TAVARES, Fla. — It’s a big bright building that looks sort of like a medical facility and smells just like fresh paint.

It encompasses about 25,000 square feet and sits on seven acres of open space.

It houses, as of Wednesday, 83 dogs, 48 cats and “one very friendly pig who is looking for his family,” its director said.

It’s Lake County’s new animal shelter, which opened last week, and its leader trumpets its possibilities.

What You Need To Know

  • New animal shelter will have a grand opening on January 16

  • Officials say the shelter is designed to reduce stress, promote  adoption

  • Shelter is paid for with Lake County's penny sales tax

“We’re always striving to do better, to provide a better experience for both our pets and our public,” said Whitney Boylston, the Lake County Animal Services director. “And this facility is one way we can really show we’re embracing animal welfare as a whole.”

The new shelter is a product of Lake County’s penny sales tax, which funds work on projects and infrastructure such as roads, parks, clinics, libraries, and animal services. Officials have scheduled its grand opening for January 16.

The shelter says it maintains a no-kill policy, which it established about four years ago. That means it doesn’t kill animals if they’ve spent too much time there or if the shelter becomes overcrowded.

Exceptions include animals who suffer because of terminal illness and ones that shelter staff deem unsafe to release to the public, officials said.

Boylston touts a live-release rate of 96%. That includes about 95% of cats and almost all dogs.

“So we are committed to finding a positive outcome for every single animal that we can when it’s safe, responsible and humane to do so,” she said.

About the new shelter, Boylston avoids use of terms such as “state of the art” but emphasizes what she calls best practices.

She says the new facility gives workers and animals the space to help prevent disease, to reduce stress, and to promote health, exercise, and adoption.

The facility’s kennels allow dogs to choose between indoor and outdoor space, and a nearby fenced area provides plenty of room to play and exercise.

“They get to enjoy the world,” Boylston said. “They can smell what’s going on. They can watch butterflies, everything that’s kind of enriching for them.”

In addition to play time, dogs get story time – “Old Yeller”? -- music time, snack time, and – duh! – nap time.

The shelter aims to ensure that pets “don’t feel like they’re in prison while they’re waiting for a new home,” Boylston said.

Also, an airy indoor space for cats includes a “catio” that allows felines to wander inside and out when they’re good and ready.

The facility can house up to 165 dogs and over 100 cats, according to officials. That certainly beats the previous location.

“We had a single room with a hundred dogs in it,” Boylston said. “You can imagine that it’s loud, it’s stressful, it’s smelly. The dogs don’t have a chance to really relax.”

The additional space also helps in terms of disease prevention for animals and social distancing for prospective adopters, she said.

Plus, the facility includes a barn that got raised on the strength of donations. The barn area includes spaces for farm animals such as cows, horses, sheep – and, currently, one hungry hog who had lost his way.

Boylston called it a “happy, cheerful, welcoming environment.”

“I think we’ve all thought that Lake County should have an animal shelter that the residents can be proud of and reflects the values of the citizens that we serve,” she said. “And we are a community of animal lovers. We really do value animal welfare.”