Shelter’s future uncertain, concerns for animals grow

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Reporter - Elizabeth Fields
Photojournalist - Mason Watkins

MCCRACKEN COUNTY, Ky. - The future of the McCracken County Animal Shelter will soon be in the hands of an appointed task force. Paducah Mayor Gayle Kaler and County Judge Executive Van Newberry are working together to choose five to seven community members and business people to discuss the options for the shelter.

Concerns about the facility on County Park Road have been getting louder. Newberry called for a workshop earlier this week. He said they were "at a crossroads". He said the facility was only meant to be a temporary solution and although there wasn't a clear exit strategy at the time, he said it's time to decide what to do next.

In a power point presentation Newberry showed the average cost for Animal Control and the current shelter costs $320,000 a year, but also estimates about $73,000 worth of labor cost savings with the help of volunteers and Class "D" inmates from the McCracken County Jail. In 2013, 768 animals were brought into the shelter. Newberry said euthanasia rates are less than 10% and only administered for sickness, injury, or viciousness, although he did admit that when a representative from the Humane Society of the United States was visiting in November, she said because of over-crowding, the shelter might need to consider euthanizing more.    

Newberry said he'd rather look at other options. He didn't want to discuss current conditions during the workshop, but some residents and shelter volunteers are worried the fiscal court won't take action fast enough to help the animals currently in the shelter.

Elaina Snelling has been volunteering at the shelter since it opened five days a week. She said recently things have taken a turn.

"It's going downhill quick because we're over-populated," she said. "They're doing a great job with what they have, don't get me wrong. They're doing a wonderful job with what they have."

But what they have, according to the Interim Director Joe Parmley, is a building that was never designed to house animals.

"If this was an actual shelter, you would not have this," he said referencing the poor drainage and crates filling the floor of the main building.

Parmley said because it was a road department building, it's difficult to clean by Humane Society standards. All of the animals must be taken out of their cages while the cages are disinfected. It takes longer than usual because there is only one drain in the building and it has been so cold this winter they haven't been able to keep the dogs outside for long period of times.

"So what they'll do is pull them out one at a time, clean it, put the dog back in there," he said. "When it's warmer outside we do go out there and tie them up long enough for them to clean and then put them back in and then take them to get some exercise."

Because of the extreme cold another temporary building was rented and houses another dozen or so dogs who are housed in crates. Two heaters keep the building warm, but Parmley understands why some people aren't happy with that arrangement.

"With this amount of dogs, with the amount of people working here, from 7 to 5 we could clean all day long," he said. 

Other issues Parmley knows of is the condition of the cat house, ventilation overall, and the animal records in the office.

"There's sometimes I come in here from my days off, I don't know what's what the next day because it changes in minutes," he said. The shelter is experimenting with some new software which should be up and running soon. Parmley said it will help immensely with keeping animals, medical records, volunteers, and payrolls organized.

Parmley and volunteers hope the new software is just the start of the changes coming to the shelter.

"A new building, a new look, a new appearance," said Parmley. "Something, you know, when we come into work we're not dealing with backed up plumbing or losing all the heat because it's not insulated."

Newberry said Monday that a new 13,000 square foot building that could house 120 dogs including a clinic and lobby would cost around $1.1 million. He wants the task force he and Kaler are setting up to explore that option as well as partnering with another shelter, and other options and have some sort of a plan by April 15. Kaler hopes to move quickly, too, but is afraid mid-April is too quickly.

Everyone involved with the shelter agrees the best way for the community to help right now is to volunteer or adopt an animal. For more information you can call the shelter at (270) 448-1570.

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