In an effort to enhance curb appeal and create a space for remembering lost loved ones, the Animal Shelter of Northeast Nebraska has started construction for a memorial garden on its property.

With a representative from Guaranteed Landscaping & Sprinklers, the animal shelter staff officially broke ground for the project Wednesday. They hope to have the base of the garden completed by the end of the year — even as early as the end of fall.

Donors can dedicate landscaping items such as trees, flowers, decorative stones and benches in the name of a deceased or living pet or loved one. Another option is buying a personalized brick inscribed with names and dates, which is then fed into the main walkway of the garden. That way, someone can always stop by and spend time memorializing that loved one. Deceased shelter animals also will be remembered this way.

"This job can get a little rough, so it helps to remember why you're doing what you're doing," said Amber Anderson, the shelter's fundraising manager. "It's a nice space."

Concept designer Heather Weaver was inspired by her own time spent volunteering at the shelter and noticed a need for a dedicated quiet outdoor space, not only to "sit down and hang out," but also a place where the animals could meet their potential adopters in peace. All the barking from inside the building could put some pets on edge, especially when meeting new people. Weaver hoped this space could be a quiet and safe neutral ground for them.

Volunteers and staff members cheered as Alex Weaver of Guaranteed Landscaping & Sprinklers; shelter manager Lisa Doescher and Anderson shoveled into the ground. They had originally planned to start the project in spring 2020, but because of COVID-19 restrictions on volunteer work, the dream had to be temporarily put aside. However, the postponement did not dampen any enthusiasm.

"Everyone is excited about helping, especially the volunteers," Doescher said.

Weaver’s landscaping company provided most of the starter plants for the project at "a very affordable cost," according to Anderson. The company is also donating its time to guide and direct volunteers as they work. How quickly it is finished "depends on how much help we have," said Alex Weaver, while Doescher said they planned on taking everything "one step at a time."

One day they hope to make it a beautiful garden area for people and pets to come relax and reflect. For right now it is just a plot of land facing Highway 275 — but with a little bit of hope, hard work and some flowers, it can turn into an oasis for all who visit.

"You can't see what's going on yet," Anderson said, "but it's going to be amazing."

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Want to learn more?

To donate to the shelter or purchase an item for the garden, please visit www.animalshelternn.org.

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