More than 100 come to West Richland meeting on new animal shelter

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldMarch 25, 2014 

More than 100 people attended West Richland's town hall meeting Tuesday to discuss a possible new animal shelter.

The current shelter has open sides and isn't heated or air conditioned. It's also on private property and not accessible to the public.

Mayor Brett Gerry said the purpose of the meeting was to gather ideas from the community about what they wanted for the city's stray and unwanted animals.

"There won't be any decision on location, size or amenities made tonight," he told the crowd. "But we'll be listening very carefully to what you all have to say."

West Richland Police Chief Brian McElroy said the department recently hired a new animal control officer, a position that has been vacant for about six months.

"That's a step forward," he said.

McElroy asked the crowd to break up into smaller groups to discuss: What level of service would be acceptable? What are essential characteristics of a new facility? What are their chief concerns?

After brainstorming for about an hour, each group shared its main ideas:

-- Humane care for the animals and a competent staff and volunteers to care for them.

-- Public accessibility. The present shelter is on private land and only police and city employees have access.

-- Some basic veterinary care -- shots, initial check-ups.

-- A website, with photos of stray and adoptable animals.

-- Many were concerned about where to locate the new shelter, saying it needs to be centrally located for ease of access. Yet they also expressed concerns about the noise.

-- Each of the groups was concerned about funding and many stressed that volunteers would be essential to keep the facility running.

Several who attended said they appreciated the city asking for citizen input.

Mary Jean Knight of West Richland said after the meeting that "it was a nice turnout and we all had a good conversation of what's needed."

Anita Welch of West Richland said she's thinking of becoming a volunteer if the city gets a new shelter built.

"There was a lot of good information tonight. Overall, I think it was a good meeting," she said.

Randy Schneider of West Richland is president of the Benton-Franklin Humane Society. He said the city has needed a new facility for some time. "It was an interesting meeting. I'm glad they asked for input from the residents," he said.

McElroy said the meeting was a major step forward in planning for a new animal shelter, but not the last.

He said he likely will call for another town hall meeting and the city council will discuss the ideas gathered.

He expects a location will be chosen, or at least a short list of sites, by the end of July.

"That's when we'll begin discussing construction costs," McElroy said.

The city has $67,500 budgeted to pay rent for the present shelter, for operations, a vehicle, supplies and the animal control officer's salary.

McElroy said there were 133 impounds of stray dogs in 2013 and 454 calls for service. That number will only go up as West Richland grows, he said.

McElroy said he and city staff will compile the lists of ideas from Tuesday's meeting and make them available on the city's website, www.westrichland.org. That's also where residents will find information on upcoming town hall meetings.

The city also will add a link to the website so those who couldn't attend the meeting Tuesday can add their comments.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com

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