Who'll Let the Dogs In?
Ed Throop's trying to build the first LEED-certified building to be operated by St. Louis city. And the project's primary beneficiaries don't even pay taxes
Photograph by Whitney Curtis
Ed Throop's retirement is going to the dogs — and the cats.
After 25 years of speaking, sitting and occasionally begging during his lucrative real-estate career — during which he developed such projects as Westover Shopping Center and participated in the development of Emerson Terrace Office Building and Orchard Bend Shopping Center — Throop, 59, is now using his talents to raise money for what many consider to be a long-overdue animal facility in the city of St. Louis.
Animal House, a 30,000 to 35,000-square-foot facility seeking LEED-certified "green" building status, will replace the decrepit animal pound at 2120 Gasconade — originally built as a catch-and-kill operation meant to last about two years. More than a half-century later, it stands in stark contrast to today's view of an animal shelter: a haven of rescue and rehabilitation whose goal is adopting animals into loving families.
Overseeing the projected $5 million to $6 million Animal House Fund is a logical next step in Throop's life journey.
"We always had animals growing up," says Throop (pronounced "troop"). "My first was a shelter dog named Duke, and I had him from the time I was a baby until I was 20 years old."
Currently enjoying the run of the Throop household are two poodles, Phoebe and Scarlett, and one rescued pup, Princessa. Throop's wife, Connie, and grown daughters, Carrie and Meredith, share his love of dogs — which is one reason why he agreed more than a decade ago to consider an offer to be on the Humane Society of Missouri's board of directors. It was 1994, and he was thinking about selling off his real-estate holdings and retiring — which he did in 2000 — and considering how to best spend the years ahead. He mulled over the idea during a family trip to Cancún.
"Connie and I were walking from the hotel to downtown, and we came across this amazing scene," Throop says. "This car was parked by the side of the road, with two young boys in the back and a man behind the wheel. On the other side of the car, this woman was crouched over an injured dog, petting it. It was the most touching thing."
Throop remembers running across the street for help. "In my broken Spanish I said to passersby, 'Call the police, an animal is hurt!' But they said, 'We don't do that.' I went back and told the woman, 'There's not going to be any help coming.'"
After pausing to wipe his eyes, Throop goes on.
"The woman said, 'Then I'm staying here. I want this animal, in its final moments, to feel the compassionate touch of a human being,'" Throop says. "The kindness of this total stranger was so compelling that suddenly, it all clicked: I called the Humane Society and said, 'I'm on your board.'"
Throop served two terms as board chairman and filled in as interim executive director. In 2004, as his second stint as chairman was winding down, the canine cosmos again seemed to have a plan.
When Throop, who lives in west St. Louis County, was invited to a fundraiser for City of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, he initially declined. But after a colleague told Slay of Throop's concerns about the Gasconade shelter, Slay asked to meet Throop at the event.
During a 15-minute conversation with the mayor, Throop learned that St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Jim Shrewsbury had founded a shelter project — Animal House — and had raised some $125,000. But to take it to the next level, they needed a chairman who had time to make the project a priority.
"This was kind of perfect — a natural transition," Throop says.
With Throop as top dog, the project trotted ahead. Volunteers held the first fundraiser, a 2005 gala that packed the St. Louis City Hall Rotunda, featuring the animal-loving comedian Elayne Boosler.
The Animal House Fund settled on a building site — a crucial piece of information for delivering donors — but two Vandeventer locations in the city's 19th Ward fell through after then-alderman, now city license collector Mike McMillan apprised organizers of some neighborhood objections.
"Not wanting to be where we weren't fully supported by the neighbors, we decided to look elsewhere," Throop says.
In 2006 the city helped the Animal House Fund come up with its current spot: a neighborhood park at the corner of Arsenal and McCausland. At first, residents living near the proposed site at Ellendale/Arsenal Park also had some concerns. "They were afraid about noise, barking dogs, the smell and folks coming and going," Throop explains.
