New play groups for dogs, a new philosophy for animal adoptions and the first major renovation project in 40 years.
It only took Beth Drake a couple of months to make her mark as the new executive director of Anderson Animal Shelter in South Elgin, most significantly by spearheading the $600,000 renovation project that starts Sept. 1.
The shelter will be closed during the renovation, likely to last through mid-October. Improvements will include better facilities for the animals, an overhaul of the plumbing system and an addition of 15 to 20 parking spots.
Board President Laura Lingl said the board is thrilled.
"This is going to allow the animals to be more comfortable and probably in better health, and it will provide a wonderful work environment for our staff," Lingl said. "Also from the customer service perspective, it's going to be wonderful."
The shelter has done only "Band Aid" repair work over the years, she said.
"When (Drake) came on board, the idea came forth and we began to move quickly on it," Lingl said. "Beth was the change agent."
A $200,000 donation from Marco and Patricia Muscarello of St. Charles, on behalf of the Ivar and Ruth Anderson Animal Anti-Cruelty Foundation, was instrumental to moving forward, Lingl said. Marco Muscarello owns the Gasthaus Zur Linde bar in downtown Elgin.
"We probably wouldn't have done this had we not gotten this donation," Lingl said.
The remaining $400,000 will be funded by the shelter, which is also looking for monetary and in-kind donations, she said.
Drake, who lives in Sycamore, worked as director of operations at Anderson from 2000 to 2002, then served for 12 years as executive director for Tails Humane Society in DeKalb.
The timing was perfect to return to South Elgin when former executive director Jack Graff retired earlier this year, she said.
Drake said the first red flag she noticed in South Elgin were the outdated cages and kennels.
"It became my mission to change that as soon as we can, and that led to this whole renovation idea."
Cats are now housed in stainless steel cages, which are cold and reflective of light, and therefore stressful to sensory creatures like cats, she said.
Kennels are too small and too loud, which is distressing for the dogs, she said.
After the renovation, cats will live in "cat colonies" of six to 10 cats with amenities like climbing apparatuses, while dogs will live in larger, quieter kennels.
That will reduce the number of animals -- currently about 120 cats and 40 dogs and puppies -- by half, she said.
However, that's also expected to increase the rate of adoptions because the animals will be healthier and better behaved, and the adopters will have a more pleasant experience overall, she said.
Drake has instituted daily "play groups" for dogs, which lets them socialize and get rid of excess energy. Also new is an effort to teach them good behavior through the "sit" command, she said.
The shelter is also changing the philosophy of its adoption program, mirroring a more customer-friendly trend nationwide, Drake said.
"We're not looking for the perfect home for every pet. We're looking for a good home," she said.
"Rather than trying to figure if you're good enough to adopt (pets), we figure out the right fit of animal that fits best into your lifestyle."
The shelter, which has about 21 employees and 500 active volunteers, facilitated about 600 adoptions last year, compared to 700 already in the first seven months of this year, Drake said.
"We will far exceed 1,000 adoptions this year, and that will increase more and more over time," she said.
The shelter is looking for foster homes for the animals while it's closed for renovations. Adoption fees will be waived for foster families who adopt animals during the closure, Drake said.
More information about the foster program is available at andersonanimalshelter.org, by calling (847) 697-2880 ext. 23, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone interested in donating to the renovation can contact Holly Alcala at email@example.com or (847) 697-2880 x33.