On November 12, 2020, nothing could dampen the excitement at Humane Society of Tampa Bay (HSTB), not even a tropical storm. Though Eta pounded the Tampa Bay area with wind and rain during the early hours of Thursday morning, by afternoon the clouds had broken, and HSTB staff and volunteers were busy preparing for the Grand Opening of the long-awaited DeBartolo Family Animal Shelter. That evening, HSTB donors, friends, volunteers, staff and Tampa celebrities such as Mayor Jane Castor and Titus O’Neil gathered under the stars in the Lasher Family Courtyard to celebrate. The new shelter not only offers increased space for events, a recently launched Humane Education Program, and fully equipped surgical suites and intake areas, but it doubles the capacity for animal housing and will allow HSTB to save twice as many animals each year.
For more than 70 years, the Society operated from the ramshackle building at 3607 N Armenia Avenue, making the best of limited space, no climate control for animals, and structures crumbling from age. Despite the antiquated facility, HSTB placed thousands of animals each year by using space efficiently and creatively and maintaining a cheerful, happy environment for the people and animals who visited.
“We worked hard to find and use every inch possible where we could safely house animals,” said HSTB CEO Sherry Silk. “But, the building was literally falling apart around us and it was becoming too costly to keep up. For us, the goal has always been to save as many lives as possible and to keep the animals in our care safe and comfortable during their time with us.”
A new facility had been Silk’s dream and goal since coming to HSTB in 2007. “I knew it would be a long process, but I always believed we would get to the point where the Tampa community was ready to help us build. These are their animals; this is their shelter!”
That tipping point happened in 2017 when The DeBartolo family stepped up for the naming rights of a proposed 50,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility on the same property where the old shelter stood. A successful Capital Campaign followed, and construction began in May of 2019. The fully funded building was designed by the late Thomas Lamb and implemented by Kevin Hart Associates and DeBartolo Construction Company.
“We have been truly overwhelmed, not only by the generosity and leadership of the DeBartolo family, but by the involvement of the entire community,” said HSTB Chief Development Officer Ornella Varchi. “It is clear that Tampa is an animal-loving city, and her citizens showed their support in so many ways to make this dream a reality.”
One of HSTB’s requirements for building on their current property was to stay open during construction and continue to care for animals in need. HSTB Director of Shelter Operations Danyelle Ho said, “The animals are the heart and soul of our organization; there was no way we were going to shut down for a year and leave thousands of them without help. The architects, construction team, staff, volunteers, and adopters adapted quickly through each phase of the project. It was inspiring to see so many people come together for animals.”
Construction lasted for nearly 18 months while the shelter remained open; HSTB saved 14,121 homeless animals during that time. In September 2020, after decades of serving animals well, the old shelter finally closed its doors and sent its animals, staff and volunteers to their new home.
“It is wonderful to have such a gorgeous space for work, play and new programs but, that is all secondary,” said Silk. “Our most important objective was to have a safe, climate-controlled facility that would allow us to save more lives. Through many years of waiting and planning - and even a global pandemic - we stayed the course and met that objective with flying colors. We have much to celebrate.”
For more information about the Humane Society of Tampa Bay visit HumaneSocietyTampa.org.