Director: existing facility in poor condition

While Rolla city and animal shelter officials along with other interested stakeholders feel there should be a new animal shelter built in Rolla, one question remains — who will oversee operations or have ownership in such a facility?

That is the question city officials posed to Phelps County and other municipal entities during a meeting Jan. 22.

Among those in attendance were Rolla City Administrator John Butz, Rolla Animal Control Manager John Redshaw, Phelps County District Two Commissioner Gary Hicks, Rolla Police Lt. Jim Macormic and Chief Mark Kearse and St. James City Administrator Jeff Davis.

Butz also invited animal welfare league members and local representatives from the Humane Society and Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC). Representatives from other municipalities in the county were invited but did not attend.

The city has acquired land near the recycling center for a new animal shelter along with public works buildings, according to Butz.

The property on Sharp Road, where the animal shelter is located now, has been for sale for about five years.

Butz said if a buyer were to make an offer soon, there would be no place to move the animals at the shelter.

“We want to try to get ahead of that,” Butz said.

The existing Rolla Animal Shelter was built in the early 1970s, Redshaw said, but is currently in poor condition and is not up to standards set by the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s animal control division, which regulates shelters as well as breeders, pet shops and similar entities.

“We have poor drainage systems and poor air movement,” Redshaw said of the current shelter, adding that bricks on the building are cracking. Finding storage space also is a problem, he said.

There are 18 interior cat cages and 24 total dog cages and out of that amount, only four are located inside.

“The animals are subject to heat and humidity and we have fans, but the fans don’t do it justice,” Redshaw said.

Space for housing animals is also an issue. “Most of the time, we are in a state of being full,” especially during the busy times like the spring, Redshaw said.

“And we can never double up on cages,” he said, meaning that two dogs or cats can never be housed in the same cage unless they are siblings or related puppies or kittens. Three cages each for dogs and cats must also be left available for emergency purposes.

As of Monday, there were seven dogs and four cats at the shelter, but Redshaw said the shelter has a “relatively low” number of animals in the winter.

In 2010, the Rolla shelter handled 1,409 animals. That number dropped to 1,230 in 2011 and went down to 974 last year. Redshaw said the numbers have declined due to an increase in the shelter’s adoption rate and the shelter’s decision to euthanize animals less often.

Additionally, monthly food pantries at the shelter that provide dog and cat food to pet owners help allow people to keep their pets instead of handing them over to the shelter when owners can’t afford to feed their pets.

Despite the decline in numbers, Redshaw said the shelter still needs more room.

Eck’s donation

Butz said the purpose of the Jan. 22 meeting was to assess the interest of the county and other municipalities as well as other entities or stakeholders in helping make a new animal shelter a reality.

“We wanted to see where other public entities in the county are with their animal control needs and start an initial dialogue,” Butz said. “Unfortunately, none of the other entities, like the county or St. James, have current active animal enforcement.”

Butz said that neither the county nor St. James indicated they would be more proactive in animal regulations.

“It may require something from the community,” Butz said.

The late Robert Eck, a longtime businessman and local university professor, left $441,000 to the city to use for an animal care shelter.

“There were no strings attached,” Butz said of Eck’s distribution document to the city. “It didn’t specify whether it could be put into a trust or toward the existing facility or a new facility. It’s wonderful seed money to do a project.”

At the Nov. 5 Rolla City Council meeting, it was mentioned that the city could turn the money over to the MRPC’s Meramec Regional Community Foundation that would invest the money and help the city in fundraising to add to it.

The fee for administering the foundation is 1.25 percent on the annual balance of the fund. That fee would be divided between the Meramec Regional Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, which works with MRPC.

How much?

The end result of the animal shelter, including cost and size, depends on many factors, Butz said. If a new animal shelter is built, will it serve only the Rolla city population or the entire county population?

Currently, Rolla animal control only responds to reports within the city limits. Residents in Phelps County outside of Rolla can bring their animals into the shelter for a fee.

“We also are looking at what might control or operations look like and will Phelps County or Rolla or a nonprofit run it?” Butz said.

Butz said city officials have toured other animal shelters across the state which range from a facility that cost less than $1 million in Texas County to an estimated $2 million state-of-the-art facility in Jefferson City and an even larger facility in Lee’s Summit.

Butz said in his mind, a facility in Rolla would be about half the size of Jefferson City’s shelter and could cost anywhere from $800,000 to $1.2 million, but that depends on “what people here will support ... It has never been Rolla’s appetite to build an extravagant facility. We need to be practical.”

Butz said the stakeholders plan to meet again in the next month or two, adding that he wants to invite a representative from the state Department of Agriculture to explain the guidelines and regulations that a new animal shelter in Rolla would need to comply with.

Redshaw said among the things he would like to see included in a new animal shelter would be updated HVAC equipment and all interior kennels and cages as well as a public area and a separate entrance for animal control plus a covered play area and better parking.

“Right now, everything comes right through the central building here,” Redshaw said. “There are so many negative factors here.”

Redshaw said a bigger staff would be required for a newer facility. Currently, the Rolla Animal Shelter has two full-time and one-part employee.