07/25/04 — Animal shelter: Not fit for a dog ... or a cat

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Animal shelter: Not fit for a dog ... or a cat

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on July 25, 2004 8:24 AM

Business leaders are thinking about locating their company in Wayne County. You're showing the company's representative around. Would you want to take that person to see the county's animal shelter?

Dr. Stan Griffith, head of the Wayne County Animal Control Advisory Board, suspects you wouldn't.

Griffith and the board have been trying to get the county interested in building a new animal shelter to replace the one on Brick Street. That shelter, built in 1956, is too small for the number of animals that come through it each year, they say.

"If I were an industrial scout and I came to a community, after the local leaders had shown me their hospital, community college and Family Y, I'd say, 'Take me to your animal shelter.' People need to think about, 'How do you look to people,'" Griffith says.

The shelter is old and rundown. It is in a floodplain and has been flooded twice since 1996. On a recent trip, the sign pointing to the shelter was turned sideways, making it virtually impossible to see the turn.

It is not a good environment for animals. And it's not good for the shelter personnel either, says Lee Smith, county manager.

"I have a huge concern about them not being safe," he says.

He uses, as an example, the doors to the cages, which open from the side. Animals could get out, especially when the cages are overpopulated.

"A new shelter will help that," he says.

Because of overcrowding, some of those animals may not be well. When too many animals share a run, one can pass a disease to another.

Some improvements have been made to the old shelter since a visit from representatives from the Humane Society of the United States. The HSUS was hired to do a complete assessment of the county animal control program and shelter last year.

Since then, "there have been improvements in sanitation and ventilation," Griffith says.

An addition to a wall was also made to serve as a wind breaker for the feral cats.

But, even with the improvements, a new shelter is needed, say county officials.

"We've done all we can at the shelter," Smith says. "We can't do anymore."

The building has 1,980 square feet of work space. It has been recommended that a new shelter have about 10,000 square feet.

It has also been suggested that it be located on Clingman Street, close to U.S. 70. The Clingman Street location is owned by the county, which means land would not have to be bought.

The site has about 30 acres and a lot of trees. A natural buffer could be created for the facility, Smith says.

There has been mixed reaction to the suggestion of the Clingman Street site. Some have asked, "Why not at the landfill?"

"That doesn't give a good message about our shelter," says Smith. "Having it more public keeps us on our toes. That's important, because we work for the people."

Another recommendation is that the shelter's hours be more convenient for the public. Currently, it is open weekdays from 7:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

What will a new shelter cost? Probably about $1 million, say Griffith and Smith, but that would be a one-time construction cost.

"It's a capital expense, and then it's done," Griffith says.

About 7,000 to 8,000 animals go through the shelter each year, Smith says, too many animals for such a small place.

What is needed is a shelter that has larger adoption facilities, and medical, visitor and euthanization areas, Smith says.

The Advisory Board has been asked to develop a plan of what the shelter should look like based on the animal population, Smith says. Included in the plan will be a list of necessary equipment.

After putting together its plan, the board and Smith's office will prepare a report to give to the Wayne County commissioners, probably by September.

Once the plan is complete, "we can generalize the cost," Smith says.

The county is examining how to handle capital costs -- including for the shelter -- over the next 10 years.

"We just signed with Davenport and Associates to create a long-term financial plan and capital financial plan for Wayne County, so the timing is perfect," Smith says.

"We will have to legitimize the costs to the board and the public," he continues. "The board will have to decide: Is the time right?

"The Board of Commissioners are very concerned and want to hear from the public (on) its feelings about the shelter."

"How do we finance this and make it easy on the taxpayer?" Smith asks.

At one time, it was suggested that an organization, such as the Wayne County Humane Society, help raise money, but there is a possible problem with that.

People and organizations who contribute money may want a say in how the shelter is run. The county, on the other hand, has a statutory responsibility to supply a shelter.

"We have to be careful not to be tied to certain interests, certain restraints," Smith says.

He says a better idea would be having agencies give to certain shelter programs, such as low-cost spaying and neutering for pets of low-income people.

Some contributions have come in for a shelter, and they will be used for it, Smith says.

He believes a shelter will be built no later than 2006 if approved by the Board of Commissioners.

Griffith says a new shelter will not only be better for the public, but for the animals as well.

He recalls the Bible verse, "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (Matthew 25:40).

"We're not taking care of the least in our society," Griffith says. "These are living, feeling creatures that need to be taken care of."