With bags of dog food stacked against the wall and cat carriers piled to the ceiling, the administrative offices at the Babylon Animal Adoption Rescue Center resemble the storage rooms of a pet store.
"This isn't because we're sloppy," explained director Chris Elton. "It's because we just don't have any place to put stuff."
Having deemed the West Babylon building cramped and inefficient, Babylon Town officials last week made the first step in building a more modern facility. The town board approved bonding for $500,000 for design, engineering and architecture.
Kevin Bonner, town spokesman, said the town hopes to begin construction on the new building by the end of the year and open in 2015.
The new building will be constructed on an empty town-owned lot next to Zahn's field off New Highway in North Amityville. The current rescue center regularly has about 60 dogs and 40 to 50 cats in its care, Elton said, and he is not looking to significantly expand capacity.
The town's 8,000-square-foot shelter was completed in 1989 for $1.18 million and dubbed a state of the art facility. However, Elton said, many of the building's design features are "wrongheaded or just out of date."
Elton points to the metal doors and frames, which in a facility that is constantly using water to clean, have become rusted. Also problematic, he said, are floor drains that back up weekly, forcing the staff to remove waste by hand.
Elton said he and his staff of 20 also would like to make the rescue center less stressful. All that many dogs at the shelter see most of the day is the face of another dog. With cramped cages facing each other, the dogs suffer constant stimulation, Elton said. And stressed, anxious dogs are less likely to be adopted. "You want them as calm as possible," he said.
Elton has consulted with Design Learned Inc. in Norwich, Conn., which specializes in engineering services for animal facilities and worked on the Southold animal shelter in 2009. Kelly August, project supervisor for the company, said properly built shelters keep animals in "zones," and control air flow, so there is no cross-contamination of diseases and less noise pollution.
"We've got all these full shelters, and it's hard to get animals adopted from them," she said. "They don't smell good, they're loud, they're not inviting."
The rescue center holds dogs for up to seven days, Elton said. It took in more than 800 dogs last year, he said, and about 85 percent of those were adopted. Most of the remainder were euthanized, he said, though the shelter has had some dogs for more than a year. Dogs that bite people are more likely to be euthanized, he said.
"If a dog is not stressed here and is living happy and safe, there's no reason why we shouldn't keep it around until we can adopt it," he said.