OAKLAND -- As Americans spend an¿ estimated $55 billion on their dogs and cats this year, and paw spas and canine-friendly hotels thrive, not all pets have the creature comforts of a safe and loving home.
To this end, some of the nonprofit organizations that house, feed, provide medical care and adoption services for surrendered dogs and cats need more space, upgraded facilities and better medical equipment.
In the Bay Area, many shelters were built before 1950 and haven't been upgraded since, but the East Bay SPCA, the Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA, and the Humane Society of Silicon Valley, have undergone or are undergoing multimillion-dollar expansions, improvements and modernizations that will provide quality care for pets and a financial break for their owners.
"We are seeing more need for care," said Gwen Gadd, a staff veterinarian at the East Bay SPCA's Oakland campus. "We are seeing people (and pets) we wouldn't normally see (because) people are hurting more financially. Suddenly they have lost their homes or they have lost their job. And although they are doing all the right things, they are finding themselves in a position where they can't care for their pet."
In January, the East Bay SPCA began construction of a $3 million veterinary clinic as part of a privately funded $9 million renovation. The clinic will add several examination rooms, a state-of-the art surgical suite with upgraded equipment, a lobby with separate waiting areas for dogs and cats, a separate recovery and holding areas for sick and injured animals, more storage and a pharmacy.
The current building is cramped with little storage and even less privacy, officials said.
"A lady who needed to put her dog (to sleep), was not given the ability to grieve in private, so she was grieving in the waiting room," Gadd said. "With the new clinic, we'll have a new room for grieving. People can go in there and won't have to be in the hustle and bustle. We've all been through it; losing a pet is very difficult."
The need for low-cost services is evident in the number of exams, vaccines and surgeries done in 2008 compared to 2012. In 2008, staff examined 5,712 dogs and cats, gave 7,672 vaccines and completed 917 surgeries. Last year, staff examined 8,147 animals, vaccinated more than 20,400 and did 1,745 surgeries.
"For the past five years, we have seen a steady increase in the number of animals coming through our clinic doors," said Executive Director Allison Lindquist. "The community need is huge, and we are bursting at the seams. Our new veterinary clinic will be able to significantly increase not only the number of patients served, but the number of lifesaving procedures they can perform,"
Staff hopes the new 5,000-square-foot clinic, with three additional exam rooms, will it them avoid some of the problems and challenges with the old clinic, which has been open since 1956.
"We recently neutered two (mastiffs) that weighed more than 150 pounds. The way our surgery center is set up is like moving your coach out of a small apartment. You have to walk past the surgery door with the gurney and then back it in," Gadd said.
The renovation will also double space for holding animals, which is critical given that the number of dogs and cats staying at the shelter has more than doubled to 3,583 last year over four years earlier.
The East Bay SPCA is privately funded by people who bequeath money to the organization to those who write a $25 check monthly, Lindquist said.
Because the SPCA houses animals from other Bay Area municipal shelters when those place are full with stray animals, the already-small quarters can get cramped, officials said.
"Every animal is kept in our care until we find a loving home," said East Bay SPCA spokeswoman Laura Fulda. "We don't euthanize for space, time or medical reasons."
The modernization will also include additional isolation wards for animals with treatable but contagious diseases; adoption halls for dogs and cats; and an upgraded, energy-efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning system that lowers costs while reducing the potential for illness among animals.
It's been four years since the Humane Society Silicon Valley opened a three-building "animal community center" on five acres.
"After 50 years, all of our buildings needed to be upgraded," said Chief Operating Officer Beth Ward. "As a result, we are seeing more animals finding homes, and we are being more effective of reducing the stray animal population coming into our shelter."
At the Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA, staff is now working from a spacious facility in Burlingame with 20 dog "dorms" instead of the unsightly chain link kennels. Cats stay in glass "condos" without bars. Almost two years ago, the staff moved from Coyote Point in San Mateo to its new home, and the move helped it leave behind the negative image people had of "the pound," said spokesman Scott Delucchi.
"(The old place) looked like an old (worn down) government building. Now we have higher ceilings, and it feels breezier and warmer, and people can understand we are a private organization," he said.
Before the opening Delucchi said he used to hear: "I got my dog from 'the pound' in San Mateo. Do you really work at 'the pound' over there by Coyote Point?
"(Before) we had people plugging their noses and holding their ears, and running out of the shelter," Delucchi said. "Now we see them running from room to room to look at all the animals."
Follow Kristin J. Bender at Twitter.com/kjbender.