New humane society building on schedule

OTTUMWA — In just over the month, the keys will be handed over.

About a month after that, the new home for Heartland Humane Society's animals will open to the public.

Humane society president Shelle Harvey gave an update on the new building, which is expected to be about 1,500 square feet larger than the current no-kill shelter on adjoining property. Air conditioning and insulation are being installed, and other improvements are ongoing.

"We're still tracking on July 1 when they hand the keys over," Harvey said Tuesday after Eisenhower Elementary first-grade students read to the cats and dogs as part of a class initiative. "The new building took a while to get started, but once it got started, it was fast."

The building, likely scheduled for a late-July or early-August grand opening, is anticipated to have about 4,700 square feet of space, and cats and dogs will be isolated in opposite corners of the building, according to plans posted on the society's Facebook page. The building has largely been financed through donations, with the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation kicking in $30,000 last year as part of its Bright Ideas grant cycle.

Overall, the building will cost about $650,000 to complete.

Harvey said the additional square footage "is all we could afford, but I'm hoping it works better." She said the rooms for the animals are larger, and the goal was to increase space for the animals at the expense of office space.

"I'm pretty happy with that," she said. "The rooms are all bigger for the animals. I told them, 'Make the office rooms, the lobbies, smaller. Let's not make our animal (rooms) smaller.'"

According to the plans, there will be a surgical room, quarantine rooms for both dogs and cats and a dog wash room.

Eventually, the current building, which was a former sanitation building, will be torn down. The humane society has been in its current home since 2003. Though the building will be bigger, there are other issues at play, Harvey said.

"It's not really to house more animals, but to make it more efficient. The electric and water will work better," she said. "The current building is old and it has served its purpose. Everything will be high-efficiency in here. So we just move in and move on, I guess."

Harvey also discussed the difficulty in getting staff, particularly volunteer help, to work at the shelter.

"It's not like some other jobs out in the community. This is a 365-day-a-year job," she said. "We've lost a majority of our volunteers since COVID, and they never came back. We have dogs that need baths and socialized, and we need volunteers. They're very, very important to us.

Donations — both monetary and supplies — have poured into the humane society this year. Either through Lemonade Day, in which some vendors donated their earnings to the shelter, the humane society's annual plant sale, or the Ottumwa Community School District's involvement this year though various classroom exercises, Harvey has been overwhelmed by the support the shelter has received.

"We've had fundraisers and we've scraped, but I'll be honest, we've relied on money from estates as well," Harvey said of the funding for the building. "One person said, 'I will donate this if someone matches it.' It was matched, so that was a quarter of it right there.

"You look at people like Pierce Fence Company, Warehouse BBQ. These people are just awesome and you can't ask for better people," she said. "The people who put the security cameras in gave us a huge discount. I mean, it'll put a tear in your eye because it's everybody. We've tried to get our story out there, and maybe it's out there now."