Shelter Construction

Many of the animal shelters that I have worked were built by contractors that know nothing of shelter construction and as a result make life miserable for the shelter personnel who later come to work in those facilities.

Disease Control

Due to the fact that many pet owners fail to vaccinate their pets, many pets become sick from the first virus that hits them in an animal shelter.  Although most shelters vaccinate an animal at intake, the vaccine is ineffective for several days.  Shelters should be built to reduce the potential for viruses to spread.

Many animal shelters have holding pens in which they place animals at intake so as to not have them interact with the shelter’s general population.  If an animal is going to break with a virus, it will usually within the first three to five days.

Instead of holding animals in large rooms, it is better to maintain the animals in smaller wards so that if disease breaks out, it will be contained to a smaller group of animals.  So as to keep from spreading disease from one ward to another, it is generally a good idea to limit the cleaning of the ward to one specific person so as to not cause cross contamination.  A shelter might have one person clean one cat ward and then clean one dog ward and stay away from the other wards.  Most important is to prevent the public from carrying disease from one ward to another while looking for a lost pet or finding a new pet.  It is surprising the number of people who cannot stop themselves from touching one animal after another as the go down a row of cages or kennels after being warned not to touch the animals.

To avoid cross contamination, it is important to construct the shelter so that suspected diseased animals have a straight path to the quarantine area without taking the animal down common hallways that are used for the general shelter population; for example, animals brought in from the field should not be walked through general population areas.

The air exchange system is very important for disease control.  If air is pulled from within the building, it should be sanitized through filters and UV lights before being blow back into the shelter.  An improperly installed HVAC system could be the primary cause of contaminating and recontaminating your shelter guests.  Many shelters opt for only outside air intake, which can be very expensive on hot or cold days.  If you live in areas of high humidity, make sure the system supports sufficient drains under the condenser coils. 

If your shelter can afford it, each ward should be zoned separately when providing air conditioning and heating.  Some shelters incorporate self-contained fans that use filters and UV lights to sanitize the air during a disease outbreak.  Use Ozone generators sparingly as Ozone is hard on an animal’s lungs.

Although not a construction issue, it is important to disease control that volunteers and staff do not use the same leashes to walk all of the dogs or the same cat toys when socializing cats.  As animals stay longer periods of time, staff and volunteers need to make sure that they are not unintentionally exposing animals when engaging in enrichment programs with the animals.

Play yards are another area of concern.  Creating play groups for animals and the play surface can be areas that spread disease.  Play groups should consist of animals that have been in the shelter a sufficient length of time for the animal’s initial vaccination to begin to take hold.  Play surfaces should be make of a material that allows for disinfecting.  Dirt and grass surfaces is an excellent way to spread the Parvo virus.


Having an effective drain system will reduce the workload of your kennel staff.  My experience is the T-Kennel system drain is the best system.  The system allows for the attendant to push animal waste to the back of the kennel, this front to back cleaning allows for faster cleaning.  Most shelters have a single circular drain in the middle of the kennel; with this system, staff has to scoop up the animal waste and return to mop the kennel.

The T-Kennel system usually has a large catch basin where it catches chew toys and blanket material.  On rare occasions, the catch basin might stop an infant animal from being washed down the drain (great care must be taken when holding mothers with infant animals).  The drain pipes should be constructed so that the system contains no sharp turns.  The first time you have to tear up your concrete floors looking for a long nylon chew toy that is clogging your system, you will understand the need for either limiting the toys that animal chew or create ways to prevent the toys from going down into your waste system.  Anytime that the waste system has a sharp turn, a cleanout should be installed to access that point.