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Posted on Mon, Sep 14, 2009 : 5:53 a.m.

New Humane Society of Huron Valley headquarters to provide green, "low-stress" housing for cats and dogs

By Sven Gustafson


When the Humane Society of Huron Valley was planning its long-sought new animal shelter, Executive Director Tanya Hilgendorf visited some 15 shelters around the country.

Those shelters were established as best-practice facilities, and Hilgendorf doesn’t mince words when comparing them to the nonprofit’s current home of more than five decades.

“They all have told me that just by having a warm and welcoming facility that people want to visit, they’ve doubled their adoptions, which is fantastic,” she said. “Here, this is a place for diehards.”

Crews are working to wrap up construction on an $8.6 million new shelter by Oct. 1, when Humane Society workers and animals are expected to move into a new 30,000-square-foot facility. The building, on Cherry Hill Road in Dixboro, is directly behind the current shelter, which will later be demolished to make way for more parking.

The new shelter is the culmination of many years of discussions by Humane Society staff and supporters, Hilgendorf said. The building will nearly triple the size of the existing shelter, which was built in 1951, and will provide enough capacity to handle 50 percent more animals.

The focus of the new building will be on animal welfare and creating “low-stress housing” for cats and dogs, Hilgendorf said.

“I would say it’s very long overdue, and this shelter is a disgrace for this community,” said Hilgendorf, who noted many Humane Society chapters in the region have built new facilities in the last 20 years.

“When this shelter was built, it was built as a warehouse. And very few animals left this building alive.”

The new building will focus on ways to keep cats and dogs healthier by minimizing stress and disease. Hilgendorf said about half the cats who come into the shelter get sick before their adoption, adding hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical treatment costs to the organization’s $3.5 million annual budget.


In the new building, cats and dogs will be kept in separate quarters with piped-in classical music. It has more community rooms that attempt to replicate home environments for animals, and workers will get more advanced automatic cleaning systems, such as restaurant-grade dishwashers.

One of the facility’s more innovative features will be its geothermal exchange system to provide heating and cooling. The closed-loop system, coupled with energy-recovery units, will help provide 10 fresh-air exchanges per hour, further helping to mitigate risk for disease inside the shelter.

The building was designed by Ann Arbor-based A3C Collaborative Architecture, which specializes in sustainable building designs. Architects there also have incorporated sustainable materials and other design elements to help the organization minimize operating costs, said Jan Culbertson, senior principal.

“The site is a challenging site, and we were actually able to do some interesting things with the site itself, because we have all of the storm water is captured and we have infiltration basins, so that we’re actually recharging the aquifers,” Culbertson said.

“There’s a whole system of bioswales, so the water continues to get cleaned and purified as it goes through the storm system on the site.”

The Humane Society will lease the property for the new building, which sits within the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, from the University of Michigan for 65 years at $8,000 a year, Hilgendorf said. The organization is also required to create a $100,000 natural landscape buffer and replace all invasive plants with native species.

The organization remains about $1.2 million shy of its fund-raising goal to help pay off county-issued bonds to finance the project.

Hilgendorf is optimistic the new facility will help the Humane Society further drive up adoption rates for animals. She boasts of increasing the save rate from around 50 percent to 80 percent since arriving on the job four years ago.

New offices will also come as a relief for administrative workers crammed into cubicles in an aging auxiliary building.

“We were beating our heads up against the wall in this building,” Hilgendorf said. “It’s crumbling, it’s cramped, it’s sick, it’s stressful, it’s not designed for animal welfare today. It doesn’t help our work.”

Photos by Lon Horwedel, Work on a new facility for the Humane Society of Huron Valley is wrapping up.

Contact freelance writer Sven Gustafson at or follow him at



Wed, Sep 16, 2009 : 10:16 a.m.

Ed, Thank you for correcting the previous post by Lisa. It is important to have all the facts. I will refrain from using the word ignorant because it is rude.

Ed Zimmer

Wed, Sep 16, 2009 : 8:46 a.m.

To LisaJ & MB -- HSHV does receive taxpayer monies. It receives $180,000 of taxpayer money each year from the County -- and the County contributed $1 million of taxpayer money to the construction of HSHV's new facility -- as well as issued the bonds for that construction, for which taxpayers are at risk if HSHV does not succeed in repaying (County Board of Commissioners minutes, August 1, 2007). As Sven pointed out, that annual payment is being increased, deservedly so as animal control is a legal obligation of the County. (In their 2007 presentation to the County, HSHV estimated their real cost in providing the County's animal control services at $830,184 per year.)


Wed, Sep 16, 2009 : 6:38 a.m.

Has anyone actually been to the HSHV? The old building is falling apart. Imagine having thousands of animals going through your house every year, it would be falling apart too. It is the only place in Washtenaw County that takes care of stray animals. So yes, it is contracted out by the county to take care of those animals. They also do trap, neuter, and return to take care of the over population of stray cats but the county gives them absolutely no money for that. This new building may be a little on the extreme side but it will allow them to better care for animals. If your dog or cat got away would you rather they go to a high-kill shelter? Because there are plenty in Michigan. Before you rant about your tax dollars being spent on this shelter at least know your facts. The new shelter is separately budgeted from your tax dollars. Those go to the day to day operations of the facility.


