To get a glimpse of the Humane Society of Bay County's future, you have to take a glance back at its past.
The agency's former building – known as "The Igloo" – is making a comeback, four years after it closed. "It's a really, really cool building and a place that a lot of people will want to come and just check out," Starla Raiborn, General Manager, said.
The interior of the dome-shaped building, located behind the Panama City Police Department at 1600 Bay Avenue, seems like a time capsule. Kennels, food bowls, transport cages, furniture and equipment were left behind when high utility bills forced the Humane Society to move out in 2009.
"We've been out for four years and we're really excited about being able to come back in," Raiborn said. "It means a lot to us and it means a lot to the community."
Financing is in place to renovate the 10,930 square foot structure, which sits on 3.15 acres and is owned "free and clear" by the Humane Society. When it reopens, it will house both the agency and a new Operation Spay Bay low-cost spay and neuter clinic. "The Humane Society getting back to the Igloo is a signal that we're on a firm foundation," Terri Davidson, the agency's president, said.
Though the building is structurally sound, it needs a lot of work. Topping the list is a new $96,000 heating and air conditioning system, but there are other necessities. "Flooring is a big issue... mold, replacing all of the ceiling tiles… a lot of cosmetic stuff," Raiborn said. "It's a 30 year old building."
Last year, Bay County commissioners offered the groups a surplus building in downtown Panama City for the clinic, but would only guarantee a one year lease. Davidson said the short-term situation was not conducive to obtaining grants. "We didn't want to put all that effort in it and turn around and not know where we were going to be in a year," Davidson said.
The agencies began exploring the possibility of obtaining a mortgage loan on the existing property and, when pre-approval was granted, plans to reopen the Igloo began moving forward.
The renovated building will double the society's capacity – from about 50 animals a month to 100 – and create efficiency. "We're going to be able to keep cat families together [and] puppies get to stay together," said Raiborn. "We'll be able to get them spayed or neutered the moment they walk in the door and that means they will be adoptable almost immediately."
Davidson said getting started means sticking to the basic necessities but future plans include making the unique building even more eye-catching. Local artist Paul Brent has designed a paint scheme that incorporates the Igloo's dome and entrance into the shape of a turtle. "It's beautiful," Davidson said. "In the years to come, it is our hope and our dream to convert it."
Appearances aside, renovating the building is all about the animals. "We are the caretakers... we are responsible for them because they can't be for themselves," Davidson said.
"The only way to end the homelessness problem in this community is through spay and neutering and finding homes and this is the cure," Raiborn added. "It's not just a temporary solution, it's a cure."
The Humane Society and Operation Spay Bay hope to begin construction in the next couple of months and reopen "The Igloo" by the beginning of 2014.