The Twin Cities-based Animal Humane Society says a sprawling new campus planned for St. Paul will push the boundaries for the role animal welfare organizations play in rural communities.
A recently announced $6 million bequest, donated by longtime volunteers Steven Nordberg and Betsy McDonald, will push the plans forward.
Nordberg, who died in 2020, and McDonald, who died last year, volunteered in the organization’s “bottle baby” foster program, providing more than 2,200 hours of intensive care to orphaned kittens between 2014 and 2019.
“This is the largest gift we have received and will be the largest single project we have undertaken,” said Chief Advancement Officer Lisa Bonds.
Though still in the early stages of design, plans for the new campus have been in development for several years — the organization has already landed on site and acquired the former Brock White warehouse on Highway 280 and Kasota Avenue.
Bonds said the new campus will reflect changing animal welfare trends that have been envisioned for many years.
Educational and philanthropic efforts, for example, have significantly increased awareness about spaying and neutering pets, which has led to less overcrowding.
This is especially true in Minnesota.
“We knew that the number of animals that would come to us would decrease over time,” Bonds said.
While adoptions will remain a central part of the Animal Humane Society’s mission, the new campus will also enable the organization to further support pets that have already found their forever homes.
Plans for the new campus include a distribution center for pet food and cat litter.
“It’s very common for people to feed their animals before feeding themselves and of course that’s not what we want to happen,” Bonds explains.
Emergency or temporary housing for animals is another feature being designed for the new campus.
“If someone is left without housing, or if they are faced with a serious medical or health situation and have no one to care for their animals, we would like to be able to do that for people,” Bonds said.
The new campus will also provide areas for adoptable dogs to thrive in a group environment under a concept that has already been tested by AHS at other shelters.
The design includes a large play area for dogs to display their natural pack behavior and “dens” where the animals can retreat for some quiet time.
Cats will also find upgraded versions of the living spaces already used in AHS facilities.
The “cat colonies” will have glass doors, climbing structures and scratching posts, in addition to cat patios – called “catios” – where the animals can safely explore the outdoors and feel green grass under their paws.
The new campus will also offer plenty of reasons for the public to come along.
A dog agility course, movie nights, cat yoga, educational events, and an amphitheater with live concerts are all included in the early plans.
Bond said AHS employees have visited more than two dozen animal welfare facilities across the country as they develop the design and believe the St. Paul campus will be the first of its kind in the nation.
“I see this as AHS leading the way in animal welfare and transforming the way animal shelters are changing to meet the needs of the future,” she said.
The new facility could open as early as 2025.