Nanaimo is now home to a one-of-a-kind community centre devoted to the region’s most vulnerable animals.

The new state-of-the-art animal facility opened at 154 Westwood Rd. on Friday.

The Nanaimo and District Community Animal Centre features two fenced dog parks, an animal washing station, outdoor and indoor dog kennels and a retail space.

The updated building incorporates modern designs to ensure the highest levels of health and welfare for animals – including shared “apartments” for dogs to encourage natural movement and socialization.

“This is definitely the first shelter of its kind in that it has these social enterprise initiatives,” Nanaimo’s branch manager Leon Davis said. “This is the future of animal welfare and community involvement.”

Plans for a new centre have been in the works for 15 years. The old shelter on Labieux Road was in desperate need of upgrading and expanding.

The new site cost $3.4 million in joint funding – shared between the province, City of Nanaimo and SPCA donors.

According to the BC SPCA, people and businesses donated a combined $1.3 million of the overall total, which is what inspired the name change.

“It’s not the SPCA that cares for the animals in the community, it’s the Nanaimo community, so we wanted to reflect that in the name of the building,” Davis added.

Nanaimo SPCA volunteers care for more than 1,300 animals each year, but with a larger facility the hub will likely see an increase.

“If there are circumstances where we’re seizing animals or we have them voluntarily surrendered  to us, we have to take them somewhere. We’re very dependent on BC SPCA shelters up and down the island,” SPCA cruelty investigator Tina Hearynoted.

She added that having a facility like this is going to have a huge impact on a number of communities on the island.

The centre, which was once only 1,200-square-feet on an acre of land, has grown to a 7,460-square-foot building on more than 10 acres of land.

“It’s got low stress kennels for the dogs and for the cats, which means the dogs have much larger areas. It’s easier to keep clean, keep infection issues down and just overall much more comfortable for the dogs,” a volunteer told CTV News.

While the facility has numerous benefits for animals, a bigger property means volunteers are needed now more than ever.

“We need expanded volunteer duties – helping us with the gardening, helping us with the cleaning, with maintaining the dog park... so there’s a huge opportunity now for people of Nanaimo to get involved,” Davis said.

A nine-year-old Shih Tzu named Sophie was the first animal to be adopted from the new centre on Friday.

You can read get more information on the BC SPCA here.