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This cheerful pet adoption center will make you rethink animal shelters

At the Wallis Annenberg PetSpace, there's an education center, a cafe — even a human-sized hamster wheel — and lots of adoptable pets.
/ Source: TODAY

There's an education center, a cafe — even a human-sized hamster wheel — and lots of adoptable pets. All in a cheerful, welcoming space.

Is this what you picture when you think of an animal shelter? Increasingly, you should.

Human-sized hamster wheels are not yet common even at the most innovative shelters. Courtesy of Wallis Annenberg PetSpace

The Wallis Annenberg PetSpace isn't called an animal shelter in marketing materials — rather, it's "a unique community space featuring an interactive place for pet adoptions, an education center and a leadership institute."

What this translates to is a brand new $20 million, 30,000-square-foot facility in Los Angeles' Silicon Beach neighborhood.

Courtesy of Wallis Annenberg PetSpace

It features museum-style exhibitions about animals, and a leadership institute bringing together experts for interdisciplinary scholarship on the human-animal bond.

There are also high-tech, spacious and comfortable adoption suites for 80 cats and dogs, as well as space for small animals like bunnies, which are available for play dates, and, of course, adoption.

It's a place for folks to "come in and have fun, even if they don't want to adopt," general manager Carol Laumen told TODAY.

The Annenberg PetSpace has room for about 80 adoptable dogs and cats, as well as smaller critters like bunnies. Courtesy of Wallis Annenberg PetSpace

It's the brainchild of animal-loving philanthropist Wallis Annenberg. But while this level of generous funding isn't very common, the Annenberg PetSpace's emphasis on creating a joyful and happy space fits in with a progressive trend.

Both private shelters like this one, and municipal facilities, have been moving away from what you might think of as the old-fashioned pound model — bare bones and grim — and toward these far more cheerful spaces.

"The traditional shelter was a concrete-block building near the landfill," said Susan Houser, who writes about animal sheltering, and the no kill movement in particular, on her blog Out The Front Door. The more "innovative" shelters being built today, Houser says, are "just the opposite."

These shelters are often in appealing locations, and designed to be friendly and accessible — open, ideally, on nights and weekends, so that folks are able to come in when they aren't working. The Annenberg PetSpace's hours are 10-6, Wednesday through Sunday.

Programming is also extensive and creative. You may find cafes, community rooms as well as activities like obedience classes, dog massage workshops, pet bereavement groups and opportunities for kids to read to the animals, just to name a few.

These shelters "welcome the public with beautiful spaces for everything from adoptions to yoga with cats," said Houser.

The PetSpace is designed to be cheerful and fun for its human visitors, and (temporary) animal residents.Courtesy of Wallis Annenberg PetSpace

This transition in how shelters are built and run is part of another trend that's been in the works for several decades: the concerted effort to reduce, and even eliminate, the killing of healthy and adoptable animals in animal shelters — often called the "no kill" movement.

This is frequently accomplished through cooperative efforts, in which nonprofit shelters and animal rescue groups work together with the municipal shelters to save more of the community's animals.

This structure is known as the "Scratching Post." Cats can climb and explore, and even go fishing in a digital fish pond.Courtesy of Wallis Annenberg PetSpace

That's the case with the Annenberg PetCenter. All its critters come from Los Angeles County's busiest public shelters. These include pets who need medical and other care that might not be available to them at the county shelters, but will be at this well-equipped place.

"We work closely with Annenberg to select animals that will thrive in their environment," said Don Barré, spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control. "We are very excited about our partnership that gives our animals more of chance to get adopted."

Indeed, reporting from the PetSpace's opening in late June, The Los Angeles Times spotted a a 9-year-old dog named Harry meeting his brand new family.

“He’s basically everything we want — mellow, adult, trained, gets along with kids, likes to walk,” Harry's new mom told the adoption counselor. “We’ll adopt him."