KINGSPORT — PETWORKS Animal Services officially opened its new, state-of-the-art facility Friday morning before an enthusiastic crowd of animal lovers. It’s a significant milestone in the city’s 10-year journey to provide better care for the hundreds of stray and abandoned dogs and cats in our region.

More than 100 city and county officials, shelter volunteers and animal enthusiasts filled the parking lot at 3101 E. Stone Drive Friday morning to cut the ribbon on and dedicate PETWORKS’ new facility — “The Good Steward Adoption Center.”

PETWORKS is the nonprofit organization that manages the animal shelter in Kingsport.

Tom Parham, president of PETWORKS, said the journey for a new facility began 10 years ago at a time when the shelter was euthanizing 5,000 animals a year and spending more money than it should. At that time, officials were determined to take better care of animals, provide better value for citizens and develop the right organization to lead the effort.

“Our community, our volunteers and our staff have given time, money and love for this project, so thank you,” Parham said. “This is not just about the animals. It’s about people, children, education and families and it’s already making a difference.”

ABOUT THE FACILITY

Construction began on the new 17,000-square-foot facility last year and wrapped up earlier this summer.

It more than doubles the size of the old facility and is capable of housing 180 animals, with isolation rooms for both dogs and cats, dedicated adoption spaces, an educational area for animal care and training, larger workspaces for employees and a 1.2-acre dog park on the rear of the property.

As you walk through the front doors of the facility, you’re instantly greeted with the adoption rooms — one for cats on the right and dogs on the left. Just opposite the main counter is a gift store with stuffed animals, T-shirts, hats, towels and more. Straight on through to the back are where the animals are housed, and behind the facility is the community dog park.

One notable feature of the new facility are the quarantine rooms, something the old Idle Hour Road shelter was never able to accommodate.

“Animals brought into the new facility will be examined and evaluated and if they’re found to have a disease or be sick, they’ll go into one of the quarantine rooms for two weeks,” Parham said. “The rooms are separate from the other rooms in the building, complete with their own ventilation system.”

Miles Burdine, CEO and president of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, said there’s nothing quite like the PETWORKS facility anywhere else in the state.

“We’re trying to sell our community to businesses and individuals wanting to move here. There’s not another Bays Mountain in the region, not another aquatic center ... Greenbelt ... Miracle Field,” Burdine said. “Now we can add to that list, when we recruit businesses and people, there’s not another PETWORKS facility like this in the region.”

THE PATH FORWARD

Jim Harlan, PETWORKS fundraising co-chair, said the organization has raised $2.85 million in cash and commitments for the project.

He also noted that PETWORKS aims to be debt free in 2021.

Washington County shelter officials recently shared some statistics with PETWORKS officials about what happened after they opened their new facility.

According to those statistics, within two years of opening its new facility, Washington County achieved a 90% no-kill rate for dogs, a 50% increase in the adoption rate, a 35% increase in fundraising, a 40% increase in the number of volunteers, a 40% increase in citizen visits, a 25% drop in owner surrenders and a 10% decrease in pickups by animal control, said Russ Adkins, vice president of PETWORKS.

“We expect to have similar numbers and I believe we can exceed that, because we’re Kingsport,” said Adkins. “I believe we can do it in one year. That’s my challenge.”

Though the new facility is officially open, it’s not the end of the journey, as officials said on Friday. PETWORKS now wants to achieve no-kill status at its new facility, while taking a more active role in educating the public on responsible pet ownership.

“Our board is not going to take the foot off the gas now that the facility is complete,” Adkins said. “We want to achieve no-kill status and I’d like to see us do it in two years.”