Cities weigh animal shelter options

By Kristi Pihl, Herald staff writerMarch 6, 2010 

There's a dream hanging on the wall of the Tri-City Animal Shelter.

Although easy to overlook in the bustle, the architect's sketch shows what a new shelter could be -- each dog kennel with an outdoor run and covered porches for cats.

It's a facility that would create a better environment for the animals and help solve the maintenance and sanitation issues with the current, aging shelter, said Angela Zilar, animal control director.

Kennewick, Pasco and Richland are studying building a new shelter for the cities' joint animal control authority. Two members from each city council are on a committee considering the options.

The committee hopes to bring a recommendation including cost and timeline to the councils by this summer, said Stan Strebel, Pasco deputy city manager. Each city will decide how it will pay its share.

Parts of the current shelter in the former Humane Society building at 1312 S. 18th Ave. are literally falling down, Zilar said. The main shelter building dates from the '70s, and the smaller building is about 10 years older.

Part of the issue is space. "As your community grows, so does your population of animals," she said. Last year, about 5,000 animals came into the shelter.

As the Tri-Cities animal enforcement agency, it must accept all strays, she said. And when it is full and more come, it would have to euthanize animals to make room if not for the help of rescue groups.

At the most, it's had 125 dogs and 130 or 140 cats, Zilar said. It has 66 dog kennels and 64 cat kennels, as well as cat community areas.

With the dogs, it means doubling up, which is hard on the animals, she said. They can get kennel stress, and have a personality change that may be irreversible.

Since rescue groups are helping house the animals, just 5 percent of dogs brought in each year are euthanized. And that's because of sickness or injury, she said.

The death rate for cats is 50 percent to 60 percent a year because they are more prone to illnesses, such as feline leukemia.

But the new animal shelter might be in a different place on the priority list for each city, said Richland Mayor John Fox. For example, Richland tentatively placed the shelter on its capital improvement plan for 2012. But that doesn't mean money is budgeted for it.

"We are agreed that we need a better facility," he said.

Fox said Richland agreed to participate in the study process, but won't make a decision on the facility until more is known about the location, cost, financing and timing.

The cities talked with Benton County and West Richland about joining in, but they are looking for a faster and cheaper solution than what the cities are considering, Fox said.

Kennewick City Councilman Bob Parks said Kennewick has no money in its capital budget for the project for the next couple of years. And he doesn't think the public will approve a bond for it, since the recent measure for a Franklin County jail couldn't even pass.

"I think it's a big dream," he said.

Parks said he believes Pasco wants the shelter moved away from the city's waterfront. There is about an acre on the current property where the shelter could be expanded, he said.

Kennewick Councilman Don Britain said the cities definitely need a new facility but all the cities have different projects that are needed with a limited amount of money.

The building could be about 15,000 square feet and could cost about $3 million to build, not including the land, parking and landscaping.

The cities will be working to identify the areas they have where a shelter would be appropriate for the zoning, Strebel said.

Building in an industrial area would be less expensive, but it's harder to attract the public to a shelter there, Strebel said.

Land in a commercial area could cost three times more, but a shelter there would have an easier time attracting the public and adoptions could be more brisk.

Successful shelters now are built of more durable materials that are easier to clean, with better air circulation than the current shelter, he said. The newer approaches are more like a hospital than a warehouse.

Although there aren't many more dog kennels in the draft plan, each kennel has more room, and the shelter could double up more easily, or triple up if necessary, Zilar said. The space for cats would be doubled.

The dog kennel buildings are angled into a courtyard with different elevations to help decrease how far noise and airborne animal diseases are carried, she said.

The initial plan also includes an isolation room, which the current animal shelter lacks, Zilar said. There is even a possible add-on of a community room and a spay and neuter clinic.

Zilar expects a new shelter won't be built for at least five years.

In the meantime, to possibly help reduce the number of unwanted pets, the shelter is spaying and neutering all animals that the shelter adopts out. They also leave with rabies shots.

Adoption fees will now be $85 for cats and $115 for dogs.

Zilar said people adopting pets are paying only a small portion of those neutering costs. The shelter also is using money saved from adoption fees. It expects the program can last for a year. Then it hopes to find a grant to continue.

A spay and neuter program takes about five years to see a drop in animal population, Zilar said. She's hoping the shelter's new program, along with the spay and neuter efforts of the Benton-Franklin Humane Society, Pet Over Population Prevention and other rescue groups will reduce the unwanted animal population.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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