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After about two years of construction, the staff, volunteers and “guests” at the Fairfax County Animal Shelter are enjoying the bigger, brighter space.

The original shelter building, which opened in 1975, was spare in design features and lacked the space to meet the needs of a county that has significantly grown in population since that time.

Shelter Grand Opening

The Fairfax County Animal Shelter will celebrate the grand opening of the renovated facility with an open house Saturday, May 17, starting at 1 p.m.

The event will include behind-the-scenes tours of the shelter, face painting and hands-on interaction with rabbits, guinea pigs and small reptiles.

The shelter is located at 4500 West Ox Road in Fairfax.

The $16.1 million renovation project approximately doubled the size of the shelter and added plenty of windows throughout the building, including in the kennel areas. The lobby is now decorated with stone and wood architectural details.

“You can come into the shelter and you don’t feel like you are in a shelter,” said Kristen Auerbach, director of communications and outreach at the animal shelter.

Peter Fabry, an Annandale resident who has been volunteering at the shelter for about four years, said the renovations have made the shelter a much better place for volunteers and adopters.

“The old shelter was definitely showing its wear,” Fabry said. “It’s a great place to be now.”

In addition to making the building more welcoming to potential adopters, having natural light in the kennels is good for the dogs, Auerbach said.

“It’s really good for the dogs’ physical and emotional health,” she said.

The physical changes to the shelter building support the shelter’s overall goal of getting more animals into adoptive homes. While it remains an open access municipal shelter, the Fairfax County Animal Shelter now has a placement rate of over 90 percent of the animals that come through its doors.

“If there is one thing we have achieved it is to defy people’s expectations,” Auerbach said.

The shelter does not euthanize animals for space reasons or place time limits on how long they will house an animal.

“Once a dog is on the adoption floor, we’re going to find it a home,” Auerbach said.

According to the website Out the Front Door, which tracks placement rates at shelters throughout the United States using state records, Fairfax County is the largest jursidiction in the country to achieve a 90 percent placement rate at its municipal shelter.

Because of its success in getting animals adopted, the shelter also works with partner organizations in other jurisdictions to bring in animals from other areas.

“We could never be placing this many animals without our community rescue partners,” Auerbach said.

The shelter works with foster volunteers to house and rehabilitate animals that need medical care or training before they can be adopted. There are also about 100 rescue groups that the shelter works with.

Dogs in the shelter get walks and play time in the shelter’s outdoor play yards about five times a day, thanks to the support of volunteers. Additional play yards were added during the renovation, and they were made more secure.

In addition to being good for the dogs’ health, “it makes them more adoptable, too,” Auerbach said.

Cats also get enrichment in the new cat exercise room, which has toys and climbing features.

The old cat exercise room was also the only private space where potential adopters could visit one-on-one with an animal, so there was often a wait to access the space, Fabry said.

“Now there is plenty of space to do that,” he said. There are two dog adoption rooms and a cat adoption room.

The new shelter space also can accommodate a community cat room, where older cats that are taking longer to be adopted can live in a free-roaming setting, rather than staying in the “kitty condos.”

The new cat condos each have their own air handling system, which prevents the spread of respiratory diseases that can spread quickly among cats in shelters.

The new space also allows a separation in the “front of the house” and “back of the house” for the dog kennels. Dogs that are not yet ready for adoption are kept in a separate area.

There are entirely separate rooms for dogs that are in quarantine due to biting someone and those that need to be isolated due to medical issues. The medical isolation kennel area has a separate air handling system to avoid affecting healthy dogs.

At the front of the building, there are now two lobbies. One is for people interested in adopting an animal and the other is for people looking for a lost pet, dropping off an animal, getting a dog license or conducting other business.

Another feature that shelter staff is excited about is a new space for training, where they can conduct classes both for volunteers and for the general public.

The shelter now also has a veterinary suite and plans to begin conducting its own veterinary services soon.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com