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  • Science shows well-designed shelters create happy, healthy pets

    dr. wagnerMost people, when they think of veterinarians, probably picture doctors altering pets, giving vaccinations and patching up injuries. Denae Wagner isn’t one of them.

    Wagner is an expert in animal housing, specifically the impact poorly designed animal shelters can have on the emotional and physical well-being of cats and dogs. It is her expertise in this area that prompted Tucson architectural firm Line and Space to bring Wagner in as a consultant on the new Pima Animal Care Center.

    Wagner has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Wisconsin, River Falls and a master’s degrees in preventive veterinary medicine, University of California – Davis.. She received her doctorate of veterinary medicine from the University of Minnesota, St. Paul. 

    She became interested in animal shelter medicine while working on a large research project about upper respiratory infections in shelter cats. She joined the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program in 2007 where she oversees and conducts research and organizes facility design consultations. 

    When she isn’t traveling, she spends a lot of time with her rescues -- a pit bull mix dog and a tortoiseshell cat.

    In July, Wagner spent a couple of days at the Pima Animal Care Center to meet with Line and Space architects and PACC staff to talk about what features a newly designed shelter should have. 

    She came away impressed with the staff and volunteers.
    “They are all great people doing exceptional work in a facility that is challenging,” Wagner said. “The current facility has some critical physical limitations and the high population of animals currently housed within the shelter further complicates things.”

    Wagner’s primary concern is that PACC’s dogs and cats are currently housed in single compartments.

    She hopes the new PACC facility with be able to provide dogs and cats with double compartment individual housing.

    Double compartment housing is a “win win win win win” design feature, Wagner said.

    “Double compartment housing provides pets with two separate areas divided by a pass through, portal or door – one side for food, water and their bed and the other for a place to urinate and defecate,” Wagner said.

    This type of housing: 
    • Helps to meet basic animal needs for urinating and defecating away from where they eat and sleep. 
    • Provides animals with the space they need when in a restrictive housing environment. 
    • Allows staff to safely care for all animals in the shelter with minimal animal handling- important for reducing animal stress as well as keeping staff safe.
    • Reduces the risk of disease transmission- again by limiting the amount of handling through the routine of daily care.
    • Allow staff to be efficient in their daily care routines- freeing up staff time to do other important animal care and animal sheltering tasks.

    In her spare time, Wagner remodels small single cat cages using her carpentry and metal working skills. She hopes to find practical and economical ways to retrofit shelters to meet the Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters. 

    The Guidelines were written by The Association of Shelter Veterinarians, an international organization whose mission is to improve the health and well-being of animals in shelters through the advancement of shelter medicine.

    Wagner believes Pima County residents will get all they desire in the new facility, which is expected to be completed by December 2017.

    “Humans can be funny creatures - what they want and what they need – sometimes is different.  We see this most often in the size of shelter facility desired,” Wagner said. “Some folks feel bigger is better- and logically to them it means more animal lives could be saved.  In truth that is rarely the case and sometimes it can mean just the opposite.  A larger-than-needed facility means higher building costs and higher care costs when the facility opens.  We want Pima County to have a facility that is right sized.   Our goal is to help provide Pima County a facility that keeps their animals happy and healthy during their shelter stay and meets this communities unique needs in animal sheltering now and well into the future.”
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