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BAD SPLIT County shouldn't go own way on shelter

Actions taken by the McCracken County Fiscal Court last week suggest they're not taking a recommendation to pool resources with the McCracken County Humane Society on a new animal shelter very seriously. If that is the case, it is unfortunate.

Most people in our community are by now familiar with this saga. McCracken County parted ways with the Humane Society in 2011 after a scandal involving illegal euthanization practices at the Humane Society shelter. The privately funded Humane Society had for generations operated under a contract with the city and county to handle animals brought in for animal control purposes.

After the scandal the county opted to launch its own animal shelter using makeshift buildings and facilities. That effort to date has, frankly, been a disaster. The facility received a damning review from an inspector from the Humane Society of the United States last November. The report cited an array of problems ranging from sanitation and quarantine issues to failure to provide timely veterinary care to some animals. The inspector concluded the county shelter was operating in violation of state laws and regulations.

Earlier this summer the county facility suffered its own scandal when five dogs being kept in a makeshift segregation building died of heatstroke. While a specific explanation has yet to be found, circumstances suggest a case of simple negligence.

In the wake of the Humane Society of the United States review, Judge-Executive Van Newberry appointed a countywide committee to recommend a long-term solution to the shelter situation. After research and deliberation, the committee recommended that the county seek an agreement with the McCracken County Humane Society to jointly build and operate a new shelter, bringing the Humane Society's considerable experience and $2 million-plus endowment to bear on the effort.

Discussions about such a joint venture are supposed to be occurring in earnest at this juncture. However you wouldn't have known it from watching last Monday's meeting of the fiscal court. Commissioners approved action that merged the county's animal control operations and its shelter into a new department: Animal Control and Sheltering; and gave shelter director Ryan Brown a $5,000 raise. Perhaps more telling, the commissioners voted to extend a veterinary services agreement for the county shelter until June of 2015.

As to the task force recommendation, Newberry told the meeting that no agreement has been reached with the Humane Society and that county leaders "may" meet with Humane Society officials this week.

Perhaps we're reading too much into this, but it looks to us like the county's motivation for a cooperative venture is low, and that it may be determined to continue going its own way with the county shelter despite spiraling costs and serious problems with legal compliance.

If that's the plan, we don't think it is responsible. We understand that there is some continuing suspicion of the Humane Society by the county over events of the recent past. But as we have pointed out in the past, the Humane Society has new leadership and has made many positive changes since that time.

We think problems are best solved when people find ways to work together on them, and this is no exception. We also think a public-private partnership is the most responsible approach from the perspective of minimizing cost to the taxpayer. Going it alone and throwing millions into a new animal shelter operation could become the county's version of the riverfront "bump-out." It will have its defenders, but many taxpayers are likely to view it as throwing away money unnecessarily.

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