Major renovation planned for Anderson Animal Shelter

By on August 15, 2014

Photo: The current kennels for dogs are small, isolating and confining; new housing will include pens for small dogs and individual rooms for large dogs.
Photo submited by Holly Alcala to

Looking for 100 foster families to care for animals during construction
SOUTH ELGIN, ILL.—The 40-year-old building that houses the Anderson Animal Shelter in South Elgin, Ill., is about to undergo a major renovation, but Executive Director Beth Drake isn’t waiting until then to begin making changes.

When Drake took over the shelter in May of this year, she streamlined the adoption process and reduced the adoption fees for the cats. As cats have been adopted, reducing the cat population in the shelter, a number of the old-fashioned, stainless-steel cages have been removed.

According to Drake, these cages, closed on three sides with solid stainless steel, are cold and reflective, and both sound and light bounce around, assaulting the cats’ senses. This increases their stress level, causing emotional and physical distress and changes in their behavior.

She said that while the shelter’s current configuration was adequate for the time when the shelter opened, recent research has shown better ways to house shelter animals that make it less stressful and more comfortable for them.

Eventually, all of the stainless-steel cages will be removed, and many of the cat population will live in colonies.

“Cats like to climb onto ledges, and hide inside of things,” Drake said. “Our adoptable cats will be housed with other cats in cat colonies, or individually in large ‘kitty condos’ with perching and sleeping ledges, allowing them to feel more at home.”

Drake said it’s a common misconception that cats don’t get along with each other. She said the majority—80 percent—of cats enjoy being with other cats. She said they become more outgoing and friendlier, making them more adoptable, which after all, is the point.

Drake said that the shelter’s current dog kennels also have problems, one of which is that they are too small. With the renovation, there will be fewer, wider kennels. The small dogs will be housed in pens, with the bigger dogs in their own small rooms.

Other modifications to the dog areas will include additional outdoor areas for the dogs to play together, the replacement of chain link fences with landscaping material in the dog runs, the addition of agility jumping poles for more exercise opportunities and additional pea gravel in the play areas.

The $660,000 renovation project, in addition to updating its animal care areas, will expand the parking area and replace the outdated plumbing.

The shelter plans to shut down for the month of September for the construction and renovations. Some of the animals will be moved to a satellite adoption location, where adoptions will continue while the shelter is closed.

Anderson staff is currently looking for foster volunteers willing to care for an adult dog or cat or a litter of puppies or kittens for the transition period.

“We’re looking for as many as 100 foster homes willing to bring a shelter pet into their home for a period of one to two months while the shelter is under construction,” said Jon Koffenberger, the shelter’s Animal Care manager, in a press release. “You don’t need to be an experienced foster volunteer, but we do ask that you have some pet experience.”

The shelter will provide the food and any veterinarian care the animals would need. Shelter staff will also be available to assist if the fosters have behavior concerns about their foster pets.

“All we ask is that you love them and care for them as if they were your own until it’s time for them to come back to the shelter,” Koffenberger said.

Drake said that many of the animals at Anderson have been at the shelter for a long time. They’ve forgotten what it means to be part of a family and will need some help readjusting to that type of life.

“It can be very helpful to engage foster homes and get the animals out of our facility so that they can learn manners and work on potty training and those kinds of things,” Drake said. “Regardless of how wonderful a shelter is, it is an inherently stressful place to be.”

She said that at the end of the six weeks, if the families have fallen in love with their cat(s) or dog(s) and don’t want to bring them back, they would be given first priority for adoption.

“We currently have 120 cats and kittens,” she said. “I would love to adopt out half of them.”

In the meantime, Drake has instituted several new practices with the dogs at the shelter, all with the goal of making them more adoptable.

One such practice she calls “Nothing in life is free.” All of the volunteers now have treats in their pockets, and before a dog is given anything, they require the dog to sit first. They don’t tell them to “sit,” but they will be rewarded with a treat when they do.

“Their default behavior will be butt-on-ground,” she said.

Once they learn that sitting will get them what they want, their behavior will be much more appropriate when they are visiting with a potential adopter, rather than jumping up or panting.

She said that this practice also leads to much more appropriate communication, speeding up the training process and making it a more positive experience.

Drake has also begun play groups with the dogs, in which three to five dogs are allowed to interact with each other off-leash. These groups are a way to reinforce appropriate dog-to-dog interactions, as well as provide a positive outlet for pent-up energy.

“Unless we allow them off-leash, they lose the ability to interact with other dogs,” she said.

Michelle Adams, who volunteers at the shelter on a daily basis, said that these play groups have made a big difference in many of the dogs’ behavior. She said when they are able to play together and get some good exercise, the dogs become calmer and become more enjoyable to be around—again, becoming more adoptable.

Adams said that, through another new program at the shelter, she has begun to work with some of the dogs as part of a behavior intervention team. Each week, Koffenberger creates new objectives for dogs with behaviors that could potentially keep them from being adopted. It could be a dog that’s afraid of other dogs, one who wants to chase everything in sight, or a dog that will too vigorously guard his food.

She has seen progress in several dogs already, as well as some major successes, where dogs with resolved problems have been adopted into loving homes.

Drake said she was brought in to Anderson Animal Shelter because they have some growing to do. Drake had worked at the Anderson shelter from 2000 to 2002 as the director of operations. She left to oversee the creation of the state-of-the-art TAILS Humane Society Shelter in DeKalb.
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“This organization has so much potential,” she said.

Last year, Anderson totaled 700 adoptions, and Drake said this year they are on track for 1,000 adoptions.

“There is no reason we can’t greatly exceed 2,500 adoptions in a year,” she said. “The more adoptions, the more lives we save. There is so much need in the welfare community that we all have to overachieve.”

The challenge
The Anderson Animal Shelter receives no governmental funding. Marco and Patricia Muscarello, on behalf of the Ivar and Ruth Anderson Animal Anti-Cruelty foundation, have donated generously toward the renovation project, but the shelter still needs to raise at least $400,000 to cover the cost.

If you’d like to donate, the shelter is seeking monetary and in-kind donations. Naming and sponsorship opportunities are available for those interested and donations of various items, including portable 6′ x 6′ chain link or panel dog kennels and pea gravel, are being sought.

For questions, a detailed list of options or to discuss areas of interest, contact Holly Alcala at or (847) 697-2880 x33.

in fostering?

The shelter is looking for as many as 100 foster families that will care for the animals beginning in September for the six weeks that the shelter will be under construction. Food and vet care will be provided. Assistance with any potential behavioral issues or concerns will also be provided, if needed.
You don’t need to be an expert in pet behavior or medical issues, but you should have some pet experience.
Information about fostering cats and dogs is available online at, by calling Jon Koffenberger, the shelter’s animal care manager, at (847) 697-2880, ext. 23. or emailing
An orientation for cat fosters will be held on Saturday, Aug. 23, and one for dog fosters on Saturday, Aug. 30.
Individuals are encouraged to fill out an online application at the shelter’s website,

Other ways to help:

Jewelry Faire
Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Sept. 5-7

Gala Dinner & Auction
Saturday, Nov. 8