One of the region’s most active non-profit organizations took a huge step into its future last Saturday.

With the grand opening of the Bark Plaza Pet Hotel, The Animal Shelter of Texas County (TASTC) has launched a proactive and aggressive attempt to provide itself a steady flow of income. Proceeds from the 7,400-square-foot boarding facility on the shelter’s property on Highway 17 east of Houston will go toward operation (and possibly future expansion) of TASTC.

Saturday’s event was a long time in the making, as the vision for the Bark Plaza (and its hopeful generation of funding) has long been in the minds TASTC president Rita Romines and other board members. The day was also the culmination of a construction project that lasted more than a year.

“This is huge for us,” Romines said. “It’s almost hard to believe we’ve come this far.”

The Bark Plaza Pet Hotel features pet boarding, day care, grooming and obedience training. The building’s interior features a park-like theme, with numerous attractive light fixtures and a pleasant paint scheme.

The facility is managed by Mountain Grove resident Kim Chasteen, who formerly ran a boarding and grooming business in that community. Chasteen said she’s honored and excited about being involved with the crown jewel of TASTC’s storybook run, that so far spans eight years.

“I love this place – it’s beautiful and everything is immaculate,” she said. “It’s top of the line.”

Chasteen is joined by assistant manager Colleen Mares, of Licking, who will do the books for the Bark Plaza and assume the same task for TASTC.

“This has surpassed all my expectations,” Mares said. “It’s beautiful and I think the dogs will love it and their owners will be blown away.”

TASTC receives no funding from any government entity and sustains itself through adoption fees, fundraising campaigns and donations. The Bark Plaza is primarily designed to supplement those income sources, and got off to a fast start with multiple dogs checked in for boarding during the grand opening.

“We’ve already had several calls and we have several dogs booked,” Chasteen said. “We were even getting calls a couple of weeks ago from people asking ‘are you open yet?’”

Much of the Bark Plaza’s construction phase included key contributions of manpower from the New Life USA rehabilitation ministry in Bado, and interior décor features many items donated by area citizens, including furniture, appliances, art and curios. Overnight canine guests at the facility will be treated to large indoor play areas and outdoor walking trails, and workers and TASTC volunteers will regularly tend to them on an individual basis. Cats have their own designated area featuring many feline amenities.

“You have to have a passion for animals,” Chasteen said. “They’re like people – they’re all different but they’re all the same. They’re just like you’re kids. People sometimes say ‘these are my babies,’ and someone else says, ‘that’s a dog.’

“No, it’s not; it’s a family member.”

It’s safe to say dogs staying at the Bark Plaza will be pampered.

“We understand that people want their pets to be treated the way they would treat them at home, and I would want that for my dog,” Chasteen said. “We’ll make them comfortable, and we’ll keep them clean, fed and exercised. Or we’ll just sit down on the ground and love on them.

“You have to love what you do, and that’s what we’re all about. We’re not about sticking them in a cage and forgetting about them.”

To learn more, call the Bark Plaza Pet Hotel at 417-967-3647 or log onto the facility’s website at www.barkplazapets.com.

To view a photo gallery from the Bark Plaza’s grand opening event, click here:

http://houston.mycapture.com/mycapture/enlarge.asp?image=52702258&event=1835087&CategoryID=57447

“This is the future of TASTC and it’s a major point on the timeline of our ongoing evolution and growth. It was a vision we’ve had almost from the beginning, and amazingly, now it’s a reality.”

TASTC founder and president Rita Romines

“This represents the next step in the animal shelter’s future and will hopefully provide enough income to take care of all the animals in the county that we need to. The whole reason for this is to support the shelter, and if it does well enough, then we can expand the shelter, which we really need to do.”

TASTC board member Jay Brown

“Bark Plaza represents a whole new era for TASTC. Every animal that stays at Bark Plaza is in effect going to benefit the animals here. It will enable TASTC to go to the next level and expand in order to be able to help even more animals in our area. We’re having to turn away animals every day because of our limits on space. A lot of people are under the misconception that we can take animals from here and put them over there, but we can’t because these animals are looking for homes and those animals aren’t, and you can’t cross-contaminate. But I think if this goes the way we would like it to,  it will open up whole new avenues for the shelter.”

TASTC shelter manager Marsha Martin

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