Putting On the Dog : Pasadena Shelter Is Like the Ritz, but Some Homeless Advocates Howl


Calling Pasadena's new kennels "doghouses" is like calling the Playboy Mansion a "bunny hutch."

Outdoor kennel a little too cold? The radiant heaters will click on. Dog days of summer? The microclimate misting system will spray cool, deionized water vapors "such as the real nice restaurants have in Palm Springs," said Steven R. McNall, executive director at the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA.

Construction has started on a $4.3-million addition that will be adorned with a two-story aviary, tiered fountain with a cat head-shaped spout, walk-in dog showers and sculptured bushes shaped--of course--like dogs and cats.

Cats will nap in towel-lined cages in an airy room with big windows and skylights. Puppy kennels will be on a pedestal to put dogs and youngsters at eye level.

Prospective owners can spend quality time with dogs or cats in adoption counseling pavilions, private rooms where a counselor will help iron out any concerns about prospective pets' peeves. But just make that peeves ; the in-vogue phrase is "companion animals," the word pet having been dropped because of its master-servant implications.

The refurbished, 10,000-square-foot shelter--which will be completed by September--is being underwritten by private donations and the humane society's savings.

"The kennels, these are like Hilton hotel rooms," joked architect Clifton Allen, who had designed a shelter for runaway youths in Hollywood but never one for stray animals. "These are better than any doghouse in anybody's back yard."

Above the dog kennels is a vine-covered trellis, and outside the forest-green steel cages are built-in plant holders.

"We're trying to get away from the chain-link and concrete, and the cold look of a kennel," McNall said. "The general public walks into a dog pound and they envision death. They envision mistreatment. They envision disease."

Animal activists find that view as stale as last week's Kitty Litter. Instead, Allen envisioned the new complex with "romantic nuances" and "a very subdued classical painting scheme."

The thinking is that potential owners will flock to an upscale shelter for the ambience, the way shoppers do to marble-floored department stores with tuxedo-clad classical pianists.

The more shoppers, the more takers--and the fewer animals put to death. Last year, the shelter put down about 2,000 animals under a flexible policy that sets no firm timetable for how long they are held for adoption.

McNall makes no apologies for a shelter that puts some human accommodations to shame. You get that way, he said, after seeing ugly cases of animal abuse: the filthy, skin-and-bones German shepherd whose ear tips were eaten away by flies, or another shepherd doused with lighter fluid and set afire.

A few critics, McNall conceded, have told him that his shelter is a slap in the face to street people who only dream about a climate-controlled place to sleep. He responds that the way people treat animals says something about human nature.

"If someone is abusing an animal, they're going to be abusing people," McNall said. "Therefore, it's one of our missions to educate people on the proper respect and care for animals. Therefore, they will have the proper respect for their fellow human beings."

But some homeless assistance workers say they cannot believe an animal shelter could raise that kind of money for stray dogs and cats while people go homeless.

"It's mind-boggling," said Myra Turley, a caseworker for Good Shepherd Center for Homeless Women in Echo Park. "I want to know (who) their sources are. I want to hang up the phone and call the Pasadena animal shelter and find out."

A 1991 report by the Feminist Majority Foundation, a research and lobbying group for women's rights, found four times as many shelters for animals in the nation as there are for battered women.

"It's so shocking," said Katherine Spillar, the group's national director. "Given the number of people on the streets . . . it seems absolutely excessive that we spend this kind of money on animals. . . . The people who are building these extravagant shelters for animals should think about what they can do for people."

But psychologist Alan Entin, who has done research on families and pets, is unsurprised by the big hearts and wallets of animal lovers.

"I think that a lot of people have trouble dealing with people, and what they end up doing is lavishing a lot of attention and affection on animals that they cannot show directly to people," said the Richmond, Va., therapist.

The Pasadena complex is only part of a nationwide movement toward kinder, gentler animal centers. Shelters nationwide are grooming themselves to make their buildings seem more inviting, said Nicholas Gillman, a field representative for the Humane Society of the United States. The Pasadena shelter apparently has more amenities than most of the 3,600 animal shelters in the country, Gillman said, but the $4.3-million price tag is not considered extravagant.

The society raised money for the shelter over the past three years through fund-raising parties and appeals in the group's newsletter, mailed to 2,500 members. Two donors pledged a total of $250,000. But the society still is $1 million short of the $2.5-million fund-raising goal. An additional $1.5 million will come from a savings account that has been built up since the late 1960s, when the expansion was first envisioned, McNall said.

The complex includes an animal hospital with a spay-neuter room--and facilities for putting animals to death by lethal injection. For the first time, the shelter will require each adopted animal to be spayed or neutered.

At the volunteer activities center, people will peruse the lost-and-found ads and try to match shelter animals with descriptions. In the auditorium, up to 150 people can listen to lectures by animal behavior specialists or wildlife conservation experts.

Volunteers also will continue a program to take shelter animals to visit nursing home residents.

Every potential animal adopter will be required to fill out a four-page questionnaire. The idea is to weed out deadbeat animal owners, such as the one who returned a dog to the shelter complaining that "it didn't match my furniture," McNall said.

The upgraded Pasadena complex is on the same 1 1/2 acres as the old one. The original shelter opened in 1907 and took in abandoned human babies as well as stray animals. The babies were long ago moved to new quarters; now it's the animals' turn.

"Animals have rights too, just like people," McNall said. "They have that right to be respected, and they also have the right to be well-cared for and given all the necessities to have a quality environment and quality life."

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