Mayor Slay weighs in: "Anywhere you put something new, you're going to find somebody who doesn't like it."
Architectural firm HOK, which offered to design Animal House pro bono, helped allay residents' fears. In January 2007 neighbors met at a public hearing to learn about HOK's plans for the first LEED-certified building to be operated by the city. Following explanations from HOK and Throop about embedding the facility in a hillside, a nonbinding courtesy vote was held — and 75 percent of voting neighbors agreed to the project. Following that, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen overwhelmingly approved the location.
In a tangle of puppies and politics, ousted city alderman Tom Bauer fanned the remaining dissension as he tried — in vain — to take back his 24th Ward seat in the March primary.
"There were an awful lot of upset citizens," says Bauer, who supports the Animal House concept, just not the park location. "They caved. All the heavy hitters came to the meeting and said the project was a good thing."
It wasn't about giving in, says Ellendale resident John Palmer, initially among the most vocal of opponents. After hearing more about the design and the care with which the site was chosen, he quickly changed his mind.
"What pushed it over the edge was the progressive thinking behind the proposal," says Palmer, who serves as chairperson of the Park Development Committee for the Ellendale Neighborhood Association.
A few detractors linger. They include Margaret Hermes, who lives 2 miles from the park. "I believe it's ironic they're talking about constructing a green building by taking away green space," Hermes says.
But Palmer now sees the Animal House facility as an important city landmark.
"It's like the History Museum and the Art Museum in Forest Park," Palmer explains. "Nobody thinks of those as detriments to the value of the park; they see them as an asset."
Green buildings are constructed using LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) criteria and certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, which looks for sustainability, energy efficiency, recycled building materials and indoor environmental quality. HOK is aiming for the highest LEED certification — Platinum. Any LEED certification will probably add several hundred thousand dollars to the cost of the project, Throop says, but it will more than offset that by increasing the donor base.
Penny Malina, an animal lover and HOK's St. Louis IT director, approached the company's chairman, Clark Davis, four years ago to take up Animal House as a pro bono project. Clark consented, and since then HOK has donated more than 4,000 hours just designing the plans.
"A lot of people around the office want to work on this project," says designer Matt Horvath. "It taps into people's emotions."
An initial schematic design, released in April, shows a modern, two-level building clad in cement-based rain-screen panels, an environmentally friendly product. HOK is considering a deep red for the panels' color — a modern, industrialized nod to St. Louis' traditional redbrick construction. But unlike the typical St. Louis two-story, the facility will be built into a hillside.
"From my understanding in talking with the residents, their concern was visibility — they don't want a large building," says Horvath. "The solution was setting the project into the hill."
Setting the two-level structure into the hillside will also help it qualify for LEED certification, as the ground creates geothermal insulation and an acoustic barrier. Earth removed from the hill to accommodate the lower level will be used as fill to support the upper level.
Topping off the lower level will be a "green roof," covered with vegetation and flowers, providing continuity between the building and the landscape and replacing some of the natural greenery displaced by the building. A drain on the upper, more conventional roof will collect rainwater, which can be used for cleaning kennels.
Skylights will help to illuminate both levels with natural light, benefiting animals and people — and ultimately reducing energy costs. Spiraling off from the building will be walking paths, interspersed with 300 new trees.
The face of Ellendale/Arsenal Park also stands to gain in other ways from the Animal House Fund momentum. When the Mark Munsell Memorial Foundation — dedicated to helping local youth sports teams — got wind of the development, it made plans to raise funds for new bleachers and backstops for the softball field.
Throop and HOK have kept their word to keep the neighborhood involved in the project, says Palmer. Still, after viewing the floor plans, Palmer had a few initial concerns.
"The footprint of the building is a few thousand square feet larger than what was previously proposed," Palmer says, of the initial plan for a 25,000-square-foot facility that has grown to 35,000 square feet. "And the facility will not share an entrance and parking with the park as we had hoped."
