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Fiscal Court weighs animal shelter future

BY KATHLEEN FOX kfox@paducahsun.com

Residents of McCracken County gathered Monday night to voice opinions on the future of a safe, clean respite for stray animals.

The Fiscal Court, with Paducah Mayor Gayle Kaler and City Commissioners Carol Gault and Sandra Wilson in attendance, met to discuss a plan to help the shelter thrive. Judge-Executive Van Newberry said the shelter is at a crossroads and quick decisions need to be made.

He spelled out the overall goals of the possible reorganization and movement of the shelter as maintaining or increasing high adoption and low euthanasia rates as well as maintaining a place that is "pleasant for animals, the public and the staff."

He outlined three options: keeping the current building, partnering with a new or existing shelter, or constructing a new facility. The current 4,500-square foot complex, equipped to hold about 70 canines, has held 80 to 100 over the past year.

"The current building was never intended to be a permanent shelter, it was meant to be a Band-Aid," he said. "This is too important to keep limping along like we have been."

The estimate for a new 13,000-square foot facility, which would include space for 120 dogs and 50 cats as well as a lobby and surgical, clinic and play areas, is $1.1 million. Newberry emphasized the county shelter is low-kill, with a less than 10 percent euthanasia rate, which is used only in incidents of sickness, injury or viciousness.

"We haven't started euthanizing so-called un-adoptable dogs yet, and that is what we are trying to avoid," he said.

In 2004, the city and county agreed to share the cost of animal shelter and control operations, with the guideline of shared funds for capital projects and appropriated money according to the number of calls in each area.

That agreement included payment to the local humane society for care of the animals until that was terminated in 2011, according to Newberry.

In the last two years, the cost has been $320,0000 annually for animal-related operations, which is composed of 66 percent for shelter needs and 34 percent for animal control.

The total cost doesn't include about $73,000 in savings from volunteer and class D inmate labor. The shelter took in 768 animals in 2013 for an average cost of $416 per animal, he said.

Kaler and Newberry plan to appoint a task force of five to seven city and county officials, animal shelter employees or volunteers, business people and community members, on Friday. Community members could volunteer for the committee following the workshop.

"We want to find a good plan that puts the animals first, but we also have to be fiscally responsible," Kaler said.

The appointed group will be given a list of narrowed responsibilities and goals and a relatively short deadline to make a decision. Newberry said he hopes to have a solid solution in place before next winter begins. Kaler also discussed emphasizing a more rigorous spray and neuter program and additional adoption programs. County and city officials also plan to visit four state-of-the-art shelters across Kentucky.

"We don't have to reinvent the wheel, it's has been done successfully in so many different communities," she said.

Community members voiced a variety of concerns, including the projected cost of a new building, additional maintenance and utility bills, and the need to re-evaluate the the shelter director's job description.

The shelter currently has two full-time employees and four part-time employees along with two full-time animal control workers. County commissioners approved Joe Parmley as the interim director of the animal shelter effective Feb. 1 and approved other temporary employment assignments during the Feb. 10 meeting.

The appointments can be altered following the court's reorganization of the shelter.

Additional ideas from attendees included an increased focus on breed-specific rescue groups, the need for more members with a personal knowledge of animal adoption and fostering on advisory panels, and the formation of volunteer groups to conduct animal awareness programs in schools.

The county animal shelter on County Park Road is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and animal control is active seven days a week. Dogs and cats can be adopted for a fee of $50, which includes spraying or neutering animals.

Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.

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