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Pets Large & Small

It's "just an animal shelter"

Jennifer Vanderau
Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter

(6/2014) A year and a half ago, the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter moved from its out-dated, practically-falling-apart-around-us building to a new, modern, planned-out shelter to fit the century in which we exist.

It was an incredible undertaking. We moved almost 100 animals across town in 45 minutes. No joke. We had volunteers stationed at the old shelter and volunteers waiting at the new one and it was as seamless as anything we've ever done.

I can't say enough about the assistance we received, both from our volunteers and the County Animal Response Team. Amazing.

Since then, we've been settling into our new digs and it's been pretty great. Our adoption area is completely separated from our isolation area -- something that we didn't have at our old shelter.

Indeed, at our old place, the dogs in isolation were side by side with dogs available for adoption. As you can imagine, disease control was insanely difficult to manage that way. When a brand new, stray dog that we had no information about could go nose-to-nose with a dog up for adoption, it drove us all about half crazy.

That no longer happens.

Our dogs have their own den in our new shelter, one complete with an automatic water bowl (it fills itself!) and individual ventilation system. At the old shelter, all the kennels were separated only by chain link in the front, again, making control of disease difficult. Now each pup breathes his own fresh air.

We're hoping to eventually have the same living conditions for our cats, but we haven't quite reached that point yet.

Shortly before we moved, we were facing $80,000 in repair costs at the old shelter. We knew there was no way we could put that kind of money into a building that we were planning on leaving, so we sat down and looked at what we absolutely needed to get to our new home.

As a result, we borrowed more than $400,000, finished only half of the dog dens and brought the cat cages over from the old shelter. We also still need to install our 10,000 gallon water tank for collecting rainwater to use to clean the kennels -- an environmentally friendly feature that will also help reduce water costs.

I'm proud to say that thanks to the kindness of our donors, we have paid off the debt we incurred during the move and are now looking at the remaining projects that need to be completed.

I know that there are people out there (believe me, I've heard them say this) that it's "just an animal shelter" and we're putting up a building "just for animals" couldn't we just construct a pole building and get wire crates donated and voila! We'd have our brand new, inexpensive animal shelter.

I mean, in all sincerity, yes, we could do that. It would be cheaper and we could have been done a long time ago.

But (and really, you had to hear that coming) after working here for 13 years, I can tell you, it takes a lot more than a simple building and some cages to run an animal shelter the way it should be done.

First, with our pole building scenario, I cannot IMAGINE how you would maintain any kind of disease control. Dogs and cats all over the place in nothing more than crates?? The mind boggles.

Secondly, what about dangerous dogs that would come in? We've had some rather vicious animals come through our doors -- because we are an open-admission animal shelter which means we accept all strays -- we donít turn stray animals away from the jurisdictions that support us. Having an aggressive dog in nothing more than a crate would be a huge safety concern for all involved.

And Pennsylvania law states that we HAVE TO hold stray dogs for 48 hours. So that would mean said aggressive dog would be in only a crate for two days? No thank you.

The truth of the matter is animal sheltering has come a long way from the days of the dog pound and dog catcher. Technology has given us the ability to recognize that a worthwhile animal shelter almost has to have hospital-like standards to truly have a place that cares for the four-legged souls that come through the doors.

We use seriously tough cleaning products every day -- 365 a year. The floors have to be able to stand up to that -- linoleum won't do.

We get animals coming in to us in varying stages of health. We have to have a way to keep the healthy ones healthy and control the spread of disease as much as possible.

It frustrates me that we weren't able to have our cat cubbies ready for our felines before the move -- I completely understand why, but I wish we had our cats in their true home. The cages we brought with us are open, so we have sheets up on the sides to help cut down disease as much as we can.

Upper respiratory infections blow through catteries like wind on a spring day. Seriously. Once one of them sneezes, it travels to all the others. One of our biggest expenses each year is medication to help get them well and keep them well.

The cat cubbies we want to have are more like what you see in Petsmart or Petco. They are enclosed on three sides and have a plexiglass front, so the cats will have a little den of their own in which to play. It will be a godsend for keeping our felines healthy and happy.

We constructed our building with the future in mind. We want to reduce costs as much as possible, so we have skylights for natural lighting, solar panels to heat the rainwater we collect from the roof and in our (eventual) collection tank, separate areas for adoption and isolation and floors that can withstand the chemicals we use for cleaning every day.

The plan was to build a shelter that will actual reduce the transmission and spread of disease so that we can cut down our medical costs each year.

It was about longevity and being here for years to come.

To us they will never be "just animals." They are the four-legged souls who came to us, through no fault of their own, and it's our responsibility to care for them and find them new, forever homes.

We still need the funding to truly complete our animal shelter, but we're working on it every day and with the help of our supporters, we'll get there. For them.

We're doggone (pun very much intended) proud of what we built for the animals we love so much. If you get a chance to visit, please stop by and say hello to the sweet babies who "have no voice but ours."


Jennifer Vanderau is the Director of Communications for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, Pa., and can be reached at The shelter accepts both monetary and pet supply donations. For more information, call the shelter at (717) 263-5791 or visit the website

Read other articles by Jennifer Vanderau