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Burlington Animal Services director talks about new shelter under construction

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BURLINGTON, N.C. -- Jessica Arias loves animals.

It would be hard to find a more enthusiastic advocate.

She’s the current chairwoman of the North Carolina Animal Federation, the statewide organization of animal welfare professionals that pushes -- among other things -- animal-supporting legislation, training and networking.

As the current director of Burlington Animal Services, she’s the driving force behind what will soon be the Piedmont Triad’s newest and most state-of-the-art animal shelter.

“It’s important for our community to have a nice place for animals,” she told me during my recent visit to the facility. “A successful animal agency makes a community a positive place to live.”

Arias knows success. Since she arrived in 2013, (She spent the prior nine years as the animal shelter director in neighboring Orange County.) the Burlington Animal Shelter’s live release rate has skyrocketed from 28 percent to 90 percent, meeting the minimum definition of a “no-kill” shelter.

But Arias doesn’t like that term.

“I think it can be confusing and often divisive,” she said. “It would be a wonderful thing if people would understand what that means at a slightly deeper level and really get behind the shelters that perhaps aren’t at 90 percent to help them get there.”

Arias feels Burlington has “gotten there” by -- among other things -- aggressively getting the word out about shelter animals in need of forever homes and great relationships with local rescue groups and foster families.

It also reflects a public attitude change regarding animal welfare over the last half-century.

“In the 1960s and 70s, the emphasis wasn’t so much placed on animal adoption as it was animal control and controlling the stray populations because of the risk of disease (rabies),” she said. “Oftentimes, stray pets were rounded up and taken to the ‘pound facility,’ as they were referred to back then and euthanized.”

Shelter facilities often reflected that emphasis.

Look no farther than the old Burlington Animal Shelter. It’s 1960s-era attached buildings are still in use behind the current Pet Adoption Center (built 15-16 years ago) and the adjacent new shelter under construction.

In the old facility, ventilation is poor, cats are in too-small cages and dog enclosures face each other -- adding a lot of noise and stress for the animals.

“[We are] having challenges with maintaining the facility to the point where it can pass [North Carolina Department of Agriculture] inspections,” Arias said. “It’s beyond its useful lifespan.”

Arias knew coming in that building had to be replaced. So, she and her team put together a $5.5 million public-private partnership to build a new building that will give Burlington Animal Services more than 5,000 additional square feet.

Alamance County is contributing $2.9 million. The City of Burlington, $912,000. The rest is coming from private donations.

The new building will provide well-ventilated, climate-controlled, more spacious areas for the animals to live before they find forever homes. There will be more room for potential adoptive families to get up close to the animals before making their adoption decisions.

There will also be a full medical clinic for the staff veterinarian.

The new shelter and renovations to the current Pet Adoption Center should be complete by the end of 2019. The old shelter buildings will be demolished.

“When I came here five years ago, animal placements were very low,” Arias said. “I knew there were a lot of things I could bring to help improve the situation for animals in this county.”

Mission accomplished!

For more information on Burlington Animal Services and a listing (along with pictures) of the animals it currently has up for adoption, click here.

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