Construction officially began Tuesday, Oct. 27, on the new South Suburban Humane Society facility.
SSHS and government officials gathered with canine friends Sheila, Freddy and Zoro at the site at 21100 Central Ave. in Matteson for a ceremonial groundbreaking.
“When I first came here to look at it, I could see it. I could see the culmination of all of our dreams for the South Suburban Humane Society,” SSHS CEO Emily Klehm said. “It’s a location easily accessible via major roads, natural setting where the dogs in our care can go for enriching walks while the staff or volunteer person on the other end of the leash feels relaxed and restored. It’s a landscape for cats in our care to gaze out of windows, actual windows we don’t have in our current shelter.”
The project was partially funded with a $6 million Housing Cook County’s Animals grant.
“When my department reviewed applications for this grant, we looked for a few key elements, including visionary plans to address overcrowding and ways to ensure homeless and abused pets have a safe place to go while promoting volunteerism, fostering and adoption,” County Animal and Rabies Control Administrator Thomas Wake said. “The county relies on partnerships with local shelters in emergency situations and to house animals impounded by Cook County Animal and Rabies Control. South Suburban’s new facility will ensure all these priorities are met.”
SSHS is hoping to raise another $2.5 million to fill the gap. Donations can be made at newhomeforsshs.org.
“The (Housing Cook County’s Animals) program was designed to help local shelters make an impact with residents’ lives and allow animals to find their forever home,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said. “While the South Suburban Humane Society makes the most of the resources they currently have, they’ve outgrown their current facility. They knew they had a need for a more modern shelter that meets the needs of the community today and well into the future.”
Freddy, a 10-month-old pitbull mix, is a recent addition to the SSHS shelter. His owner was no longer able to care for him.
“Freddy’s story is an all too familiar one,” Preckwinkle, who has a pitbull mix at home, said. “This empty field behind me will be transformed over the next year into a brand new facility designed to reduce shelter stress, create an enriched environment and move pets like Freddy through the shelter system as quickly as possible and into residents’ loving homes.”
The new facility will replace SSHS’s current building in Chicago Heights, which struggles to meet the organization’s needs. The humane society also operates a pet adoption center in Homewood, which was renovated in 2019.
The new facility will be 150 percent larger than the building in Chicago Heights. Upgrades will include a spay and neuter clinic, low-cost veterinary clinic, several isolation and holding areas to limit disease and stress among animals, an outdoor “catio,” indoor and outdoor meet and greet spaces, increased administrative and volunteer office areas and walking trails. There will be separate entrances for adoptions, intake and clinics.
The heating and air conditioning systems will be designed to decrease disease and odor.
“The Southland has been in need of just such a facility for such a long time,” Cook County Commissioner Donna Miller said. “The facility will be instrumental not only in housing lost animals but reuniting lost pets with their families and hopefully to adopt out new pets for their forever homes.”