularly by the organization. Consequently, if a dog contracts a virus, that virus can easily infect other animals within the building because there are no areas where staff can quarantine infected animals.

“The new facility has extremely high rate of air exchange similar to that of a human healthcare setting,” Soots said.

Soots said kennels in the new facility are tied directly to the exhaust system so potentially contaminated air evacuates the building almost immediately.

Additionally, animal cages in the existing facility face each other, which arouses anxiety in the animals and often incites a spiraling effect of barking. Curran said the new facility eliminates cases of kennels facing each other so animals are less likely to negatively influence one another. New glass fronts on cages will help reduce the amount of sound reverberation within the facility and will prevent the transmission of airborne disease from animal to animal.

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Cages are also easier to clean with redesigned kennel layouts. To clean a dog’s cage in their existing building, one humane society staff member must walk that dog around the parking lot while another staff member goes in and cleans the dog’s space.

“Imagine how long it takes two people to clean 60 or 70 kennels using that method,” Curran said.

Guillotine doors now divide kennels into a front and back area so staff can bring dogs into one side of the kennel while cleaning the other side, eliminating the need for another staff member.

Curran said, “Now, those two people can do twice as much work because they can do it on their own.”

Separation of Functions
Employees at Hamilton County’s current facility struggle to properly care for customers and animals because adoption and medical functions are crowded into one small area. The Humane Society for Hamilton County’s new facility is divided into two sections which serve unique purposes. One side of the building includes an adoption center, administration offices, and an education center, while the other side contains a full veterinary hospital equipped with ICU and quarantine wards and staffed by a full-time veterinarian.

“Staff is allowed to focus on their roles instead of being intertwined with each other,” Soots said. “The separation allows more flow and establishes more of a system.”

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Visitors looking to adopt an animal will now enter an area better designed to facilitate the adoption process. Staff members here will have information on their computers that tells them exactly where each animal is located and when that animal is scheduled for a visit.

“Instead of a visitor having to walk around and look through the entire facility, staff members can take them right to that animal because staff will know what room and kennel it’s in,” Curran said.

On that same side of the building with its own separate entrance will be administration offices and an education center. Curran described the education center as a large training room where the humane society can conduct staff training, put on animal education programs for youth groups, and host events like meet-n-greets and fundraisers.

Jeremy Dixon, Executive Vice President at Meyer Najem, said as a non-for-profit organization, the Humane Society for Hamilton County relies heavily on contributions garnered during fundraising events. COVID-19 forced the cancellation of many of the organization’s traditional fundraising events, so it was especially important that this new facility included a space designed to accommodate large groups.

On the opposite side of the building, a full veterinary hospital will allow on-staff vets to perform surgery, quarantine infected animals, and perform all other processes necessary to prepare animals for adoption. To perform surgery or quarantine infected animals, the Humane Society for Hamilton County currently pays local vets individually due to a lack of space and equipment. An on-staff vet will not only help the organization assist animals more effectively, but it will also significantly reduce costs as all those functions can be performed on-site by a single staff member. An Animal Behavior and Training Specialist also has a dedicated area to work with dogs in need of behavior modification and training to increase their adoptability.

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Animals will also enjoy a more relaxing outdoor environment with their new facility. Large outdoor play areas allow visitors to interact with potential adoptees in a protected, fenced-in space, while walking trails leading to a wooded ravine area on-site give dogs the chance to experience nature in ways they cannot in their current environment.

“Allowing them to exist in a natural environment, smell fresh air, feel the crunching of leaves, and experience that whole sensory nature of being just reinforces our focus on providing quality of life to the animals from the point they get in the facility to the point they leave,” Curran said.

Purposeful Exterior Elements
Designers approached the exterior design of the new facility with a similar attention to detail as they did with its interior layouts.

A residential area is located just north of the facility, so Curran said his design is sensitive to the scale of the structure in terms of its height and materials. Assorted wood tones and stone are employed along the building’s exterior to blend in with the building’s surroundings, and despite its 41,000 square feet, Curran said the low-slung facility does not feel overpowering as one approaches. The long dimension of the building is perpendicular to the road while the short dimension is parallel, providing passersby with a limited view of the facility.

Supergraphics depicting a dog and a cat on the exterior of the building will speak to the soul of the facility, Curran said. Bricks leading up to the building’s entrance are also available for purchase to give community members the opportunity to pay tribute to their current or former pets while donating to the humane society.

The Humane Society for Hamilton County will start moving into their new facility in March and anticipates a grand opening in April of this year.

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For more information about the Humane Society for Hamilton County, please visit HamiltonHumane.com.

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