Chesterton Tribune

County eyes Lakeshore PAWS to handle new animal shelter

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The effort to replace the Porter County Animal Shelter with a larger, more adequate facility took an interesting turn Tuesday as the County Board of Commissioners announced its intention to explore the possibility of relinquishing control and maintenance of the Shelter to Lakeshore PAWS.

According to the announcement made by County Commissioner John Evans, R-North, during Tuesday’s meeting, the county may enter an agreement with the non-profit Lakeshore PAWS that would provide land for a new Shelter building to the organization.

Also, Lakeshore PAWS could be in charge of raising funds to cover the expenses of constructing a new shelter, meaning the county would not have to put up tax dollars to build. However, the organization may assume management and control of the Shelter, with terms and conditions that would have to be agreed upon by the two parties.

The details were revealed publicly through a letter of intent drafted by the commissioners so the public would be aware that board will be proceeding with negotiations that could eventually lead to the change.

Evans said it should be understood that the commissioners’ letter of intent “is not a contract or binding agreement” and in no way should be interpreted as binding until a definitive agreement can be formally made and executed.

The announcement comes two weeks after Evans held a meeting with Shelter advisory board member and County Councilwoman Laura Blaney, D-at large, the Porter County Community Foundation, and an unnamed donor who would be willing to match contributions. At that time, the county felt it could commit $1 million and raise additional funds toward the project. A price tag of roughly $2.9 million was estimated in a report done by the consulting firm Shelter Planners of America.

Blaney said it was mentioned during that meeting that Lakeshore PAWS was interested in building a new facility on their own instead of building two shelters that would compete with each other; talks soon began with its president and co-founder Jeanne Sommer on a possible deal to collaborate. Blaney said the organization has shown more success in matters of fundraising and adopting out animals than the county and removing politics from the equation could garner a better chance for a new shelter to come to fruition.

“It’s got a long way to go but it has a lot of promise,” said Blaney. “It would be a huge win-win for the animals and the taxpayers. (Taxpayers) wouldn’t have to pay for a new shelter and the animals would be looked after by those who care for them.”

Whether the county or the Shelter advisory board will assist in any way has not been determined yet, Blaney said, since the proposal is “so very much in the early stages.”

Other questions to be determined include whether the county will pay for operating or personnel costs once the facility is built and what policies need to be put in place. Evans said the Shelter’s current operating budget is about $600,000 per year and he talked about possibility of shelling out a fraction of that amount to a shelter.

Evans said he hopes the deal will be finalized in a matter of four to six months.

For his part, County Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, who proposed turning the Shelter over to private hands about a year ago after witnessing “inexcusable” conditions in the cat room, said the idea sounds good to him but the number of questions he has stretch far and wide and all need answering before he can give a nod to the agreement.

Whitten said his intent has always been for the county to find a way to take care of the animals properly or get out of the business. In order to do the latter, the county needs to make sure the organization the county turns operations over to is solvent and has evidence indicating they can handle the number of animals coming into the shelter, Whitten said.

Some of his questions revolve around what was discussed in the study done by Shelter Planners such as whether this new shelter will operate as no-kill.

“If an animal begins to look sick, are they going to be walking the green mile?” Whitten said. “I don’t know enough about this yet. We’ve got to ask what is really, really right. A lot of pieces need to be investigated.”

Sommer this morning told the Chesterton Tribune she would be willing to share her figures with the council and is confident Lakeshore PAWS has the ability to operate the Shelter due to the strong support they’ve seen from the community. She said the model Lakeshore is looking at will be similar to PAWS Chicago, a no-kill shelter that helps Chicago animal control save stray cats and dogs.

“I think it will work,” she said.

Lakeshore PAWS opened last year and is currently operated out of Sommer’s real estate office in Valparaiso. Sommer said the operation is no-kill and has adopted out about 290 dogs and about 70 cats, almost one per day.

As the county will still manage animal control through the sheriff’s department, Sommer said Lakeshore will work to handle the animal welfare. She said county-run animal shelters don’t often work because their role is to make efficient use of resident tax dollars, not necessarily what is best for the animals. Those in the business completely for the well-being of the animals can provide the best care and adoption services, she said.

Sommer said the deal is not for Lakeshore to take over the county shelter, but to enter into a contractual agreement. If the deal is made, those working at the new Shelter will be considered employees of Lakeshore and not the county. Current Shelter workers will need to go through an interview process if they wish to work at the new building.

Lakeshore actively participates in community events. Sommer said Lakeshore will hold its second annual Cross Country Invitational and 2K Dog Walk this Sunday at Sunset Hill Farm County Park at 775 Meridian Road with the race beginning at 4 p.m. Registration will open at 2:30 p.m. and those interested can pre-register by calling Lakeshore at (219)476-7297 or at www.lakeshorepaws.org.

In other animal events, the five-day all-breed dog show starts today the Porter County Expo Center and will run through Sunday.

Future Shelter Ordinance

Meanwhile, Evans on Tuesday said he has received hundreds of e-mails over the last month regarding a rough draft of the county’s new animal control ordinance. The 41-page document was made up by animal control and Evans had it forwarded to the Control and Shelter advisory boards for them to make suggestions. Somehow, a copy was leaked to a few members of the public who wrote protests to the commissioners.

Evans noted that the commissioners have not voted on the ordinance yet and changes will be made, saying the document is “about 38 pages too long.” He agreed some of the measures proposed seem absurd such as “having to seat belt your dog.”

“We will not do anything with it the way it is now,” he said.

 

Posted 6/20/2012