British Columbia

Singles night at the animal shelter? B.C. SPCA looking to shift image

The B.C. SPCA is embarking on a makeover. It's looking to shed the classic image many people think of when they hear the phrase animal shelter — the picture of a scruffy puppy or kitten looking out sadly from behind the bars of a dark, cold cage — and replace it with something sunnier.

'We would really just like people to think of the SPCAs as happy places,' says spokesperson

Shutterstock image of a couple and a puppy. (Daxiao Productions/Shutterstock)

The B.C. SPCA is embarking on a makeover.

It's looking to shed the classic image many people think of when they hear the phrase animal shelter — the picture of a scruffy puppy or kitten looking out sadly from behind the bars of a dark, cold cage.

This puppy, a Wheaton-poodle mix, was one of 66 rescued by the B.C. SPCA from a Langley breeder in 2016. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"I think sometimes people think of animal shelters as places where there's sort of second-class animals, or you know, sort of damaged goods. And that's just really not the case," said Lorie Chortyk, general manager of community relations for the B.C. SPCA.

She says part of the problem is that many of the society's 36 B.C. shelters are aging and some are in rough shape.

"We have some buildings that we wish we weren't having to operate out of," said Chortyk.

The former B.C. SPCA shelter in Nanaimo, B.C., which has now been given a major overhaul. (B.C. SPCA)

So the SPCA is in the midst of a major upgrade — an eight-year, $60-million facilities development plan to replace and refurbish shelters across the province.

And that makes it a good time for an image refresh.

"As we are building these new buildings, we really want the physical space to reflect that kind of celebration of animals."

'A destination place for people who love animals'

In order to achieve that, new SPCA facilities are being built bigger and more encompassing.

Take, for example, the shiny new shelter that opened in Nanaimo last year.

The B.C. SPCA opened its new building in Nanaimo in 2016. (B.C. SPCA)

"It's a bright, airy wonderful place and it's really a destination place for people who love animals."

Chortyk says it has onsite dog parks, a patio and cafe, a self-serve dog wash area and a big retail space that sells all kinds of items to keep your furry friends happy.

It also includes space for the society to run events and workshops.

"[You can] get training about pet care, behavioural classes, that kind of thing," Chortyk said. 

The Nanaimo branch of the B.C. SPCA also offers a pet zone where customers can purchase items for their animal friends. (B.C. SPCA)

She says the society already runs birthday parties and summer camps, but it hopes to broaden its offerings:

"Maybe pet daycare down the road, SPCA-accredited daycare," she said, musing about the possibility of onsite "catfés" as well

"Just not the services for the animals only, but also for people that have pets and really want support and help in how to deal with behavioural issues, training issues."

Friday night hot spot?

The facilities upgrade plan is funded in part by government. The rest will be raised through the society's supporters. 

New buildings are also in the works for Kamloops, Castlegar and Dawson Creek.

There are also plans for a large, new centre in Vancouver and Chortyk says they are also looking at improvements to facilities in the Fraser Valley, Shuswap and Campbell River areas.

The new Nanaimo branch features an outdoor patio and cafe. The B.C. SPCA says a similar plan is in the works for Vancouver. (B.C. SPCA)

In the vision of the new sites, Chortyk sees big potential to create a sort of community space — the place you might go with your friends on a Friday night, or even go if you're looking for love. 

"You know I think [the Nanaimo facility is] even looking at doing singles nights where people can come, mingle with other people who have pets, bring your pet, come meet other single people," she said.

"I think we would really just like people to think of the SPCAs as happy places." 

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