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County Animal Shelter Gets A Make Over

Bob Barrett
Credit Bob Barrett / WUWF News
Two new dog yards at the renovated Escambia County Animal Shelter

A national shelter rescue group has helped give the Escambia County Animal Shelter a fresh, new look. "Our goal is to get volunteers into shelters and animals out of them" said Bryna Donnelly, the Director of Greater Goods Rescue Rebuild, an animal shelter renovation program that recruits volunteers from all over the country to help shelters in need. They have been working at the Escambia County Animal Shelter for the last week and a half doing renovations and making the facility a lot more user friendly.

John Robinson, the Division Manager for Escambia County Animal Services calls the changes a significant rebuild to the shelter. "We've done something for every animal in the building". Robinson says the rebuild is the product of a grant project. "We have a partner organization called 'Friends of the Escambia County Animal Shelter', which is a non profit that was started here by a group of ladies, who are amazing, that just wanted to support the shelter in any way they could." Robinson says the Friends group told him they were going to apply for the grant from Rescue Rebuild. He gave his full support to the effort. A while later, he was contacted to give Rescue Rebuild a tour of the facility. A while after that, the grant was theirs. 

Over 150 shelters from across the country applied for that grant. Bryna Donnelly says Rescue Rebuild looks at a shelter’s potential when giving out those awards. "What (Rescue Rebuild) really looks for in a shelter is a group that is really trying to make a difference in their community. Maybe they didn't (at one time) have the best reputation, maybe their adoption rates are not the best, but they know with a little bit of help they can really turn that all around. Donnelly credits Director John Robinson with making positive changes since he took over a few years ago. "He really started turning this around and making this shelter much more of an adoption center (rather) then the old school kind of 'dog pound' mentality."

In addition to giving the front of the building a fresher look, Donnelly says they made changes that will improve the shelter experience for both humans and animals. "We put in two large dog yards, a smaller 'meet n greet' area where adopters can interact with a new pet. We renovated two cat colony rooms. So hopefully they'll be able to get some cats out of cages and (let them) free range in these colony rooms. We built what we call a 'catio', a (screened in) patio for cats, so one of those cat colony rooms will have access for kind of an indoor/outdoor lifestyle which is super good for the kitties. We also built them a dog wash station, a photo shoot area and renovated, completely changed the look of their lobby to give it a more family friendly feel."

The dog yards that were added are being used for a new program at the shelter called Dogs Playing For Life. The program gives dogs much more freedom of movement, and not only gets them out of their kennel every day, but also allows them to interact with other dogs.  Rescue Rebuild helps set up that program and teaches the shelter staff how to work and control it while the dogs interact. "It gives us the ability to know the dogs better" said Robinson. "Our staff knows the dogs better, and if you were coming to adopt a dog, you could watch it interact with other dogs, see its personality and decide if that's the dog for you."

There is one more unique aspect to this renovation. It will be featured on an upcoming episode of the PBS program Shelter Me. The episode is still being filmed and many members of the shelter staff were wearing mics while at work. It should air sometime this fall. In the meantime, shelter director John Robinson says they are open and hoping people will stop by and see the renovations. The shelter is looking for volunteers to put in some time with the animals at the shelter. "The Dogs Playing for Life program is going to need a lot of volunteers to keep it going. Come in and play with our cats. If you can't own a dog right now but you want to be around dogs or you can't own a cat right now but want to be around a cat, come see us."

And who knows, maybe you’ll leave with a lifelong friend. 

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.