The Union County Humane Society will break ground at noon Friday, Aug. 3, on an expansion project that will nearly double the size of its building from 3,600 to 6,800 square feet.

The Union County Humane Society will break ground at noon Friday, Aug. 3, on an expansion project that will nearly double the size of its building from 3,600 to 6,800 square feet.

The animal shelter has raised $334,500 of the $377,000 needed to complete the expansion inside and out, most from donations by individual Union County residents.

"It's been just a bunch of individual donations," UCHS executive director Steffen Baldwin said. "We have an engraved brick program that's been really successful: People donating $100 or $250 get their family name on one of the pavers at the entrance way to the new facility. I know people think, '$400,000 is so much money, my $100 won't make a difference.' But it does. It truly does."

Baldwin said when he was hired by the UCHS board four years ago the society had been operating in the red for several years and "dipping into a small reserve fund that kept getting smaller all the time."

"We addressed that first problem by instituting all different sorts of efficiencies until we finally began to run in the black last year," he said. "The other problem the board identified and wanted me to work on was the issue of space."

The society takes in about 1,300 dogs and cats each year (and spays and neuters many more), operating at 120 to 140 percent beyond normal capacity.

"We have animals in every nook and cranny of the facility now," Baldwin said. "We even have to warn our human clients when they're going to the restroom that, 'Oh, by the way, there's a dog being housed in there!'"

The expansion will double the number of dog kennels and provide some with natural skylights and radiant heat.

"The radiant heat will be especially important for dogs who are just coming out of surgery and need a nice, warm place to recover," Baldwin said.

Cats, too, will enjoy new amenities.

"The cat room, which was made possible by a $5,000 grant from ReMax, will be 30 percent larger and will give the animals an opportunity to go from inside to an outdoor atrium so they can enjoy the sunshine and the vitamin D that it provides," Baldwin said.

Separate cat and dog quarantine rooms and a puppy room to protect younger animals from infection and illness are also included in the proposed expansion.

"We really didn't have enough space to have dedicated rooms," Baldwin said. "We used all the space to house the animals. Now, we'll have a real lobby. We'll have real restrooms. We'll have a real bonding room."

The surgery area will also double in size.

"I think the current surgery is 10 feet by 10 feet, something really small," Baldwin said. "And it hasn't kept pace with the number of spay/neuter procedures we've taken on."

He summed up Friday's groundbreaking -- the construction is expected to be completed by Thanksgiving -- in simple terms: "It's a dream come true."