ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Cat kennels are tucked into nearly every corner at the Tri-County Humane Society, in offices and storage rooms — spaces that were not meant for holding animals.

It's a makeshift solution to one of the major problems with the nearly 30-year-old shelter. There's not enough space.

In 1989, the shelter took in 62 stray cats. Last year, they accepted 527 strays. That's a 750 percent increase.

That's one reason shelter leaders have begun seriously thinking about the future, said Vicki Davis, executive director. And they know a new building — one that's built to fulfill modern animal-care best practices — will be expensive. So they're doing their homework.

An initial design for a new building was drawn up by architects who specialize in creating pet shelter spaces. But the price tag was a shock: $7 million.

It only took $240,000 in 1989 to buy the land and build the current shelter, Davis told the St. Cloud Times . That's nearly half a million dollars in today's currency.

So shelter leaders took a step back, and looked into renovating and adding on to the current building. They soon learned it wouldn't be worth the cost of salvaging its worn floors and inadequate HVAC system.

Another go-round with an architect got the plans to about $3.5 or $4 million — a number Davis thinks is doable.

"I know the community and I know our donors. And what comes with a $7 million building, I think they'd be disappointed that we went that way," Davis said. "Because there's a lot of it you can do, you don't have to be ... extravagant. You need to do the job and do the job right."

One of the main reasons to build new is the needs of the area have shifted. When the shelter was built, the split between cats and dogs was fairly even. Today, cats make up more than two-thirds of the animals accepted at the shelter and dogs are less than a quarter.

The shelter has also followed a national push to avoid unnecessary euthanasia of animals. In 1989, nearly one in five dogs taken in died or was euthanized at the shelter. Today, about 2 percent of dogs die or are euthanized.

That means their adoption rate has soared from about 71 percent in 1989 to more than 92 percent last year. In the early '90s, the adoption rate sunk to the 60th percentile.

A new shelter wouldn't necessarily house more animals, but it would have more space.

"It's not going to be that much different, but they're not (going to be) anywhere and everywhere," Davis said. There's going to be a little more organization to it."

Most people interact with the shelter in a limited way, looking in the main pet viewing areas to pick out the family's new furry friend. But those areas are just a small part of the operation.

Much of the shelter's work is behind the scenes: taking in stray or surrendered animals, assessing their health, treating any problems, getting vaccinations up to date and spaying or neutering the animal.

All of that requires time and space. Sick animals need to be isolated. Animals recovering from surgery need a safe space away from the public.

The shelter even performs surgeries on campus, spaying and neutering animals as they have time to. The shelter's training facility serves as a make-shift surgical suite, with two operating tables.

"Sometimes it's just the surgery that gets us behind," Davis said. "We aren't able to get as many spay or neuters done, or get as many vets in as we can."

The demand for animals to be adopted is there, but they have to wait for surgery.

"That kind of bottlenecks the flow of things," Davis said.

Surgery can be a bit of an ordeal, too.

Volunteers and staff have to transport animals 74 yards from the shelter to the training shelter, where they have surgery.

"It's not so bad in the summer," Davis said. "But when you're running back and forth between two buildings in the Minnesota winter and you have a shopping cart full of kittens that just had surgery ... it's not a very fun way to wake up from anesthesia."

They use grocery store carts as well as blankets and sometimes umbrellas to protect the animals from the extreme temperature changes, rain and snow.

There also aren't any phones in the training facility, so they use staff to run messages back and forth volunteers and staff in the main building.

The shelter has already had to replace much of its roof and would likely need to replace the rest in the near future. Doors and floors are well worn and expensive to fix. The HVAC system isn't worth fixing.

"We don't want to nickel and dime things," Davis said.

A lot of the maintenance relies on what people can do themselves. For example, a volunteer offered to patch a big pothole in the back parking lot.

There also just isn't enough space.

Today's shelters allow animals more room to move around. Davis is excited about getting cat colony rooms, where healthy cats that get along can roam freely in an area.

More room would also give potential adopters a chance to get to know the personality of the animal in a less noisy and stressful environment.

Cats will definitely act more like themselves if in an open corral, as opposed to an enclosed cage, Davis said. And dogs tend to relax when separated from the many other shelter dogs.

The lobby at peak times is also difficult to navigate. It's just simply crowded.

The shelter has 26 full- and part-time staff. In June, 201 different people logged 1,327 volunteer hours. And each volunteer had to be interviewed and trained — in whatever space is available — before they can volunteer.

Today's shelters are also more likely to become community spaces. The shelter already sees a huge number of volunteers and schedules kids' birthday parties, too.

But one room — also an office to up to five people — serves as the community room, training room, conference room, education room, staff meeting room, birthday party location and anything else that needs to be done in a big group. She's never even had a board meeting at the shelter, because there isn't enough space.

Staff also end up sharing office space with animals — all of the time.

"The staff ... really puts up with a lot, having to work in these conditions," Davis said. "It's not just the comfort of the animals we have in mind, it's the comfort of the staff."

And the health of staff and animals, she said.

Other employees are in offices they share with other people and animals. Davis shares her office with two other people as well.

"There's no way for anybody to just have a one-on-one conversation unless we ask two other people to leave," Davis said. "I have taken people back to the small animal room."

A new shelter would also have more public outside spaces for animals to enjoy. The shelter currently has trails and place for dogs to play outside, but it's well out of the view of the public. This area could be front and center with a new building.

Even the laundry room is too small. It's usually full of piles of dirty laundry.

"I'm not proud of that but if we had a bigger laundry room we'd have two washers and two dyers and be able to keep up," Davis said. "It's just a reality."

Davis said they are still very early in the process of thinking about a new building. They are exploring options and "setting the table," she said, for a capital campaign.

"This has been a great shelter for a lot of years, but it is showing its wear," she said.

An AP Member Exchange shared by the St. Cloud Times.