After more than 50 years the Animal Rescue League has a new home along with a new partner to share it with.

Founded in 1909, the Animal Rescue League has moved to a state-of-the-art facility at 6926 Hamilton Ave. in Homewood, just blocks from the Larimer shelter they have called home since 1963.

Effective January 1, the Animal Rescue League and Western PA Humane Society merged to form one of the largest open-door animal shelters in Pennsylvania, serving around 50,000 animals per year. Both the new ARL facility and the WPHS’s North Side shelter belong to the Animal Rescue League/Western PA Humane Society.

Dan Rossi, CEO of the newly-merged organization, says the move has been more than five years in the making while the merger, approved last September, took less than six months to execute, perhaps because it wasn’t a completely new idea.

Dan Rossi and friend. Brian Conway photo.

“Both organizations have very similar missions and we had talked about merging before, under previous administrations, but for one reason or another the timing wasn’t right,” says Rossi.

The $15 million, 35,000-square-foot ARL/WPHS facility is almost double the size of the ARL’s old Larimer location. The design of the building came from Animal Arts, an architectural firm that specializes in shelters and animal hospitals, with input and assistance from Downtown-based Strada design firm.

“We built the facility so that 20 years from now if it needs to be expanded the next generation won’t be landlocked like we were,” says Rossi. “There are a lot of options to build out or up.”

In addition to practical improvements like increased parking, there are also more off-leash play areas and an expanded “Rescue Re-Tail Shop” for pampering all those newly-adopted dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and the occasional reptile.

The new location benefits animals in more important ways as well. For example, an expanded medical area with three exam rooms and two surgery rooms means that ARL/WPHS will be able to increase services at their low-cost veterinary clinic by 30% over the next two years. A state-of-the-art HVAC system will cut down on airborne diseases like kennel cough.

Adoptable cat at ARL/WPHS. Brian Conway photo.

Since cats and dogs tend to become stressed when they are in direct sight of another animal, none of the cages face each other. Additionally, new sheltering guidelines recommend that cats be kept together, in colonies, so there are 11 separate cat colonies whereas the previous location had space for just one.

“It’s a much better layout for our animals,” says Rossi.

Just as important, the new shelter gives the newly-partnered organizations the space, structure and facilities with which to harmonize their mission and find forever homes for their adoptable pet population.

“We are able to take the best of each group and merge them together and build an overall stronger organization.”

Board chair Kathy Testoni adds, “Because of the number of animals needing shelter in Pittsburgh the new ARL facility will be able to address the needs of thousands of animals annually. To have such a facility in Pittsburgh is unsurpassed.”

Brian Conway

Brian Conway is a writer and photographer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and local publications. In his free time, he operates Tripsburgh. Brian lives in the South Side.