Renovations have not yet begun at 123 John St., the former Camden First Aid Association building, which will be the new home of Pets Are Worth Savings (PAWS), but the shelter is already using it, said Executive Director Amie Hutchison.

The building has been used since Jan. 1 for everything from board meetings to nail trimming and rabies clinics to professional development for staff, she said. Public programs this month include an open house for members of service clubs Thursday, July 17, from 5 to 7 p.m., a fundraiser with a talk and book signing by Jim Sterba, author of “Nature Wars,” Saturday, July 19, at 4 p.m., and a parasite prevention program Thursday, July 24, at 5 p.m.

Hutchison, who came to P.A.W.S. last November, got off to a fast start, since the shelter's board decided to buy the CFAA building during her first week of work. The organization had wanted to expand for several years, and had laid the groundwork for an expansion at its current Rockport location, with a capital campaign of $2.2 million.

When the opportunity to acquire the John Street property arose, P.A.W.S. jumped at it. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Hutchison said. Not only will the new facility give the shelter more space, larger grounds and a better location, it will also save $1.35 million. The cost to purchase the CFAA property and do the renovation will be $850,000, Hutchison said, with about $450,000 going for the renovation.

The design, done by Camden architectural firm Maple Street Design Studio, was reviewed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). There will be separate dog and cat wings, and each area will have a room for new animals and another for those that are sick, Hutchison said. In addition, there will be “meet and greet” rooms set up like a living room in which prospective owners can get to know the dog or cat they want to take home.

Among the ASPCA's suggestions was to have planters between the facing rows of kennels, so the dogs do not have to look directly at each other, and to house the kittens at the back of the cat wing, so visitors have a chance to interact with the adult cats first.

Separate air handling for the different animal areas will control the spread of infection, which has forced the current facility to be closed in the past.

The former ambulance bay will house 16 dog kennels, more than twice the current number, Hutchison said. There will be a communal living area for cats, as well as cat condos for those that need their own space, she said.

There is also a kitchen with enough room for preparation of meals for both dogs and cats, and there will be a separate kitchen and break room for the staff, Hutchison said. The second floor of the building will house mostly offices, along with the cat isolation area.

In addition to the animal areas downstairs, there will be a sizable reception area near the entrance perpendicular to John Street, and a large meeting room, which will allow P.A.W.S. to hold a variety of educational and outreach programs that it has not previously had space for, she said.

Some of the things she envisions include a pet loss support group, classes and talks, as well as events for staff. Because the building is equipped with an emergency generator, Hutchison also sees P.A.W.S. offering shelter in emergencies.

The capital campaign is now under way, and once the money for the renovations has been raised, the shelter will go out to bid and work will begin. Funds to cover the purchase of the property will continue to be raised while work is going on, Hutchison said.

The dog park in Rockport will continue to be managed by a committee of volunteers, as it is now, she said. However, the current building will eventually be sold.

P.A.W.S. has grown significantly over the years, from serving just Camden and Rockport to now having contracts to provide services and find homes for abandoned, stray, relinquished and other dogs and cats in nine towns, including Belfast, Islesboro, Liberty, Lincolnville, Northport, Searsmont and Swanville, as well as the original two.

Hutchison said, “every shelter's goal is to put itself out of business.” But with the burgeoning population of animals, adequate facilities able to provide good care are needed in the meantime. P.A.W.S., like many shelters, gets more adult animals than babies, more cats than dogs. It does not euthanize animals for time or space, but it does sometimes do so for medical or severe behavioral issues, she said.

All animals are spayed or neutered before they are adopted, except the youngest kittens, which must have an appointment for spaying or neutering before they leave.