Matteson hosts new South Suburban Humane Society facility


It’s a “joke” South Suburban Humane Society CEO Emily Klehm often makes, but one she knows all too well and one that’s steeped in truth.

“I started at 9 a.m. on December 1, 2007 with the organization,” Klehm said. “And at 10 a.m. on December 1, 2007, I thought we needed a new building.”

For the past 50 years, the SSHS has operated out of a facility in Chicago Heights that Klehm called “too small” and not originally intended to be an animal shelter.

“Our building was not at all what we needed and not what the pets and residents of the southern suburbs deserved,” Klehm said. “The Chicago Heights facility gave us the last 50 years, and we’re grateful for that, but the building was in really bad shape. We are simply not able to continue in this building.

On Thursday, officials celebrated the opening of a new SSHS facility at 21800 Central Ave. in Matteson with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. On Saturday, they planned to unveil it to the general public through an open house. Klehm said the sentiment was hard to put into words.

“It has been my life’s work and my life’s journey to get us to this point to have a building that pets and Southlanders can be proud of,” she said. “I still pinch myself that it’s real. … It’s a dream come true.

The $8.6 million construction was primarily covered by $7 million in Cook County grants through the Housing Cook County’s Animals program. Cook County Council Chairman Toni Preckwinkle, who noted that officials originally gathered a year and a half ago to dedicate the ground, celebrated the opening by breaking a giant dog biscuit that Parks Pastries to Homewood made for the occasion.

“Cutting a ribbon wouldn’t do,” Preckwinkle said.

The treat was given to dogs inside what is now Southland’s largest animal shelter at 19,000 square feet. It features grassy land and a pond, with walking areas for volunteers and pets, a modern building, an enclosed area known as a “catio” and low-cost veterinary services for county residents. by Cook. SSHS is open to discounts as well as animal control pickups.

“This building is so much more than just an animal shelter,” Preckwinkle said. “It means a fresh start here in Southland.”

At one point, this new beginning was just an idea. Klehm said Matteson Police Chief Mike Jones planted the seed by asking her if she had ever thought about putting a shelter in the village. She hadn’t.

“When we arrived and stood here and there was nothing but a beautiful meadow, we could see it,” Klehm said. “We could see the culmination of all our dreams for the South Suburban Humane Society.”

Matteson Mayor Sheila Chalmers-Currin said Thursday she was honored to welcome SSHS to its new home and praised the organization’s efficiency.

“We here in Matteson are thrilled that our city has been chosen to be home to such a special business,” she said. “Our residents place a special value on our pets and animals, which makes today’s announcement a perfect match.”

Although the shelter has the capacity to house 60 dogs and 75 cats, Klehm said it was not addressing the immediate capacity issues that SSHS was facing with adoptions exceeding adoptions. The shelter moved all of its animals Tuesday from Chicago Heights to Matteson. And while the new building has more space, SSHS welcomed another 21 dogs on Wednesday, again reaching capacity.

“It’s an ongoing problem that Chicagoland faces,” Klehm said.

The shelter cares for about 3,500 animals a year, according to a new statement from the county. The hope is that the attention and resources that come with the new, easy-to-find location will attract more donations, foster families and adoptions – and faster than they happened at the old facility, said said Klehm.

“Here we have this whole beautiful outdoor space for people to get to know a pet, for volunteers to come in,” she said. “We believe this space will increase volunteerism. The more volunteers we have, the more we can do. »

Mark Rosenthal, assistant director of the Cook County Animal and Rabies Control Department, noted that the grant application process was looking for visionary plans to address overcrowding as well as ways to ensure that homeless animals and abused have a place to go. The county also wanted projects that would promote volunteering, fostering and adoption. He said choosing SSHS was “an easy decision”.

“When I look at this new facility behind me, I see hope, a chance for a new beginning for animals that have been forgotten, abandoned or abandoned,” Rosenthal said. “These pets deserve loving homes and to be treated like family. … The new facility meets and exceeds all of these priorities.

The county’s $7 million contribution to the project was funded by residents who pay fees for animal services. The rest of the construction costs were covered by individual donors and foundations, including PetSmart Charities and Amazon Smile, according to Klehm. And the Nancy Allison Perkins Foundation Adoptions Center bears that name because of a major contribution from her eponymous organization.

“We wouldn’t be here without the Cook County money, but the rest was really this beautiful gathering of all these people who have supported the organization for so long,” Klehm said.

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The Chicago Heights site for SSHS closed with the opening of the Matteson site, Klehm said. The Humane Society still owns the old building, and it will likely serve as storage for some time. Later, there might be other options, like turning it into another resource center, Klehm said.

But SSHS also has room to grow in Matteson. Most of the areas around the shelter are wetlands protected by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, making them unbuildable, Klehm said. But there is some space in the back that would allow for expansion.

For now, Klehm said the Humane Society is just adjusting to its new home. The staff is the same as in Chicago Heights, although SSHS may hire for a few key positions, mostly related to adoptions and volunteer management, Klehm explained.

“A building is only as big as the people who work in it,” she said. “The dedication shown by SSHS staff in saving lives and keeping pets and people together is what will make this building great for decades to come.”

This includes the volunteers who help run the Humane Society. Klehm said the onboarding of volunteers will begin as early as next week. More information can be found at The facility is now open to the public.

“We are ready,” Klehm said. “The operations are the same. We’re just in a new place.

Bill Jones is a freelance journalist for the Daily Southtown.

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