Benton County has a shiny new dog shelter.
The 32 dogs that can be housed there will be housed in modern and sanitary conditions in kennels complete with handmade sleeping mats.
That's a far cry from the conditions faced by other stray animals in our community. Most of them go to Tri-Cities Animal Control in Pasco, a 50- (or so) year-old facility that reeks with the permanent stench of concrete soaked through with decades of animal waste.
It's no fault of the facility. Once the home of the Humane Society, the structure has been remodeled multiple times, creating inefficiencies, and it has seen thousands of animals arrive and depart in one manner or the other. Waste control systems aren't what they should be, and air circulation practically is nonexistent, with conditions creating fertile grounds for airborne illnesses.
Richland, Pasco and Kennewick all rely on Tri-Cities Animal Control to pick up and house their stray animals, sending 2,700 cats and 2,200 dogs per year through its doors. Hundreds of those animals are euthanized.
It's not a pretty picture.
But it's a necessary one, at least until all pet owners develop a much stronger sense of responsibility to the animals in their care. A lucky number of animals are adopted.
The 7,000-square-foot facility has outlived its usefulness.
And it's unlikely the number of stray animals is going to decrease, so a solution must be found.
It would have been great if that solution could have been a regional animal control facility, serving both counties and all of their cities.
But Benton County chose to go it alone, building an $815,000 shelter with a capacity of 32 dogs. We already have lamented the fact that Benton County chose to spend so much on so little capacity, and took itself out of a regional big picture solution to animal control.
But what's done is done, and it's time to move forward, for the sake of the animals and the safety of the citizens.
As Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield said, timing and cooperation among the three cities that contract with Tri-Cities Animal Control will be essential for effective animal control.
It won't be cheap, however.
The manager of the Pasco shelter said an assessment completed last year estimates costsof a new shelter at around $4 million.
Given the tough times faced by local governments, that's a big chunk of change.
"No one is anxious (for each city) to spend $1.5 million, but it has to be done," Crutchfield said.
And he's right on both counts. Animal control is an issue affecting every community in the region.
West Richland is looking to Benton County as a potential partner, and that may make sense.
Franklin County is wrestling with the issue. It does not have an animal control program, leaving those with stray animals on their property to deal with the problem themselves.
Franklin County would be a prime partner with the cities for a regional animal control facility.
While Benton County has created a solution for a narrow niche of dogs on its turf, that doesn't make a dent in our region's animal control problem.
For that, a new shelter is needed and needed soon.
All the players need to come together and put a plan into action for the good of the community.