First phase of animal center expansion slated to be completed by October

Spring Fling to help raise funds for project

The Helen Woodward Animal Center is more than halfway through the 14-month construction process on the first phase of its expansion. The center’s new small animal hospital and administrative office building should be completed by October, but $12 million to $15 million is still needed to complete phase two, which includes a new pet adoption center and boarding facility.

President Mike Arms estimates the entire project will take five years to complete.

“I can’t wait to get it done so then I can consider retiring,” quipped Arms, who has been at the center for 11 years.

The improvements will be worth the long wait. The expansion was first proposed nearly 19 years ago and included a nine-year planning period and a nearly three-year wait for the groundbreaking on Aug. 22 last year.

The expansion project as a whole will bring the center from 63,000 square feet of indoor use to 115,000 square feet.

Once completed, the administration offices will move into the new building and the existing building will be demolished, as well as the current riding ring and the small home on the property that serves as an education building.

When the animal hospital is moved into its new digs, the existing adoption kennels will be moved into the old animal hospital building until the new kennels are built.

“This really is the facility of the future,” said Arms. “There is not a facility like Helen Woodward anywhere in the world.”

He said it is rare to have all the services they offer on one site, including an adoption center, equine hospital, child education center, boarding, therapeutic riding and more.

The center’s biggest fundraiser of the year, the Spring Fling, is coming up on June 5. The “Best in Show,” a black-tie benefit, will be held from 6:30 p.m. to midnight at the Helen Woodward Animal Center.

The night will include delicacies from 30 of San Diego’s top restaurants and there will be an auction event — one prize is a NASCAR experience with driver Ryan Newman at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.

The ongoing construction has been phased so none of those programs have been disrupted. The facilities are all open and plenty of dogs and cats are still waiting for permanent homes at the center.

“We won’t miss a beat on saving lives,” Arms said.

The only program that has been displaced is the therapeutic riding program, which has been moved to Oakridge Farms in Rancho Santa Fe, Arms said.

The therapeutic riding program puts children with special needs on horses, to develop increased muscle control and balance, increase concentration and boost their self-confidence.

Arms said that there is a strong likelihood that the program will not continue past this year, as the center cannot afford to rent a facility any longer. As soon as the expansion is completed, therapeutic riding would return.

To buy Spring Fling tickets, visit


By the numbers

  • Phase 1: $12 million raised for construction currently under way
  • Phase 2: $5 million raised; $12 million to $15 million total needed