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  • Compassionate shelters start with compassionate design

    heather lewisThe pound.

    Chances are, when you were a kid “the pound” was the place where stray and escaped pets went to die after being captured running around your neighborhood.

    Well, those places don’t exist much anymore.

    Nowadays, the Pima Animal Care Center and similar animal shelters are where stray and escaped pets can receive veterinary care and find permanent homes with loving humans. They are no longer the equivalent of a jail for animals.
    In fact, humans’ feelings toward animals have shifted so radically over the last couple of decades, research has been conducted on the best ways to house stray animals. Over the last 15 years, experts have come to realize poorly designed animal shelters have a dramatic impact on pets’ physical and emotional well-being. 

    It is for this reason, Line and Space, the local architectural firm designing the new Pima Animal Care Center, brought Animal Arts Design in as a consultant on the project. Animal Arts Design is a Colorado firm that exclusively designs animal shelters.

    Back in July, Heather Lewis, an architect with Animal Arts Design, spent a couple of days at PACC talking about optimally-designed animal care shelters.
    Lewis (at left in photo above) has a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of North Carolina and a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Texas, Austin. She joined Animal Arts Design in 2000 and later became an owner.
    “I always liked animals so this field is a great fit for me personally.  I was lucky enough to join a firm that was already doing this work and become an owner,” Lewis said. “In architecture, the trend is to specialize because of the complexities of modern construction.  But there are only a handful of firms that work on animal projects exclusively.  I also really enjoy people so I like consulting quite a bit.”

    She is on the road doing consulting work at least once a week. It’s easy for her to see why animals have become so important in people’s lives.

    “Companion animals are much more a part of our lives than they used to be (because) they give back to us in immeasurable ways- happiness, health, companionship,” Lewis said. “They depend on us and we on them.  I think as people see this connection it just continues to grow.”

    The best animal shelters all share certain features, Lewis said. 

    These are the features, along with Lewis’ thoughts on each:
    • Great housing.  Well-designed environments are not just good for the animals; they are good for the organization.  It is hard to give a succinct answer on the importance of well-designed animal environments as there are entire careers dedicated to this science and large bodies of knowledge that relate to housing design.
    • Well-designed plumbing and cleaning systems.  Animal shelters depend on being easy to clean and sanitize for the health and wellbeing of animals.  A clean shelter starts from the floor up!
    • Lots of fresh air.  Clean air is healthy air.  It’s also good for staff, and great for the public experience to be in a shelter that is properly ventilated. 
    • Access to the out of doors.  Animals like people enjoy environments that are less foreign and more natural.  Natural light, access to outdoor play areas, and connection to the outside world- these things help animals stay healthy and behaviorally sound. 
    • Color.  While this last one might be a little more superficial, there are far too many serious and institutional shelter buildings out there.  Color doesn’t add cost, but it adds warmth and invites people in.  People feel it, enjoy it, and want to participate.
    Lewis, who currently has two large dogs she rescued from shelters, believes Pima County residents will be pleased when the new PACC opens in December 2017.

    “I think the residents will love their new shelter.  It is always great to make progress with issues that affect the entire community and a building is the most obvious indicator of this progress,” Lewis commented.

    “This said, shelters are successful from the inside out and not the outside in.  The building is a tool for the staff and volunteers to continue their life-saving programs.” 
     





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