Compassionate care: Cleveland APL is renovating facilities and expanding programs

In the late 1990s, the last time the Cleveland Animal Protective League renovated its facility at 1729 Willey Ave. in Tremont, the main concern was housing the increased number of animals coming into the shelter.

The number coming in is much lower today because society values animals more, says Sharon Harvey, APL president and CEO. So now the APL is more concerned with providing high-quality, comprehensive care to the animals and their owners.

“It’s a new era for animals in Cleveland,” says Harvey. “The shelter had just so many healthy, friendly animals just pouring in [in the late 1990s]. They couldn’t even think of providing the kind of care we do [now].”

In this new era, the Cleveland APL is conducting its first-ever capital campaign. The $13.5 million they hope to raise will pay for physical improvements and a better level of care services for the animals. “We’re really in the process a becoming less of a shelter and more of an animal resource center,” Harvey says.

The APL has raised more than 75% of its goal through a private campaign, but they took the campaign public Feb. 21 with Unleash the Dream and a ceremonial groundbreaking.

“This is 100% about the needs of the animals who come to us, and what we can do to meet those needs,” Harvey says. “But it’s also about taking better care of the people who come to us.”

Ceremonial groundbreaking for “Unleash the Dream”, a private campaign where the APL raised more than 75% of its goal.

The renovations will add about 9,000 square feet to the 30,000-square-foot facility. Plans include extensive renovations to about 10,000 square feet—tearing down walls and reconfiguring spaces, painting, and installing energy efficient LED lighting, Harvey says.

Onyx Creative and Colorado-based Animal Arts collaborated on the new design, while A.M. Higley is overseeing the project as general contractor.

Much of the plan is about making animals more comfortable: enlarging the cages and even choosing soothing colors for the walls. The cages are designed for longer stays (the APL does not euthanize animals based on length of stay), Harvey says, and cat cages will be raised off the floor because cats are not comfortable at low levels.

“We’re doing things to keep the stress down for a longer stay,” she says. “We let them stay here for as long as it takes. We’ll have larger spaces, more enriched cages, and brighter spaces. We learned color palettes that will calm the animals. We’re sound-proofing areas so the cats aren’t trapped in a cage listening to dogs bark—or even have to see the dogs.”

Gabe is a cool cat, says his foster. He has a very friendly personality that his foster is sure will find him a great home quickly. About 13,000 animals come through the shelter each year, 6,700 of which are looking for a new home, Harvey says. The other animals come to the APL because their owners are using the many services provided to keep pets healthy and safe.

Renovations include converting the garage into a large emergency shelter. They had five humane intervention cases in the past 17 months where they took in 80 to 140 animals, including multiple chihuahuas, parakeets, and cats, she says.

The staff cared for all the animals rescued in these incidents. “The staff is amazing at emergency responses,” she says. “They always find ways to make things work.”

They will create a private area for compassionate conversations with pet owners; an indoor dog play area to complement the two outdoor areas; and two screened-in “catios” in the front of the building for adoptable cats, Harvey says.

Other programs at the APL that help make the organization a full-service animal resource center are a spay and neuter clinic for nonprofit rescue and humane societies; and the Trap-Neuter-Return program for feral cats in Cleveland to prevent overpopulation.

The APL’s Project CARE (Community Animal Retention Effort) helps low-income pet owners with basic veterinarian care and other resources. “We want to keep them together, rather than surrender their pet,” says Harvey.

Under Project CARE is a “Petacaid” program, in which owners can gain access to more advanced veterinary care with a copay. Project Hope focuses on senior pets and finding them forever homes, while the Second Chance program provides advanced medical care for shelter animals.

A large network of foster volunteers cares for a couple thousand animals each year, Harvey says, who care for mothers with litters, orphaned young animals, or heartworm-positive dogs.

The APL staff also holds the power to investigate and enforce animal cruelty laws, working last year with prosecutors to get justice for the more than 2,000 animals that are alleged victims of abuse or neglect.

Donations to the Unleash the Dream capital campaign will help build a low-stress shelter and ensure these program and services continue.

Construction on the project began two weeks ago and is scheduled to be completed by September 2021. They plan to stay open throughout the renovations, Harvey says.

“I never would have dreamed in my lifetime or my career that we’d be providing this level of care to animals,” says Harvey. “Now we just need the facility so we can do it more efficiently and less stressful for the animals.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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