Pets Lifeline finds its forever home

Posted on May 28, 2021 by Sonoma Valley Sun

The gleaming new home of Pets Lifeline, an ultra-modern facility on the grounds of the old structure on Sonoma’s Eighth Street East, is a huge upgrade from the previous incarnation, a hodgepodge of sheds, a trailer, and chain link kennels.

It has more space for more dogs and cats, more comfort, more light, more clinic capacity, more working space for staff and volunteers, and a whole new set of puns. 

Welcome to Catopia!

Anything animal related invites dopey puns. And Pets Lifeline has never been shy about invoking the silliest to make its point. The motto of the capital campaign to fund the rebuild was “Raise the Woof.” The huge upstairs area for felines, Catlandia, opens to a secure outdoor space – that’s the catio. With its own meow-cony. 

Always quick to laugh, Executive Director Nancy King enjoys the bright side, the warm and fuzzy, but the day-to-day of animal rescue and relocation is serious business. Since 1982, the nonprofit has been Sonoma Valley’s only animal shelter, rehabilitating and finding homes for stray or abandoned cats and dogs (about 20,000 and counting). 

But that important work was impeded by the outdated, outgrown, and inefficient facility. It lacked space and comfort not only for the animals but the humans, who had to worry about things like adequate bathrooms. 

King knew things had to change. For the organization to become truly sustainable, it needed a serious upgrade. She first took the idea of a new building to her board of directors in 2013. Then came years of feasibility studies, needs assessments, design reviews, budget and fundraising plans. In June of 2017, the entire project had legs. Four legs. The consensus, King said, was “Let’s do this.”

Showing off the roomy first-floor reception area is Mary Catherine Cutcliffe, PLL Community Outreach Coordinator.

Down came the old building in late 2019. Pets Lifeline moved to temporary quarters – a set of trailers on lower Broadway – and the build on Eight Street East was on. 

There are still workers about, and boxes in the halls, but the move into the new campus is complete. The dogs are here, in their fancy indoor/outdoor kennels. And the cats, pampered, naturally. The staff is settling in: King finally has a real office, and even the volunteers have cubicle spaces. There are greeting and reception stations, nice wide hallways, and a multipurpose room to be used for training sessions, education events and other gatherings. (It can be deployed as shelter space, for people and their pets, during an emergency).

Shoshana Brown, PLL assistant shelter manager, weighs an incoming kitten in the expanded clinic area.

The new facility increases capacity from 13 dogs and 52 cats to 20 dogs and 75 cats and the building about doubles the old 5,000 square-foot pawprint.

“It’s a healthier environment for the animals,” King says. A state-of-the-art sanitation system keeps things clean, and more space means animals are under less stress. Both contribute to a shorter length of stay. “The habitats are key. The animals are our priority.” 

Canine Behaviorist Laurinda Charvat takes a break with her buddy, Buddy.

Outside, a nice big lawn to let the dogs express themselves, by rolling in the grass, getting the zoomies, or, well, you know. The building is smart and environmentally friendly. Green certified. Low-water landscaping. Solar panels, a rainwater harvesting system, a “vermiculture” system where kennel waste is processed through four levels of microbial bacteria, becoming worm food and compost. And look – an actual paved parking lot.

Back inside, there’s a clinic with rooms for intake, isolation, exams, and surgery. Back in the old place, there wasn’t room for an isolation kennel. “All we had was caution tape.”

King can’t quite believe the scale of upgrade and improvement. “It’s really exciting,” she says. “I stand here, close my eyes, and imagine what we can do.” 

Pets Lifeline is currently open by appointment only, at 19686 Eight St. East in Sonoma. 707.996.4577.

Sun photos by Annie Robichaud

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