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The Humane Society of Charlotte is finally moving out of 'Shantytown'

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Images by Scott Morgan and HSC
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South Carolina Public Radio/Humane Society of Charlotte
HSC's deal with Charlotte never allowed for permanent buildings on the site of what was once the city's animal control holding facility. So the society has needed to protect its space, its medicines, and its animals with measures that look more like prison than a no-kill community center. Now, after a six-year campaign, HSC has its own plot of land and a dazzling new public building built with the animals' welfare and the public's sense of community in mind.

Zero people connected to the Humane Society of Charlotte (full disclosure, that includes me, who volunteers at HSC from time to time) are under any illusions about the site where the society operates.

It’s ugly. Almost frightening, really. At the very least, intimidating. It doesn’t look like a place that was designed with the intention of housing dogs and cats until they can be homed, because it wasn’t.

This facility used to be the City of Charlotte’s animal control facility. Animals were brought here by the tens of thousands a year and most ate their last meals on these grounds.

Since 1978, HSC has operated out of this site, paying a mere $1 a year in rent to the city, with the stipulation that it can’t build anything permanent here. What’s evolved over five decades is not-at-all-affectionately referred to as “Shantytown;” a 10,000-square-foot collection of sheds and AstroTurf™ behind chainlink fences and low-hanging razor wire.

But on May 14, for an adoption event called Pet Palooza, the Humane Society of Charlotte will show the world its new place (from the parking lot), barely two miles up the road. This new place is two-and-a-half times the size of the one no one will miss; it will not have chainlink. It will not have knives on the fences.

What it will have is space. Air. Light. The ability to bring new animals in without having to house them in cinderblock cells. Cats will be walking around like they own the place (as cats do). Dogs will get to go for a walk in the park without having to navigate the parking lot in the public park across the street, where broken alcohol bottles decorate the asphalt.

This new place, the result of a six-year campaign in which HSC members and the public (with no help from Charlotte’s corporate entities) donated $15 million to get 17 acres of land to build on, has been designed with animal welfare in mind.

Gone are the gray cinderblock cells with chipping paint and chainlink separators. In their place, colorful private kennel rooms. Gone is the need to keep sick and new animals close to each other for lack of space. Instead, a fully-equipped, state-of-the-art back-of-house area where arriving animals can land, decompress, and, when they’re ready, get shown to their rooms.

Gone also is the jailhouse vibe. The new place features a cat café, open to the public like any café would be, just with cats – to be showcased in hopes of boosting adoption rates for cats, which usually take longer than dogs to home, says HSC’s chief philanthropy officer, Donna Stucker.

The existing-if-about-to-be-the-past site has no real place for the public to gather, and certainly no place for children, families, camps, workshops, or school trips. The new site will have plenty of space for families in mind.

When I said that no one is under any illusions about the current HSC site, that was no hyperbole. Stucker, who is supposed to talk to talk to the press, unleashes haymaker after haymaker on just how bad the facility looks – so much so, she says, that people have come to think that the animals inside are not getting adequate care – how could they be, when the place looks like something more akin to the Scared Straight program than to animal welfare?

But they be. The care the animals get here is top-notch. One of the perks of volunteering is that I’ve seen it myself. If the facility was as good as the care, the place would look like what the new place was designed to be – colorful, cheery, friendly, clean; a visual symbol of the importance of the human-animal bond, which HSC President and CEO Shelley Moore says has been the point of the society all this time.

It’s just taken HSC this long to see its original dreams find their own permanent home.

The HSC’s will hold a ribbon-cutting on May 19.