A generous donation from a man who wishes to remain anonymous has allowed Arizona's oldest and largest no-kill animal shelter to expand.

A gift of $2 million was given to the Arizona Animal Welfare League (AAWL) and Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and will fund a new building that will be used to house more homeless dogs, cats, puppies and kittens.

Last year, the AAWL placed more than 3,000 pets and the director of the organization hopes the new facility will boost that number to more than 5,000.

"We take animals directly off the euthanasia list from the county shelters and humane society and we invest whatever it takes to get them adopted," said Judith Gardner, AAWL president and chief executive officer.

"Because we put so much into the animals, including medical needs, microchips and more, when someone adopts from us they are getting an animal that has been completely checked out."

The AAWL, founded in 1971, broke ground on the new facility, which will cost an estimated $3 million, on April 14. Gardner said they estimate the center will be done in the first quarter of 2012.

The approximately 100,000 animals that are brought into "open-intake" facilities, including the Maricopa County Animal Care and Control and Humane Society, make Maricopa County the second most overpopulated county in the United States. Between the two facilities, only 60 percent find homes.

"With people losing homes there has been an incredible increase of people surrendering pets," Gardner said. "But more and more people are feeling comfortable about adoption over buying a pet in a store. There has been a huge push on a national basis to educate people on the value of rescuing and adopting."

One thing she said people might not be aware of is that 25 percent of animals at these facilities are purebred.

Part of the new facility will allow for a greater volunteer presence. They currently receive about 800 volunteers each year and the additional space will give them more room for those who are the most active.

The space will also offer more room for education classes and camps for area youths.

"Our volunteers are already very, very helpful and we hope that the increased space will allow us to expand that," Gardner said.

The AAWL is collecting donations to make up the remaining $1 million for the cost of the facility. People can purchase benches or bricks or just donate money to the facility.

"This is an exciting time," Gardner said. "People can really make a difference. We always say, no donation is too small."

To find out more, visit the AAWL and SPCA at 30 N. 40th Place, call (602) 273-6852 or visit www.AAWL,org, or by calling.

Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or troemhild@ahwatukee.com

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