Benton County animal control facility opens (w/ gallery)

KENNEWICK — Benton County's animal control facility is open for business, and the first two residents -- a couple of dogs from Finley -- will be picked up this morning.

"They will be available for adoption after 72 hours," said Larry Taylor, animal control manager.

More than 100 people attended a grand opening and dedication Monday for the 3,200-square-foot building that will hold stray dogs at 1116 N. Grant Place, off Canal Drive in Kennewick.

Everything was in place for the first dogs to arrive, including leashes and feed bowls carefully hung on hooks at each cage door. Handmade sleeping mats had been donated for each of the 32 extra-large indoor kennels, and new grass had been rolled out for the four, 32-foot-long dog runs.

Longtime area animal advocate Judi Nelson of West Richland was thrilled. Taylor surprised her by offering her the scissors for the ribbon cutting.

"This is the final link in the chain for providing animal care in Benton County. It ends the excuse for anyone abandoning an animal," Nelson said minutes after touring the facility.

Taylor, who retired Dec. 31 as Benton County sheriff following a 34-year career in law enforcement, said the county has long lacked an answer for dog problems.

"It was always a sad day when we had to tell people there was nothing we could do because we had no animal control ordinance," he said.

But that began to change in May 2009, when 371 neglected dogs were discovered in a puppy mill in Kennewick.

"That was one of the most heart-breaking cases I've seen, but the good that came out of it is what you see here today. (It) was the catalyst that got the commissioners going to build this," Taylor said.

County commissioners OK'd the animal shelter project in May, issuing a contract for $815,000 to G2 Construction of Kennewick.

Nelson said she has wanted to see a county shelter for 12 years. "It was a promise I made to Nikki (her own "mutt"), when she died in 1998," said Nelson who wears a lapel pin with a picture of her beloved pet.

"Over the years I've written many letters to the editor about the need. I know the underbelly of what has happened to animals that have been abandoned," Nelson said.

Nelson said she was not only glad, but also honored, to have her dream come true. "I deserve it, but no more than any other animal control advocate in Benton County," Nelson said.

Taylor said he decided to invite Nelson to the ceremony without cluing her in on cutting the ribbon.

"She's been a wonderful resource for advice and a great networking source. I wanted to help her realize the excitement in seeing her dream fulfilled," he said.

The animal control facility will be exclusively for animals from unincorporated county areas, not the cities, Taylor said. It will be open to the public from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, and from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

The phone number for the animal shelter is 509-460-4923.

The facility will offer dogs for adoption with a $95 fee, which includes vaccinations, microchip identification, rabies shots and spaying or neutering, Taylor said. The goal is to adopt out as many dogs as possible, he said.

The facility is designed to provide the best in care for the animals, Taylor said.

The concrete floor has three coats of epoxy sealer to keep harmful bacteria from accumulating, and the ventilation system is designed specifically for dogs, and is separate from the human side of the building.

Taylor said county jail inmates will do the daily cleaning of kennels and volunteers will help as well. Each kennel has solid metal panels in the lower half so dogs will be visually separated. Soundproofing was incorporated for both dogs and humans.

Taylor has one full-time employee, Tiffany Garner, who had been West Richland's animal control officer for 18 years.

Taylor said he expects West Richland to switch to having the county handle its animal control needs under a contract. If that happens, he will add another person to his staff.

Monday's dedication was attended by numerous county and city officials, including commissioners and city managers from Kennewick and Richland, and representatives of Tri-Cities Animal Control and the Benton Franklin Humane Society.