Evanston Animal Shelter seeks funding for facility expansion


Lami Zhang/The Daily Northwestern

A dog eagerly eats a treat through a cage at Evanston Animal Shelter. The shelter is looking to raise funds to redevelop its space.

Jorja Siemons, Assistant City Editor

When Vicky Pasenko became executive director of the Evanston Animal Shelter in 2015, the existing facility had some inadequacies. Namely, it was too small: 2750 square feet wasn’t nearly enough space to host over 570 animals per year.  

Her team was committed to overcoming any obstacle — but Pasenko said this past summer marked a point of no return.

A three-and-a-half-week period of no air conditioning in 90-degree weather put animals at risk. During that period, Pasenko realized the team needed to upgrade the building, fast. 

“We just can’t keep going this way,” Pasenko said. 

The building was originally intended to house a small population of animals for a short amount of time, resorting to euthanasia when it got too crowded. Now, the organization is searching for funds to build a new facility that can better fulfill its aims as a no-kill, open-admission shelter. 

The facility also doesn’t comply with building code and industry standards for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. The shelter needs to expand before the HVAC system can receive necessary upgrades. 

Redevelopment pursuits are not new. Before the Evanston Animal Shelter Association took over shelter operations in 2015, the city signed an agreement with the previous operator, Community Animal Rescue Effort, to expand the shelter’s facilities. Bureaucratic hurdles delayed the project. 

The shelter has already secured a $2 million grant from the Cook County Animal Shelter Grant Program, and plans on fundraising $1 million on its own to add to redevelopment funds.

The shelter advocated for the allocation of city funds to the project at Monday night’s City Council. Though the association operates the shelter, the city owns and maintains the facility. 

According to a city staff report, the total project cost could be between $5.5 million and $10 million, meaning the city would have to provide at least $2.5 million in funding.

At the meeting, Engineering and Capital Planning Bureau Chief Lara Biggs said city funds could help address existing building deficiencies, including a lack of medical isolation spaces and an absence of natural light. 

Shane Cary, an architect and Public Works project manager, broke down the three different options, referred to as “levels,” for facility redevelopment. 

Level one, ranging from $5.5 million to $6.5 million, would be a basic building plan with all improvements necessary to meet city standards. Level two, ranging from $6 million to $7.1 million in total cost, would also include expanded shelter capacity to medically treat animals in an on-site surgical suite.

“This expansion of medical facilities would lower the ongoing costs that the Evanston Animal Shelter would have to have,” Cary said. “It also would provide the opportunity for community spay, neuter and vaccine programs.” 

During public comment, Kristi Bachmann, a chair of the city’s Animal Welfare Board, emphasized these programs are important to manage stray cat populations in Evanston.

“Currently, there is no space for these cats while they are awaiting surgeries and recovering afterwards,” Bachmann said.

Terry said level three, the most expensive option with up to $10 million in costs, would feature additional spaces for volunteers. Before the pandemic, about 175 people volunteered, according to the city staff report.

There are also several ways for the new shelter to meet city sustainability goals, including making the facility net zero in carbon emissions. Still, Cary said abiding by Climate Action and Resilience Plan goals in an animal shelter presents obstacles. 

“An animal shelter does not have the opportunity, like an office building, to shut down and not use energy overnight,” Cary said. “There’s a lot of cleaning that has to be done, and that’s energy as well.”

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) raised concerns about the shelter association’s ability to fully raise $1 million on its own to help fund the project. 

But Pasenko told The Daily the shelter is confident in its ability to fundraise. According to the staff report, the association only receives $100,000 annually from the city. Pasenko said the rest of the organization’s funding already comes from fundraising, which gives the team baseline understandings of the process. 

Despite fundraising concerns, councilmembers and shelter staff alike agreed on the importance of increasing funding for the shelter. 

Shelter staff and volunteers distributed nearly 35,000 pounds of free pet food in 2020 and provided 1,549 days of care to 23 animals, targeted toward pet owners facing financial hardship or illness.

Resident Sherry Carpenter said the shelter provided care to her cat and two dogs after a fire in her apartment.

“I don’t know what I would have done without their help,” Carpenter said. “It was a lifesaver for my pets and for me.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @JorjaSiemons 


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