For more than five decades, Citrus County Animal Services has worked in the trenches of Inverness, Florida, tirelessly protecting the stray, surrendered, abused and public-threatening animals that enter its doors.
But the shelter intends to soon relocate from its current location in Citrus County to provide space for more animals in need.
According to the Citrus County public information officer, Veronica Kampschroer, the board of county commissioners accepted a $12.5 million budget to open a new facility in Lecanto. The building is expected to cost $9 million. The project is estimated to be completed by spring 2025, said Colleen Yarbrough, director of Citrus County Animal Services.
Citrus County Animal Services is the only animal shelter to operate out of a dedicated facility. The relocation is necessary to provide county residents greater accessibility to an adoption center, Yarbrough said. The move also will enhance safety for staff, animals and customers. The current building has experienced a number of maintenance issues over time, including with the rafters, walls and concrete.
“(The commissioners) have done the most possible with the least resources,” Kampschroer said. “They are taking all those lessons learned and trying to integrate them into the floor plan.”
When the shelter opened in Inverness in the 1970s, Citrus County Animal Services was budgeted $9 million for a total project cost of $6 million, she said. The facility was built to house 68 dogs and 41 cats.
Now, with a larger budget and nearly 25,000 square feet, the Lecanto location is expected to have space for 110 dogs and 74 cats. According to a press release in April, 14,000 square feet will be dedicated to the actual housing of the animals, while the remaining 10,000 square feet is intended for other operations such as adoptions and clinic appointments.
Meaghan Mielo, the chief veterinarian of Citrus County Animal Services, said she’s eager to bring her work in animal health and welfare to the shelter’s new location.
“I hope that it will help us be more efficient doing what we already do and expand the services that we do,” she said.
Mielo said she is looking forward to providing more affordable care to the public, considering the Citrus County poverty rate is higher than the national average by nearly 4% as of the 2020 U.S. Census.
Citrus County Animal Services employs 20 staff members and relies heavily on the free time of their 40 volunteers, who assist with play groups, walks, feedings and one-on-one time with the animals. Kampschroer said this volunteer work will be just as integral to the stability of the new building as it is to the current one.
“It is low-budget for veterinary care and staffing,” she said. “Anybody who can give their time freely is really helpful.”
Yarbrough said that when she began as director of the animal shelter in 2018, she saw there was much room for improvement. Among the key elements missing in the facility at the time was a foster program and a staff veterinarian.
“It is a roadblock if you do not have a veterinarian,” she said. “You may come in to adopt and, now, I am telling you it will be a week or so until you can take that pet home.”
With plans for relocation in the works, Yarbrough said she intends to bring these programs and practices to Lecanto. Citrus County has already purchased the property for the new facility, and a zoning change is currently being conducted to make space for outdoor kennels, Kampschroer said.
In addition to the over $12 million budget allocated for the new building, the shelter received $2.5 million in donations from local families and organizations.
“The community understands there is a need for a new shelter, and there has been for a really long time,” Kampschroer said. “People want to see that progress.”
These community contributions, she said, are integral to additions to the facility that fall out of the county’s budget, such as larger office space for the staff, additional kennels and a patio for cats to roam.
Donations can also be used to pay for special equipment and property not afforded by the current budget, such as X-ray machines, medications and feed.
Citrus County Animal Services operates on a Fear Free philosophy, Yarbrough said. Those who work there aim to reduce anxiety and stress in all animals entering the facility. She and Kampschroer say they hope this mode of operation will be foundational to the physical construction of the new facility.
“Even if you get a different shelter director in 20 years,” Kampschroer said, “it will be inevitable that the shelter is going to operate in a way that is kind to animals and people.”
Yulianna Slanker, a resident of Citrus County, has adopted two animals from Citrus County Animal Services. She emphasized her fondness of the facility and her excitement for the new building to open.
“I am a firm believer in (the shelter),” she said. “I think it’s great (a new facility is opening).”
According to a document by Kampschroer, permits for the building are expected to be received by March and a bid for approval is expected to be made by May.
As 60% of the new building’s design has, so far, been received, plans for the future of the current building remain undetermined.