Bill Meade said he found Porter County impressive with its attractive
buildings and streets, but one structure seemed a bit out of place.
Meade is the director of the California-based Shelter Planners of America
who was hired by the county in December for $6,500 to perform a needs
assessment on the Porter County Animal Shelter. When compared to other
shelters in counties of Porter’s size, Meade said conditions are just not up
“Although it’s not horrible, it does not match the quality of this county,”
Meade said to a gathering of about 40 people inside the Porter County
Administration Building on Thursday night.
Shelter Planners is in the midst of completing the assessment based on over
100 pieces of information. Meade gave his initial impressions saying that
although improvements in cleanliness and care by interim director Jon Thomas
and his staff are evident, ultimately the 3,500 square-foot shelter is only
a third of the size it should be.
A county of Porter’s size would normally see about 5,000 animals per year
based on 4 percent of the human population. Each animal would require
approximately three square feet which means the size for a new shelter
should be 15,000 to 18,000 square feet.
Meade, who spent much of his career specializing in shelter architecture on
all levels, estimated the cost of a new facility to be $160 to $180 per
square foot, which would place the overall cost well over $2 million.
Meade said the new shelter would not have to be “gold-plated” or anything
exuberant but something sustainable and adequate enough to meet the needs of
the animals. The location would need to be carefully selected and suggested
a possibility would be on the 16 acres the county owns right across the road
from the current shelter on Ind. 2. Keeping the shelter location on that
road would be visible to passersby and boost adoption numbers.
A new shelter which will spay/neuter animals before they are adopted will
help the county truly reach its goal of being a no-kill shelter, Meade said.
He said, the two biggest problems facing shelters today are the
overpopulation of pets and irresponsible pet ownership, which contributes to
4 million euthanizations of adoptable pets in the U.S. per year.
To reduce such problems, Meade suggested the shelter educate the public on
how to be responsible owners and develop ways to promote adoptions.
With manageable pet populations, counties can lower costs by bringing staff
numbers down. However, Meade said it could be decades before the county
reaches that goal.
Public Says Woes
Due to Politics
A few audience members were ready to pump up the energy for this year’s
county elections calling for politicians to get behind a new shelter.
Dune Acres animal supporter Robin Tennant, who volunteers at the shelter,
said she was brought to tears when she first visited the facility and that
county officials should “hold their heads in shame” for the conditions seen
before Thomas took charge.
“I think this shelter is a blight on Porter County,” said Tennant, who said
the 2012 election to her will “100 percent” be about the shelter.
“I hope we can all work together,” she said.
Valparaiso resident Nanette Aims also took aim at elected officials, saying
many of them “don’t care about the animals.”
“They don’t deserve (to be) where they’re at. That place is a dive,” she
County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, stood up for his board
saying if the commissioners didn’t care about the shelter, they would not
have chosen to hold Thursday’s public meeting.
Chesterton resident Karin McKenna spoke up to thank Meade for “giving a
sliver of hope,” adding that it took years for improvements to come. She
hopes the momentum will continue.
“Now that we have a plan, we’re going to work like crazy to meet your
expectations,” McKenna said.
Meade encouraged the public to “open up the lines of communication” as
possible with their elected officials to move in positive directions.
During his presentation, Meade displayed a PowerPoint on shelters he has
helped built, many of them he commented are run by non-profit groups
selected by county government officials. The partnerships help keep costs
down for counties often by around 30 percent.
Both the Porter County Council and the county commissioners have considered
the idea of having a private group to help run the shelter. Opportunity
Enterprises announced interest in taking care of the shelter’s daily
operations and according to Evans the organization is still engaged in the
Meade will return with a written form of his needs assessment. He has also
offered his consulting services for construction of the new shelter and said
the cost would be 30 or 40 percent lower than most architectural firms.
He estimates a new shelter could be built in roughly a year’s time.
Reachable, Officials Say
Evans after the meeting told the Tribune the acreage across from the
current shelter may not be properly zoned for a new shelter building since
it is in the city limits of Valparaiso and he wishes to research it.
Evans said he wants to see Meade’s written report before deciding on a firm
to perform the construction and listed Chester Inc. Construction Services in
Valparaiso as a possibility.
“I’ve said all along we need a new shelter. We’re working with a 1900s
shelter and it really is wrong,” said Evans, adding that a new shelter would
depend on funding from the county council.
Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, who was in attendance said the council is
more concerned with the operational costs associated with a new shelter than
the price tag for construction. But having the support of residents behind
“a clear direction,” Biggs felt optimistic that the county would find the
resources needed to fund it.
“It’s very doable if we have all hands on deck,” said Biggs.