West Richland asks for community input on new animal shelter

Dori O'Neal, Herald staff writerMarch 23, 2014 

The city of West Richland is considering a new animal shelter and seeks input from the community about the issue.

A public forum is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Enterprise Middle School, 5200 Paradise Way.

The city's contract for a shelter is with a private landowner. The city built an open-sided facility in 2010 to house lost or abandoned animals and pays the landowner $400 a month for its use.

However, because it's located on private property, the landowner stipulated in the contract that the site be inaccessible to the public and accessible only to police officers, Police Chief Brian McElroy said.

That means animals must be brought into the police station and placed in temporary kennels when adoptions take place or dog owners come to collect their wayward pets, McElroy said. There are no stray animals at the site, but last year the city impounded 124 dogs and cats.

The restricted shelter also is not manned 24/7, which means McElroy's police officers must stop and check on the animals throughout the day.

"We currently are down one officer, after our animal control officer was promoted to patrol," McElroy said. "We hope to fill that position soon."

The animal shelter has a misting system and fans running during the heat of the summer, McElroy said. Foster homes are sought during extreme cold in winter.

In the meantime, animals at the shelter do not receive any exercise or extra care, and that concerns Kelly Merrick, the founder of Adopt Shelter Animal Pets.

"What's most important here is the number of animals not receiving any routine care when at that shelter," Merrick said. "The current shelter is unmanned (24/7) with temporary seasonal workers who supposedly clean the cages but are not trained to know anything about animal care.

"Many times we have taken animals from the shelter in distress with open wounds or needing other veterinary care. Fortunately, we have a community who cares about animals to the point they will take them blindly rather than see them freeze to death at the shelter."

The city is determined to find a solution for its animal control problem, McElroy said.

"The city's commitment is for me to come up with some ideas for a new shelter, its location, design and construction," he said. "We're all frustrated by the current conditions we have for our animal control. And the community can play a large part in helping us determine what is needed as the city continues to grow by attending this forum."

The city has tried to contract its animal services with Tri-Cities Animal Control, as well as Benton County Animal Control, but couldn't agree on a fee, McElroy said.

Merrick agrees with McElroy that the forum is the best way for the community to come together and find a solution to the problem.

"The ASAP hopes that once awareness is raised on this issue there will be enough pressure on the city council to allocate funds for improvements," she said. "We are committed to improving the lives of homeless pets in our community."

Merrick also hopes the city will provide as much public safety for animals as it does for people, she said.

West Richland's mayor pro tem, Rich Buel, agrees the city needs to address the pet shelter dilemma.

"We love our pets and we have to take care of the animals, whether they're lost or abandoned," Buel said.

For more information on ASAP, contact Merrick at 420-0874 or email asapinfo@frontier.com.

For more information on the proposed animal shelter, contact the city's community development department at 967-5902.

-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @dorioneal

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