Visitors of the Greater Hillsdale Humane Society are greeted with a clean and cheerful environment, the purring of contented cats, and the smiling face of Jill Richardson, the shelter manager. A year ago, a trip to the humane society would have been a very different experience.
Since new management took over Dec. 22, 2018, the shelter has eradicated a ringworm outbreak, solved its overcrowding issue, embarked on a fundraising campaign to renovate its facilities, and had 214 cats and 14 dogs adopted.
And the community is taking note.
Senior Madeleine Miller, who has volunteered at the shelter since 2016, wrote in an email, “When I visited last week, I was surprised to find that the shelter was tidy and nicely decorated. It even smelled good.”
When Julia Bauer became president of the Humane Society last year, she knew the shelter needed to improve.
“We needed to change the whole perception of the shelter. We needed to bring a new focus to the reason we are here: to adopt animals into loving homes in this community and not to have such an abundance that it is almost impossible to care for them,” Bauer said.
Prior to Bauer’s leadership of the organization and the overhaul of the board, the shelter was grossly overrun. It housed 27 dogs in 25 kennels and 257 cats in only 32 cages. For reference, the Department of Agriculture stipulates only 50 – 60 cats can be housed in a building of that size.
As a result of overcrowding, disease ran rampant.
“If a cat sneezes and it’s too close to another cat and there is no barrier, the other cat’s going to get sick too,” Richardson said. “To keep disease down, you must have the right ratio of space to animals.”During their first two months of leadership, Bauer and her team focused on solving the ringworm problem. For an animal to qualify for adoption, it must show no symptoms of ringworm for six weeks. As a result, the shelter was not able to put up any animals for adoption until February 2019.
Once the animals received a clean bill of health, the Humane Society began putting them into loving homes or sending them to either PetSmart or Huron Valley Humane Society in Ann Arbor where they had a better chance of adoption.
Gradually, the shelter brought down their numbers to a more manageable level. As of Nov. 12, the shelter houses 43 cats and 3 dogs.
With the overpopulation problem solved, Bauer and her team were able to focus on improving their facilities. Their building hadn’t been updated since 1992 and had major design flaws. One of the challenges they face is how to house both cats and dogs in the same building.
“We’re trying to accommodate both animals, cats and dogs, without stressing either one out but still in the confines of this building,” Bauer said.
To solve this issue, the new construction will place the dogs in the back two rooms and the cats toward the front of the building.
Another design problem with the building was the kennel room. Because in the old configuration kennels ran on both sides of the walls, the dogs faced each other and worked each other up into a frenzy. Concrete walls amplified this issue, echoing the barking to create pandemonium.
“It was bedlam,” Bauer said.
The new construction creates 17 kennels for the dogs, 12 of which will include outdoor runs. No longer will dogs share kennels, instead, each will have a separate space.
The construction team has already installed new ventilation, heating, and air conditioning systems that help with disease control. Additionally, the Humane Society plans to create puppy and kitten rooms to protect smaller animals from larger ones.
“We’re working to make it more friendly here for the pets and for the people who come here to adopt,” Bauer said. “You’re going to see the animal in a more home-like environment. That’s what our plan is.”
To fund the new construction, the shelter is participating in the Community Foundation’s Capital Campaign. Every Tuesday after Thanksgiving, the Community Foundation of Hillsdale encourages residents to make that day the single most charitable day of giving in the county. This year, the Community Foundation asked the Hillsdale Humane Society to join the fundraiser. Money raised from the event will go toward renovations.
Bauer credits her team with the success of the past year.
“We had to change, and the people behind this have been fantastic,” Bauer said, praising the efforts of Jill Richardson and Emily Wood.
From getting their animals healthy, renovating their facilities, and, most importantly, putting pets into loving homes, Hillsdale Humane Society has accomplished a lot this past year.
“We’re very proud of the changes we’ve made here,” said Bauer.