A few things are certain based on the Porter County Park and Recreation
Board’s discussion on Thursday with the County Commissioners over the
concept of a new animal shelter at Sunset Hill Farm -- there is universal
agreement that a larger shelter needs to be built regardless of location,
the Shelter’s director Jon Thomas and staff have done a commendable job
turning the current undersized Shelter around these past 21 months, and
views differ among community members of where the Shelter should be built.
It is also apparent that someone really, really wants to see the new Shelter
built. An anonymous donor has made it known to the County Commissioners of
his or her intentions to donate $1 million toward the construction.
However, it is not certain yet if the park board will allow the
Commissioners to build on a spot on the northern end of Sunset Hill Farm.
The board ultimately decided to take the matter under advisement.
Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, and fellow Commissioner Laura
Shurr Blaney, D-South, proposed to form “a working partnership” with the
parks department by building a new animal shelter using three to five acres
along U.S. 6 about a third of a mile east of the Meridian Road intersection
and team up on educational programs.
The commissioners displayed the latest floor plans for a new facility done
by the California-based Shelter Planners of America who had also delivered
the Commissioners a feasibility study last year.
The firm had recommended the Shelter be roughly 15,000 to 18,000 square feet
in size with multiple rooms to house cats and dogs, a separate area for
animal control, numerous offices, a larger meeting room or classroom, a spay
and neuter clinic, and outdoor kennels creating a V-formation with open
An untapped market
Blaney said there were three major reasons the Commissioners want to use the
location at Sunset Hill Farm.
First, the spot would give the new Shelter a desirable amount of visibility
and be landscaped to give it an aesthetic appeal.
“It’s going to be a beautiful building, not a pile of cinderblocks we have
now,” Blaney said.
Secondly, accessibility would play a big part. Having the Shelter where the
county’s population is centrally located “is key” to increasing the number
of animal adoptions, she said.
Third, the Shelter and the parks department would be able to synergize on
their goals of generating educational programs for the public.
“I just want you to know we didn’t pull this out of thin air. It is a really
good spot,” Blaney told the board.
Evans said that based on statistics from the American Pet Products
Association, 77 percent of households have pets and inferred that the parks
department could hook into one of the county’s “untapped” markets.
Evans also pointed out the Kids Power event to benefit the Animal Shelter
last year saw nearly 300 attendees and dozens of vendors. Coupled with the
successful events out at Sunset Hill Farm, the two entities would see higher
Joining the two commissioners at the table, Thomas said putting the new
shelter in a favorable spot can double or even triple the adoptions which is
important for the Shelter to maintain its no-kill philosophy. He said the
park will be able to provide educational programming for future generations.
Evans added that each dog or cat will be neutered or spayed before it is
adopted out and in seven years the number of strays in the county should be
Public comment mixed
Taking a show of hands for the public to comment, park board president Rich
Hudson polled the audience on who favored the proposal and who did not,
which resulted in an almost even split among roughly 50 audience members.
First to speak was Northern Indiana Historical Power Association president
Nick Misch who inquired if NIHPA would still be able to farm on the strip of
land which is in ownership of the Porter County Parks Foundation.
Blaney said the Commissioners would be sure “not to take away anything” from
Next, Julie Sausman who has headed up volunteers at the Shelter said she
thinks the partnership with the parks department and the central location
will work to everyone’s benefit as many animal groups attend events at
Sunset Hill Farm.
Dr. Christopher Keeley of Southlane Veterinary Hospital in Valparaiso
believes that the shelter “would be a wonderful neighbor for residents in
the area” and that the partnership would aid the park in its plans to
feature more amenities.
Many others felt that the Commissioners should look elsewhere to build,
fearing that a new shelter would disturb the tranquility of the area while
others felt a shelter would compromise the purpose of the public park.
Liberty Twp. resident Tracie Demack, who referred to herself as an animal
lover, said the noise from the park and nearby traffic would make the
animals more agitated and therefore they would be less adoptable because
they will be more aggressive.
Noise from the roadway will increase as development is expected in the area
over the next five to ten years on the U.S. 6 corridor, she said.
“It’s not going to be the same tranquil place we all moved here for. Sunset
Hill Farm will be its only oasis,” she said.
Janet Prosser-Pullins, who said she personally knew Col. Murray and his
wife, implored the board to “leave the farm the way it is” adding the
Murrays left the land with the intent and purpose that it be used as a park.
She acknowledged the county is in need of a new animal shelter, but “not
Parks supporter and conservationist Herb Read said he too knew the Murrays,
as they were good friends with his parents, and he remembers Col. Murray
wanting to preserve the land as a park.
Read said his question would be, does an animal shelter belong on property
belonging to the Porter County Parks Foundation?, and when he checked the
mission statements he could not find anything about an animal shelter.
Read’s wife, Charlotte Read, who has been a long-time member of the Parks
Foundation, said donating the land to a government entity would “jeopardize”
the Foundation’s status as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
Liberty Twp. resident Ed Gutt said he was involved in developing a corridor
plan for U.S. 6 and recognized Sunset Hill Farm as a location that would be
reserved as “open country.” He also raised concerns about the increasing
traffic due to the new hospital moving in.
Current Parks Foundation member and Liberty Twp. resident Tim Cole said the
Foundation will need to determine if having the shelter on its acreage at
Sunset Hill Farm fits its’ mission. The Foundation has gradually transferred
the farm’s 235 acres in pieces to the park board.
Cole was not in favor of putting the new shelter at U.S. 6 but said he would
be open to having it near the south entrance on County Road 700 North or in
the area south of the parking lots.
Evans said the Commissioners would be willing to talk with the park board
about other areas at Sunset Hill Farm they find more suitable.
Also speaking where two officials from the City of Portage.
City Council member Sue Lynch and Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham mentioned
Portage will be dissolving its temporary agreement with the Humane Society
of Hobart this year and are hoping they will be allowed to take their strays
to the County Animal Shelter.
Lynch said Portage Animal Control sees about 600 strays a year and feel they
should be able to take their animals to the County Animal Shelter since they
pay taxes to the County.
Stidham said the city gives about $25,000 to the Hobart Humane Society
annually for its services and could rededicate that money to the County.
Lynch and Stidham gave no opinion on whether the Shelter should be in Sunset
Hill but stressed their hope that the County move forward with a location.
“Wherever it is at, we are really in desperate need,” said Stidham.
Also sitting in at the meeting were Porter County Council members Dan
Whitten, D-At Large, and Sylvia Graham, D-At Large. Whitten said he is “not
100 percent sold on the location” and knows that wherever the shelter is
constructed, it will have some critics and some supporters.
Graham said the shelter has come a long way and even though the County is
grappling with other challenges, she is optimistic a solution will come
Board members David Canright, Ruth Jarneke, and Kris Parker remained quiet
throughout the Commissioners’ presentation.
Member Rebecca Tomerlin asked if there were risks of diseases spreading from
the sick animals that would taken at the Shelter to dogs walked in the park.
Thomas said it is “highly unlikely” for illness to spread as the Shelter
will have an isolation unit.
Meanwhile, member Craig Kenworthy enthusiastically supported the concept as
he feels it would be a great way to give Sunset Hill Farm more exposure.
“I like this. I don’t have any problems with it,” Kenworthy said. “It’s what
we need in this county. We can’t keep burying our heads in the sand.”
Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos said he is open to the partnership as it
could generate more community involvement and was “excited” that voices were
heard from all sides of the aisle.
“It shows that people are really passionate about this,” Lenckos said.