Originally expected to open this month, Harris County’s new animal shelter is now slated to open by midsummer 2020, said Dr. Michael White, the director of the Harris County Animal Shelter.

The new facility, funded by a $24 million bond approved by Harris County voters in 2015, will serve as a replacement facility for the existing shelter. Construction on the new shelter began in January 2019, and both facilities are located on the same property at 612 Canino Road, Houston.

While White declined to go into specifics about why the construction of the new facility has been delayed, he said there were several contributing factors.

“There have been several delays,” he said. “[The new facility] was supposed to be completed by the end of this month, actually, and now we’re being told it’s probably going to be midsummer—so quite a delay. There have been several issues.”

White said the new facility is expected to help alleviate a lot of the overcrowding issues the existing shelter faces on a daily basis, as it only has the capacity for about 150 animals. By comparison, the new shelter will be able to properly house 525 animals—315 dogs and 210 cats.

“We are always overcapacity, and in the summer, we were up to 400-500 animals at the shelter,” he said. “Fortunately, it’s come back down. This morning we had about 355 animals—115 cats and 240 dogs—so even in our light season, we’re still grossly overcapacity.”

When the shelter is overcapacity, White said they are forced to house multiple animals together, which he said is not ideal but better than the alternative.

“We do have to put multiple animals per [dog run], which I don’t like, but the alternative is we euthanize, and we don’t want to do that,” he said.

White said this year, the shelter has maintained a live release rate of roughly 94%, qualifying it as a “no-kill shelter”—or an animal shelter with a live release rate of 90% or higher. Just a few years ago, before he came onboard as director, White said the shelter had a life release rate of only about 15%.

“We ended last year with 89.5% so this year, we’ve been above 90% every month,” he said. “It’s been a lot of hard work.”

In addition to helping with overcrowding issues, White said the new facility is expected to improve the quality of life for both shelter animals and staff in several ways. White said each of the dog runs will be both indoor and outdoor and are designed for one to two animals at a time. He added the new facility will have several wings sectioned off, each with its own air source, which will aid with disease control. Each section will be designed for about 15-20 animals.

“First of all, they’re not [going to be] piled on top of each other, and then secondly, we’ll have the sections that will have independent air, so if one animal gets sick, it won’t transfer to all the other sections,” he said.

Additionally, White said the cats will each have their own cat condo, instead of the steel cages they reside in now, which will allow them more space.

While the current facility only has one entrance, White said the new facility will feature separate entrances for adoption, surrender/intake and for the medical clinic.

The new facility will include “Get Acquainted” areas where prospective adopters can get to know an individual animal, as well as designated isolation and quarantine areas for those who are sick. The new facility will also feature adoption counseling rooms and surrender prevention consultation rooms, where staff can work with pet owners to try and keep their animals.

"We want to be looked at as a resource center, not just a shelter," White said.

Upon relocation, White said the existing shelter will be demolished and become the shelter’s new dog park and covered pavilion, which will allow for group play. Additionally, the shelter’s Petco Life Saving Support Center—where staff currently holds animals on a temporary basis—will be converted into a large room with audio and visual equipment. White said the facility will be used for educational purposes, such as dog training events and as a venue to bring rescue groups and foster animals together.

Once in the new facility, which will be named the Harris County Pets Resource Center, White said he plans to begin offering low-cost spay/neuter services for the public and implement doggy-day-out events, which will let dogs get out of the shelter for a day to decompress. Additionally, he hopes to begin hosting groups of children to practice reading to the animals.

To keep up with the new, bigger facility, White said the HCAS just recently had 25 new positions approved by Harris County Commissioners Court, as well as an additional shelter veterinarian position.

“There will be some other staffing needs when we actually move in the facility and that will probably be addressed in the upcoming fiscal year budget,” he said.

In the future, White said he hopes the HCAS can get a mobile spay/neuter and wellness bus, which would enable them to target areas of unincorporated Harris County that are most in need of those services.

“We’re excited. ... We can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel,” White said.