Drive for new animal shelter gets underway
By BRANDON HURLEY
What should have been a stress-free vacation turned disastrous upon return.
A Jefferson resident’s dog escaped from its home during his time away and when he returned, found the animal frozen to death at the local Greene County Animal Shelter.
Sadly, that tragic tale is 20 years in the past and not much has improved since.
Frankly, the situation has gotten worse — limited space, along with electric heaters in winter and diseases parading through the facility, are reasons why support of a new animal shelter is garnering significant traction.
The plans for a new building were rolled out to the public Tuesday night at the first in a series of informational meetings at the Greene County Community Center.
Disease, a lack of funding and dwindling help have allowed the current animal shelter to become a threat to animals.
On average, 130 dogs pass through the facility annually, while cats fluctuate between 30 and 60. That’s not factoring in police calls, which can be upwards of 400.
Retired Jefferson businessman Don Orris is helping spearhead the new animal shelter project.
He said the shelter’s poor reputation is warranted, and has kept the county’s residents from supporting it.
“Most people don’t go down there,” Orris said Tuesday to a crowd of little more than a dozen. “They’ve heard bad things and don’t want to see it.”
Orris has fought diligently over the past three years for a new building.
“My wife says, you need to tell people you aren’t an animal freak. I’m just a person that sees a need,” he said. “The need is increasing. We are having more and more people that have trouble with animals.”
Orris continued, “I have spoke to police, the community and visited facilities throughout the state and sought out how they solved problems. The truth is, (the current shelter) is pretty shot, that’s all there is to it. It’s served its time.”
Artist renderings and blueprints from Mason City’s Waggoner & Wineinger Architects were presented.
“They by far, in my opinion, are the best around,” Orris said. “They built the Mason City animal shelter. That’s where we got our estimates.”
The total cost of the project — factoring in construction, equipment, furnishings, a dog park and the architectural fee — should come in around $1.1 million.
The plan doesn’t include an animal control officer or a vehicle, but it’s still on the table.
“They believe it won’t go above it, it should go below,” Orris said. “This figure is the highest we are hoping it could be. We may be dreaming, but it shouldn’t be higher.”
The proposed building and adjacent dog park will be located on land donated by the Greene County Development Corp. just off Highway 4, about 500 yards north of the Catholic cemetery and several acres south of AAI.
“I told (GCDC) this is your worst peace of land you have, but it would be perfect for us,” Orris said. “If we put the dog park there, we don’t care if they run up hills. They were very kind to give us the property if we build an animal shelter.”
The 3,666-square-foot animal shelter will house 13 fiberglass dog kennels, two isolation kennels and have after-hours access for police.
“The kennels are super resistant against moisture and easy to clean,” Orris said. “No dog can touch each other, one cage is by itself. It stops interconnection of diseases and makes it easy to clean one cage at a time.”
Two cat adoption areas will be stationed within the building, as well as 17 cat condos with room for 12 more.
The plans also include a separate laundry area, food preparation area, an exam room and a stainless steel wash tub.
The new animal shelter will be owned by the city of Jefferson, something Orris wanted to address immediately.
“The main reason I wanted the county (or city) to own it is the perception — everyone will want to use it, not just Jefferson” he said. “We are still worried about that perception, we hope that changes.”
The estimated size of the project, including an exercise area for smaller animals as well as the building and parking lot, comes out to 4,754 square feet.
“How big of a facility do we need to build? There isn’t anything on the internet that tells you that,” Orris said. “Forty-five to 50 percent of animals that come through our facility you have no idea where they came from.”
In Des Moines, a surrender fee of $250 per pet can send residents fleeing.
“They are going to load that animal in the car and go as far away so they can’t trace,” Orris said. “It’s why you can’t locate where they come from.”
To combat that problem, the new facility will only take animals from within Greene County.
A proposed chip system could create a useful database in which microchips are installed in all county pets as part of a licensing system. A new shelter, coupled with education, will go a long way in maintaining the proposed facility.
Orris is using Ames as a measuring stick and as a model of excellence.
“We need to get back to licensing and educating people,” Orris said. “Ames, a big city, has hardly any (animals) going through their shelter because they are educated, neutered and doing all the right things. That’s where we want to go. This animal control is education.”
The public, Orris said, should be pleased with the blueprints.
“We’ve tried to do our homework very well,” Orris said. “We’ve spent a lot of time to make sure we are doing the right thing. We didn’t go fast. We have not rushed our decisions and it’s changed a lot.
“We addressed it on a need basis, not a want. We are going to build something that is going to last.”
Orris hopes to reinvigorate the image of the local animal shelter while creating a safe atmosphere — one which is cleaner with state-of-the art air systems and sanitation.
Separate isolation rooms and exam rooms will be a key addition, as will a sectioned-off lobby, garage and storage closets.
Sanitation is a key priority with any animal shelter, something that’s been neglected locally for decades.
“Two main enemies of shelters are moisture and odor — we have to control that or we will have disease,” Orris said. “We will use a wet vac and moisture will be cut to a minimum. Air vents will be constantly sucking air out of the building, removing odor.”
Orris hopes to generate $750,000 privately for the project.
Fundraising is expected to begin in March once a stock plan is put in place and 28-E agreements are signed by the surrounding towns.
“We want all the animals in Greene County but don’t want any animals outside of it,” Orris said. “It’s just us.”
A 28-E agreement allows a flat fee to come out of a city’s budget each year. The price won’t fluctuate from year-to-year and they won’t be charged per visit, though it will be renegotiated every three years.
“We want an agreement, say with Scranton, from their annual budget to help pay for it,” Orris said. “They could pay a fee per animal. But they have to make their own decision.”
The fee per animal could range as much as $250 each.
Orris has put the call out for sponsorships and private donations to help fund the project as well.
The plans allow several areas for sponsor names, including above the cat condos, on the kennels and even naming rights to the dog park, which will sit southwest of the facility.
“We are asking for big numbers, we are going to need more than $500 per person,” Orris said. “I want them to be recognized.”
He added, “This is our opportunity to solve a great need that’s been here for a long time.”
Shine On Designs has offered to make and sell T-shirts, with $10 from each sale directly given to the animal shelter. Greene County High School students will handle the design.
“One of the things that was amazing to me, every city had a different way of raising money,” he said. ”Boone has a cremator that was donated and people come from all over to pay to use it. It cost $98,000, though.”
The Boone facility also has access to a freezer they rent out for deceased animals as owners wait for the ground to thaw.
Greene County has pledged to spend $15,000 per year for the new animal shelter. The city of Jefferson will supply $35,000, while Orris hopes to receive $6,000 from the surrounding communities.
Orris estimates the facility will need about $80,000 per year to operate.
Two more informational meetings at the community center remain: 7 p.m. Friday and 9:30 a.m. Saturday.