Listen to this article

URBANA — Back when the Champaign County Humane Society's animal shelter was built in 1988, the focus was more on saving animals from euthanasia than on critter comfort and well-being.

But the sheltering field has come a long way in the last few decades, and the local shelter in Urbana is falling short of what's considered a healthy environment for animals by today's standards, according to local Humane Society Executive Director Mary Tiefenbrunn.

Not only is the shelter showing the wear and tear of its 31 years, it wasn't built at a time when the psychological needs of shelter animals were taken into consideration, she said.

At certain times of the year, the shelter becomes so full, some of the cats and small animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs have to be housed in an already-cramped lobby and in a high-traffic corridor, Tiefenbrunn said.

That increases stress on the animals and leaves them more susceptible to diseases, she said.

The Humane Society hopes to fix all this in a $1.75 million expansion project — the first since the shelter was built.

The organization already raised more than $1 million for the project before recently turning to the community to help raise the rest.

Building plans call for a 1,600-square-foot expansion of the lobby and areas where cats, kittens and small animals are on display for adoption.

New cat cages would provide the space shelter cats need — plus the well-being amenities they lack such as hiding and climbing areas and separation of their food, water, resting and litter areas, Tiefenbrunn said.

Small animals, which are currently housed in cages in a high-traffic corridor where dogs sometimes pass by — and bark at them — will be relocated to a new room of their own for less stressful living, she said.

Also included in the plans is improvements to outdated chain-link and cinderblock dog kennels.

"It looks depressing," Tiefenbrunn said of the dog area of the shelter. "It looks like a dog pound in here. We don't want to look like a dog pound. We want to look like a state-of-the-art animal shelter."

Still more plans include building a new 5,700-square-foot education building to provide space for volunteer training, dog training classes and more, enlarging the medical lab, so dogs and cats have separate exam areas and replacing the heating and cooling system to improve air quality for the animals.

The goal is to improve the overall environment for the animals, their caretakers and the public to keep the animals healthier and, hopefully, help them be adopted more quickly, according to Tiefenbrunn.

She hopes to see work on the shelter improvements get under way in September.

The local Humane Society houses about 1,500 animals a year and doesn't receive any government funding.

Crowded house

In the Champaign County Humane Society's 2017-18 fiscal year, its shelter in Urbana took in 1,753 animals, including:

— 969 cats

— 584 dogs

— 200 small animals