But Palmer says he now realizes the size is consistent with the agreement between the city and Animal House Fund and has been convinced by HOK that a shared entry point and parking would claim even more green space.
"The architects did an amazing job of trying to be responsible and considerate of the environment and the impact on the neighborhood — I think it's fabulous," says Animal House Fund Executive Director Katherine McGowan of the design. "It's a real demonstration of how working collaboratively, you get a better product. The size is a little bit bigger, but at the same time I think it addresses all the expectations of everyone — and that's what's most important."
The extra 10,000 square feet would likely increase the projected building cost to $5 million, up from the original $4 million, Throop says. Add to that the $1 million needed annually to operate a state-of-the-art animal-rescue facility with a spay-neuter clinic, pet guardian education classes and an adoption center that quickly transitions animals into new homes.
Chiseling 5,000 square feet out of the plans shouldn't be a problem, Horvath says, pointing out that most of the additional square footage is contained in the second story, not created by a larger footprint. Reducing the size of lobbies, offices and perhaps kennels should take care of it.
"I think it's doable — 10 square feet here and 10 square feet there," says Horvath. "We can get it down as small as we need to."
Even after Animal House opens — in late 2009 at the earliest — several thousand square feet of the building will remain unfinished, waiting for Phase Two. That's perfect, says Throop, because needs left unmet by Phase One can be included the second time around — a lesson he learned when the Humane Society opened its 1201 Macklind location in January 1998.
"The day we opened the $11 million new Humane Society, we already knew of things that we wish had been different," says Throop, adding that only after Animal House has been up and running for a while will the shelter know how many animals to plan for.
Designating Animal House as a "no-kill" facility is an eventual goal that will require many steps to achieve. Because Animal House will be a last-stop facility for wild dogs, rabid animals and the very sick and injured, it's almost impossible to completely live up to a no-kill standard.
"We cannot at this juncture promise anyone that we won't need to perform euthanasia," Throop says of the facility, which is expected to handle some 300 animals at a time. "We want it to become an important cog in the overall community effort to totally eliminate euthanasia. No shelter can do it alone."
Right now, the plan is to decrease the need for euthanasia by making more animals adoptable. A refuge for sick, injured and poorly behaved animals, Animal House will have the space, and it hopes to have the staff and the volunteers needed to nurture rescued animals to become healthier and more appealing.
"People want puppies; that's not a problem," Throop says. "Then you have the good-looking dogs — healthy, wagging their tails — they'll get adopted. Then you get down to the older ones, maybe a little ill, kind of injured. With some time and energy to rehabilitate them, they can become fine, adoptable animals."
Armed with his vision, a firm location, an approved design and about $700,000 in cash and verbal commitments, Throop is ready to go for the gold: corporate contributions.
"I'm counting on that as being a third, if not one-half of the project," Throop says. "If I can hit the bricks, maybe I can get $2.5 million from the Enterprises, the Busches, the Emerson Electrics."
The rest he hopes to garner through in-kind donations from the construction community: general contractors, subcontractors and suppliers. With the help of electrician and 24th Ward alderman Bill Waterhouse, who represents the Ellendale neighborhood, Throop plans to ask the electricians' union to contribute labor. Then he'll appeal to other union members, including plumbers, fitters and masons.
"We've got something not just for the animal lovers, but it's a civic project as well — an environmentally focused building meeting standards not normally seen in these types of projects," Throop says.
Wagging the tail end of the fundraising efforts is a group of volunteers called the Party Animals, with a 25-person committee. For two years their January trivia nights have been sold-out successes, with the 2008 event bringing in $20,000.
"We had to actually turn people down," says Party Animals president Valerie Kotys.
Each month the group holds happy hours in which 20 percent of the proceeds go toward the Animal House Fund. As many as 100 people turn out for the events — publicized in email blasts — thanks to the help of committee members already shouldering heavy workloads.
