Great Plains SPCA’s new facility in Merriam brings new era

When the shelter known for decades as Animal Haven closes this month, surely there will be sentimental families.

Inside the cinderblock walls, people adopted dogs and cats that became a beloved part of a family, appearing in Christmas cards and earning a spot under the bed covers. It was the facility where Johnson Countians traveled for 47 years to retrieve lost or stray pets.

But don’t expect volunteers to chain themselves to the dusty doors.

Volunteers and animal lovers have done everything short of camping out naked on a rooftop to pay for a new nonprofit shelter. The old place was smelly, cramped, dark, outdated and utterly impractical for the population that it served.

After decades of work, a new shelter is opening at 5424 Antioch Drive in Merriam. The public is invited to tour the shelter from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today.

Inside the facility, which is owned and operated by Great Plains SPCA, the environment is decidedly different from the former shelter.

The new facility has an “adoption lounge” and several cage-free “suites” for dogs and their pups. There are meet-and-greet rooms where families can make sure their mama cat gels with a potential adoptee. And there’s a playroom where you can probably expect to see puppies frolicking on big adoption days.

If it all sounds a bit touchy-feely, well, officials at Great Plains SPCA think they have done their job. Every room in the facility was designed for the comfort of the animals and to make them shine for potential adopters, said CEO Courtney Thomas.

Johnson Countians, they believe, had been bypassing the existing shelter near 67th Street and Interstate 35 to drive dozens of miles out of their way to updated facilities. Animal lovers had for years worried that the cramped living quarters at the old shelter and that its depressing feel drove off adopters.

That psychological shift is so strong that Thomas is expecting a 35 percent jump in adoptions next year. As of Friday, the agency had seen 2,900 adoptions this year.

The old facility was 3,300 square feet and able to hold about 90 animals. The new shelter is 10,000 square feet and equipped to house 185 to 200 animals.

Thomas said the building and the construction costs to remodel it were paid for entirely by an anonymous donor. The shelter is next to the Great Plains veterinary clinic in Merriam.

Thomas said the nonprofit expects to tear down the former shelter on 67th Street. The agency would like to use the land for a new lost pet and stray dog intake center — the current one essentially serves as the pound for 12 government agencies. That plan depends on donations and the community, she said.

On Friday, as workers made the finishing touches on the new shelter, employees were buzzing about the new era. The old shelter opened in the mid-1960s. This facility is built to last just as long, said Rachel Hodgson, marketing director.

“We’ve been joking that it will never smell this good again,” Hodgson said.