Tue, Sep 15, 2009 : 9:20 p.m.

I STAND CORRECTED! Maybe we can eliminate all tax funding to the shelter since they are doing so well collecting private donations. That is something that we can all believe in. Citizens funding things that they believe in rather than taxing the masses.


Tue, Sep 15, 2009 : 8:20 p.m.

Before ignorant people like braggslaw sound off about their "tax dollars" being spent on a new shelter, they should realize that the Humane Society of Huron Valley is NOT a government agency and received no tax dollars to build the new shelter. According to All Humane Societies are completely independent nonprofit corporations. HSHV serves Washtenaw County. Where does the Humane Society of Huron Valley get its funding? Our funding comes from generous individual and corporate donors. We do not receive any government funding aside from a contract with Washtenaw County to house strays. This contract makes up less than 10% of our budget. We receive no money from any other humane organization and we are not funded by United Way. We are a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit organization and donations to HSHV are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.


Tue, Sep 15, 2009 : 3:04 p.m.

Sven, You are asking me to believe that private donations and public money were not mixed. I am very skeptical that this is possible. But if what you say is true, then god bless America, people have made their own choices with their own money (donations to the shelter). That is something that I always like to see.

Sven Gustafson

Tue, Sep 15, 2009 : 9:35 a.m.

You're right in that the county by law has to support the Humane Society for animal-control functions. But that is wholly separate from the $8.6 million shelter project, which uses no public funds.


Tue, Sep 15, 2009 : 9:30 a.m.

Sven, I don't think that is accurate. Washtenaw County Expenditures: Expenditures Personal Services Projected salaries reflect union settled rates for 2009 & 2010. Projections for 2011 and beyond are based on historical average of 3% annual increase. Projected increase for steps and longevity are based on recent trends. Projected growth in fringe rates reflects historical labor settlements, recent trends and economic forecasts. Projections include $1.8 million in 2009 for Jail Overcrowding and partial year of operating costs for Jail Expansion with an increase of $600K in 2010 for anticipated total annual operating costs of Jail Expansion. Supplies Elections budget is variable between odd and even fiscal years in accordance with major elections. Other Services Assumes the Community Supportive Housing Initiative of $250K annually for 2008 and 2009 is no longer funded by the General Fund starting in 2010. *************Includes an annual increase of $100K in years 2008 2010 to the Humane Society until a total county allocation of $500K is achieved to meet the countys obligation for animal control services.****************** Includes an annual contribution of $150K from 2008 2010 for the North South Commuter Rail, with no contribution following.

Sven Gustafson

Tue, Sep 15, 2009 : 8:38 a.m.

braggslaw, Your tax money isn't going to build the new Humane Society shelter. This is all private donations.


Mon, Sep 14, 2009 : 7:52 p.m.

Lisa, If you want to donate your own money to the shelter, knock yourself out. I prefer to see my tax money used in a more efficient manner, or better yet returned to the taxpayer.

Lisa Bashert

Mon, Sep 14, 2009 : 1:08 p.m.

Many studies have shown that better treatment of animals lowers their stress and results in a better outcome, whatever their use by humans -- either as domesticated agricultural animals (more milk production), or as pets (calmer animals and more successful adoptions). It's harder to see the costs of systems already in place, but they are real and they are high.

Ed Zimmer

Mon, Sep 14, 2009 : 12:25 p.m.

Bob, you know I disagree. Would you have been supportive of the Delonis shelter if their operation involved killing off the homeless humans they could not accomodate? In supporting the HSHV shelter you're perpetuating the outdated notion that pets are "property" (and hence, disposable). How can anyone profess a "love of animals" -- or think of their pets as "part of the family" -- and not find the needless killing of homeless pets immoral. And the killing *is* "needless" -- it's a failure of HSHV management (Board and Director) -- open-admission no-kill shelters not only exist but are rapidly growing in number. While the rest of the world is addressing the concerns of animal welfare, Ann Arbor builds a monument to animal control. Good luck, Ann Arbor!


Mon, Sep 14, 2009 : 12:08 p.m.

Am I the only person who finds this ridiculous? 1.2 millions dollars to make a "green" shelter? I love animals, but at some point common-sense has to take over. "Green" inevitably means one thing, more money as in Greenbacks. I would like a rationale cost-effective approach to taking care of unwanted animals. I realize a few readers will attempt to argue that "green" is cheaper, it is not. As a taxpayer in Washtenaw county, I would like my money used a bit more wisely.

Bob Martel

Mon, Sep 14, 2009 : 10:48 a.m.

The new shelter will be a real asset to the community for many years to come. We will no longer need to be embarrassed to visit the place! Many thanks to the HSHV Staff and Board of Directors for their hard work and vision, Bob Gunzel and the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners for their on-going support, and of course many many thanks to the hundreds of donors and HSHV volunteers who made this dream a reality!