Chesterton Tribune

Expert says Porter County needs bigger animal shelter

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

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 to snuff.

“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 said.

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.

Private/Public Partnership

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 discussion.

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.

Goal is 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.

 

Posted 2/24/2012