"Most of the key people on my committee are young professionals with jobs that are 50-plus hours a week — plus travel," notes Kotys. "And one of our key planners is a stay-at-home mother of three, so she has even less time than all of us. But we all just have such a strong passion for the cause."
Local celebrities have also jumped on the Animal House bandwagon, Kotys says, including Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. In an email requested by Kotys for this article, La Russa writes that along with being a wonderful baseball town, St. Louis has some of the most dedicated animal-welfare advocates in the country.
"Animals have given us so much," writes La Russa. "Now through Animal House Fund, we have the opportunity to give back to them by building them a new green facility to give the animals a second chance for a better life."
Kotys, who worked for the Cardinals for five years before joining Anheuser-Busch as its sports marketing manager, was instrumental in designating the Animal House Fund the beneficiary of the 2007 Pooches in the Ballpark fundraiser, in which fans took their dogs out to the ballgame. Dogs in need of families also came to Busch Stadium.
"I sent letters to each of the ballplayers and said, 'Hey, will you take two minutes to get your picture taken with this dog so people will know it needs to be adopted?' and every one of them said, 'Absolutely,'" Kotys says. "They were all playing with the dogs out on the field and in the dugout — they loved it."
Meanwhile, back at the pound — the Gasconade facility — cages are piled three high, with cats and dogs mixed together in the same room. Although designed for about 75 animals, the facility handles as many as 225 at any given time, estimates Throop. At its peak — around 2000 or 2001 — it euthanized 2,500 animals in a single year.
Currently, hundreds of its dogs are in need of human contact as they await the building of the new shelter. Heading up the volunteers there is Suzanne Deutschmann, who says more volunteers mean more animal adoptions.
"A lot of the animals have never been on leashes and never been played with," Deutschmann says. "So the volunteers interacting with the animals — walking them, teaching them to sit — is so important in getting them adopted."
Getting more animals into good homes is the Animal House Fund's ultimate goal. According to the fund's agreement with the city, construction can begin only after 75 percent of the money is in, which will be this fall at the earliest. When it's completed — the group hopes by fall 2009 or early to mid-2010 — the Animal House Fund will turn the keys over to the City of St. Louis.
Throop currently spends 10 hours a week on the Animal House project, allowing for additional time spent on the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, the St. Louis Council of the Boy Scouts of America and the Judy Ride Foundation, a local breast cancer fundraising organization — currently in suspension mode — whose board he chairs. (It was Throop, along with the foundation's board, who instigated an investigation into Judy Ride founder Michael Katz in 2006; that probe is now in the hands of the U.S. Attorney's Office.) This 10-hour-a-week amount could triple, however, when the corporate campaign goes into full swing. But time and energy may not be the whole of his contributions; he'll financially guarantee the shelter's completion if he must.
"If it can be built entirely from the donated funds, in-kind contributions and other gifted items and not require the use of my personal funds, that will demonstrate the community's support for this civic-private project," says Throop, who would prefer to use his own money for operating the adoption and education centers — ongoing needs for which the city has no funds.
For Phase Two of Animal House, Throop envisions get-acquainted rooms, like those he saw at a San Diego shelter, where visitors can interact with a dog or a cat in a living room setting.
"When someone comes by to adopt an animal, instead of going to the kennels and looking at these poor animals through the bars — where there's a lot of barking and it's kind of unpleasant — they get to see the animal in an environment that's probably similar to their home," Throop says.
If all goes as planned, St. Louis will soon begin taking care of its animals in a style on par with progressive cities like San Diego, San Francisco, New York and San Antonio.
"The Animal House Fund project will enable the city of St. Louis to serve as a national model for public-private collaboration," Throop says. "It will encourage cross-cooperation of all shelters, adoptive groups and animal welfarists. And that will increase animal adoptions, education outreach and volunteer involvement — all of which will ultimately move us closer to the noble 'no-kill' community objective."