Renovated Evanston Animal Shelter projected to open later this year


Martha Contreras/The Daily Northwestern

Evanston Animal Shelter Executive Director Vicky Pasenko gives a dog a treat.

Martha Contreras, Reporter

The city approved plans for renovating Evanston Animal Shelter in November, with the new building on track to be operational by the end of this year. 

The Evanston Animal Shelter Association, Cook County and the City of Evanston are working together on the estimated $6.3 million community project that saved the shelter — located on Oakton Street — from shutting down after decades of operating from an ill-equipped facility, originally designed to be a dog pound. 

The small, crowded building is intended to only house dogs for a couple days before they are  euthanized, not to provide cats and dogs with adequate space and treatment, according to Evanston Animal Shelter Executive Director Vicky Pasenko. 

“It’s life changing,” said Pasenko about reconstructing a building that is “currently dying.”

According to city engineer Lara Biggs, the building is expanding from 3,500 to the minimum 8,500 square feet to meet national standards for animal shelters. 

There will be various new spaces: separate areas for cats and dogs, isolation for sick animals, a medical room with a contracted veterinarian, indoor roaming space for animals, a lobby and a room for community and education.

A small room with a dryer and towels on various racks. (Martha Contreras/The Daily Northwestern)

At the building’s current full capacity, kennels overflow into the halls, creating a fire hazard that prevents workers from moving around, Pasenko and other volunteers said. 

Adoption Counselor and Kennel Captain Erika Morales mentioned other facility issues, including flooding up to the ankles from leaks and a malfunctioning HVAC system that endangers the animals’ safety. 

While explaining how these dangers affect the animals, Morales noticed that a dog, Ralphie, had urinated in the adoption room because the overheating caused him to drink too much water. 

“It’s been four years of us holding it together,” Pasenko said about the shelter functioning.

Biggs said she became concerned about the building in 2016 because it violates various city standards, such as the malfunctioning HVAC system and small size.

The estimated total project budget of $6.3 million includes costs for projects beyond construction, like relocating animals and fixing soil toxicity issues. 

The final cost will be determined once the official construction bid is selected and approved by City Council in February, Pasenko said. In addition, the council will vote on improving the Municipal Storage Center to house relocated dogs. Once both items are approved, construction can begin. 

Ralphie stares at Erika Morales through the window. Morales said she has a special bond with Ralphie. (Martha Contreras/The Daily Northwestern)

The animal shelter hopes to relocate the dogs by early April, whereas the cats are already relocated to a temporary cat shelter at 611 South Blvd., and then start tearing down the current shelter, according to Pasenko. That day will be very emotional for her, she added. 

Pasenko said the Evanston Animal Shelter has become her second home, shared by three other full-time employees and about 175 volunteers that work in shifts.

“A project like this only happens when the community comes together,” Biggs said.

Evanston is paying about half of the project’s costs because of Cook County’s $2 million grant and the Evanston Animal Shelter Association’s commitment to raising $1 million.

The only councilmember who voted against the project in November was Ald. Krissie Harris (2nd). She said she needed more documentation and information. 

“I can’t approve something that I’m not clear about. I don’t know what the final project is going to be,” Harris said. 

She emphasized the importance of the project, however, and said the shelter’s work is “very admirable.” 

Biggs said she hopes the center’s new services can better help residents who may be struggling with animal care. 

“It’s truly a place that the community has supported and created, and it will continue to provide great service for the community,” she said.  

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @marthacontrerr

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