Since 1949, the Humane Society of Pinellas County has often become the home-before-a-home for countless stray or unwanted pets.
And for the majority of the time, the animals housed in Clearwater’s Humane Society of Pinellas County (HSPC) facility were kept in cages close together, sometimes without air conditioning or much room for interaction with people or each other. However, that antiquated facility for boarding the mostly cats and dogs that end up at the HSPC will soon become a state-of-the-art “pet adoption center.”
The new Sjouwerman Adoption Center being built a bit west of McMullen Booth Road, will be about 15,000 square feet and have room to house up to 200 dogs and cats -- making up about 95 percent of the sheltered animals -- and smaller animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, or ferrets.
The Adoption Center was named in honor of Rebecca and Stu Sjouwerman, owners of the Clearwater cyber security firm KnowBe4, who donated $4 million to build the new complex.
Currently under construction at 3040 State Road 590, the new pet adoption center is being built at the site of the former 71-year-old facility, razed in late January 2021, says Jonathan Moore.
Moore is the HSPC owners’ representative and owner of Invision Advisors, Tampa. His nine-person, 10-year-old company manages the design and construction process for organizations needing assistance in those areas and is advising the HSPC during the adoption center construction.
Moore says over the past 30 to 40 years, the former HSPC adoption center had been expanded, renovated, remodeled and “rebuilt many times” to the point it needed a totally new structure. He says the new Adoption Center will more than double the Humane Society’s ability to take in and treat rescue animals.
The rebuilding of the Adoption Center is currently in the permitting process and what Moore says will be its “vertical construction” should begin within the next 30 to 45 days.
“It was and is a very antiquated campus right now,” says Moore. “That being said, my perception is the Humane Society has been much more, especially with COVID, a place to go to find that ‘forever pet’ rather than going to pet stores; it has become a very popular solution for adoption.”
The new three-story Adoption Center will be built on five acres and will be able to withstand an up Category 5 hurricane while sheltering in place its residents.
“What this will become is a safe place to intake strays and those pets that need to be surrendered and allow for the adoption process to be that much easier,” says Moore. “It’s just going to be such a wonderful transition for the organization and for being able to take care of the animals.”
Once completed, Phase One of the Adoption Center will include the adoption center, an administration office and education facilities and will have a total cost of just under $5 million. Moore says originally, the Sjouwerman donation would’ve covered the cost for the entire building, but due the economy and construction market changes, plus added material costs, the HSPC staff is still seeking donations to cover the remaining needed capital.
Among the amenities the new Adoption Center will feature will be: a second-floor exterior patio for gathering; expanded retail areas and large meet-and-greet rooms for adoption and education and outreach; and interior and exterior play space for animals. Moore adds an effort to save as many trees on the lot is also being made.
“The new building feels beachfront, coastal -- it’s a residential-like building, very comfortable to walk into,” he says. “I think there will be a huge spike in adoptions when this building opens because it will be such a great place to come to, even if you don’t end up adopting.”
Over the past decade, adoption numbers at the HSPC makes nearly doubled to about 2,600 in 2019.
That growing number makes it more imperative for the new Adoption Center to be completed and open, which is anticipated to be by March 2023, says Jeff Voelpel, HSPC chief executive officer.
In his second year as the CEO, Voelpel says the old adoption center was in “absolute need” of demolition and replacement. He says parts of that building became unusable since Hurricane Irma rolled through in Sept. 2017. The new facility is being built into the side of a hill at the highest point of Pinellas County and besides being able to withstand hurricane-force winds, will have a natural gas generator on-site to keep power going.
Voelpel has his own pets, Murphy, an 8-year-old Goldendoodle, Rufus, a 2-year-old mixed-breed, Blakely, 4, a pitbull, and Leroy, a Bearded dragon lizard.
“This is going to be fantastic for Pinellas County because it will more than triple the number of animals we can rescue and the impact that will have within our community,” he says. “This will be largest no-kill animal facility in Pinellas County. This will allow us to continue to provide care and assistance for animals in need within on our community.”
Future plans for the Adoption Center call for Phase Two: creating a new, 20,000-square-feet animal hospital-behind the new shelter. Feb. 19, 2021, the HSPC closed its low-cost Pet Hospital of Pinellas at 2907 State Road 590 to be able to continue sheltering medical operations during construction.
“We had to shut down the spay-and-neuter site when COVID hit; we want to bring that back and have facilities that will allow surgeries to happen and have significant medical treatment on campus,” says Moore.
All of the demolition, planning, and building efforts are being done to help with growth in Pinellas County -- not only with people and places, but with four-legged residents with no place to go. Moore says the Adoption Center fits in “wonderfully” with the growing needs of the county.
“The experience of adoption is really what’s going to become more special with the new building. That’s what the Humane Society is for, bringing a stray or surrendered animal to their forever home and making it a very comfortable experience in those meet-and-great rooms,” he says. “People can sit with animal to make the right decision. It’s providing a great experience to find that forever pet and is bucking trend of just looking at rows of animals in cages. This will provide a different type of experience to get to know that animal.”
According to Pinellas County Animal Services, each year its shelter cares for approximately 24,000 dogs and cats.
For more information, visit the Humane Society of Pinellas County.