Chesterton Tribune

Report says new county animal shelter to cost $2.9 million

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The first step in planning a new Porter County Animal Shelter has been completed as the county commissioners received the needs assessment provided by Shelter Planners of America last week.

The commissioners hired Shelter Planners to perform the study for $6,500.

As Shelter Planners’ Planning and Design Director Bill Meade stated in a public meeting hosted by the county in February, the present 4,000 square-foot shelter on the corner of Ind. 2 and Heavilin Road is “extremely undersized” for the community it serves.

“It is in urgent need of replacement and expansion,” Meade said in his report.

Meade recommended the new shelter be built in a highly-visible location on a four to six-acre site. Based on the approximate number of animals to be seen per year at the shelter (3,800 to 5,100, or about 4 percent of the human population), the appropriate size for a new shelter would be 13,758 square-feet.

The report said having good exposure to the public could see doubled rates of adoption.

New Shelter price tag

Taking in to consideration the floor space needed for public areas, office areas, animal kennel areas and exterior space, the construction for the new shelter is estimated at $2,341,490. But with permits, worker costs, and contingency, the cost for the whole package is estimated at $2,926,862.50.

The report also states the new shelter’s operating budget should be $626,000 per year versus the present budget of $472,000. More employees are recommended to operate a shelter of this size and the report suggests the county beef up its personnel budget to include 15 staff positions (a shelter director, an assistant director, a kennel supervisor, an office manager, a director of education, a vet technician, five animal care staffers and four animal control positions).

Right now, the shelter has four full time employees and nine part-time kennel maintenance workers.

Recommendations

for new building

Meade called the conditions at the current shelter “substandard” and in serious need of new heating, cooling and air ventilation systems. He said the staff and volunteers should be congratulated for doing the best possible job with the resources they have.

Meade said the replacement building should meet three qualifications: high visibility, central location and sustainable utilities.

He recommended the new shelter should be one-story built with “low-maintenance, heavy-duty materials” and have a brightly lit interior with a “welcoming feel” for public appeal.

Inside should be an attractive front lobby, adoption rooms, animal kennel areas with heated floors that can be easily disinfected, rooms for cleaning and storage, quarantine rooms with cages, cat and dog kitchens, and an area where cats and dogs can be received and treated.

The public should have access to view all stray kennels so visitors can have the chance to recognize dogs or cats that are missing from their homes, the report said, resulting in decreased euthanizations.

Understanding “no-kill”

Meade addressed the decision by the county commissioners in July 2008 to switch the shelter to a no-kill facility without an understanding of what the implications would be.

“As a result, the shelter became grossly overcrowded resulting in sickness and suffering far beyond the expectations of anyone,” the report said.

Meade said the term “no-kill” is often misunderstood by the public. He states it as meaning that no healthy, adoptable animal can be euthanized. However, seriously sick, injured or dangerous animals can be terminated at a no-kill shelter, he said.

In order for operations to stay balanced, a no-kill shelter cannot function effectively if it is taking more animals in than it is adopting out, causing unsanitary conditions and illness. Therefore, Meade recommended the county cease its “no-kill” policy until it is able to manage the influx of animals or transport the animals to another shelter in the community.

“No kill is an admirable goal but it can only be accomplished through effective programs to reduce animal overpopulation, not simply declaring a shelter no-kill while far more animals are coming in than can hope to be adopted,” the report said.

Importance of

spay/neuter programs

Meade said it should be a goal of the shelter to ensure that every dog and cat is neutered or spayed before it is adopted out, which will help reduce the number of unwanted animals.

Meade advocated collaborating with local veterinarians on a low cost spay/neuter program. A preventative program would pay for itself in a few years time, Meade said, as the number of animals to be picked up will gradually decrease.

The animal shelter currently has a certificate program where owners can take a coupon to a local veterinarian, but evidence shows that approximately 40 percent of adopters do not follow through. Meade suggested the step be mandatory and shelters should charge half of the spay/neuter fee at time of the adoption and then transport the animal to the selected hospital. When the animal gets picked up from the hospital, the new owner then would pay the second half.

Increased communication

and adoptions

Communication problems can be blamed for the current criticisms aimed at the shelter, the report said.

Admitting there may be valid points to the complaints, Meade calls the attitudes “self-defeating” and expressed concern those attitudes may interfere with the success of the new shelter. Therefore, he advised there to be “a respectful, cordial dialog and improved communications” with all the public and stakeholders to promote cooperation.

The report calls for the shelter to communicate a positive image to the public in effort to boost pet adoptions. For adoptions to increase, emphasis should be placed on visible location, an attractive reception area, convenient business hours, friendly staff, well-groomed animals, reasonable adoption fees and holding special adoption events.

Education against irresponsible pet ownership should also be promoted, Meade said, and should be allocated 10 percent of the budget. Obedience classes for pet owners can inform them in how to properly house and care for their animals.

Other recommendations include:

• Placing animal control staff under the supervision of the shelter director to reduce conflicts. The report recalls the seizure of more than 100 dogs from a residence in Westchester Twp. that occurred in January. Animal control officers had the shelter house the dogs in a nearby building that had no running water, floor drains or proper air ventilation which “bordered on violation of anti-cruelty laws,” the report said. The situation could have been prevented if animal control had advised the shelter staff ahead of time so housing arrangements could have been made.

• Be open on weekends and evenings as those are the best opportunities for the public to visit the shelter.

• Set up foster pet programs, satellite adoption centers, counseling for pet owners who are seeing problems with their pets and free pet ID tag promotions.

The next step

Meade said the county can proceed with his organization in starting to design the new shelter with the next step being developing the building floor plan.

The council and commissioners have not yet authorized any firm for the construction but virtually all members have agreed upon building a larger shelter. Council members have said the major issue would be to make sure the recurring operations costs can be sustained.

 

 Posted 4/30/2012