ST. GEORGE – A new county animal shelter located at Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane could help both animals and inmates and relieve pressure on municipal and other nonprofit shelters from a burgeoning stray animal population.
An open house scheduled for March 29 will be hosted by the Washington County Commission and give the public a chance to offer feedback and advice on the design, operation and funding of the new facility.
Part of the reason for the open house is just to inform the public of the proposed plan, Washington County Commissioner Zachary Renstrom said.
“But the second part is actually reaching out to some of these organizations and saying, ‘Help. Help us build it and help us set up a structure to manage it.'”
Without the help of the public and animal advocates, a large new shelter may not be built, Renstrom said. Other less expensive options include a smaller facility or contracting with municipal shelters for animal care.
“Technically, we don’t have the funds to build this size of a building,” Renstrom said, “(but) if we want to plan for the future and do a couple of unique things with this facility, we need to build a bigger building and the only way we’re going to make that happen is if we get donations or contributions.”
A county shelter is long overdue, Connie Butterfield, president of Ivins No Kill Animal Supporters, said.
“It just needs to happen, the shelters are exploding, there’s so many animals. You’ve got so many people moving in here and there’s not room for all these animals.”
All the shelters are trying to save as many animals as they can and rescue groups are stepping in to help, Butterfield said, but more needs to be done.
The lack of a county shelter shifts the burden onto the St. George Animal Shelter, animal advocate Randy Fields said.
“So in a sense, now that the City of St. George has fixed its problems and done an amazing job, people bring animals from the county to St. George,” Fields said. “So to me, there’s a fairness issue.”
The City of St. George’s animal shelter was renovated and the management reorganized in the wake of allegations of neglect and abuse in 2013.
Fields believes the shelter should be built before a new county administration building is constructed. He called the planned administration building a “Taj Mahal” and said it will cost $15 million to $16 million dollars.
“But they don’t have money for a shelter,” he said.
Plans are for the new shelter to be built at Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility using inmates to both build the shelter and care for and work with the animals, Renstrom said. This would substantially reduce costs and would benefit inmates.
“If St. George, Ivins or somewhere else in the county actually has an animal that needs some rehab or just some time to train the dog,” Renstrom said, “then they will bring that animal out to our shelter and the inmates will actually work with the animal.
“Once that animal then is trained – at that point he’s more easily adoptable – we’d send that animal back out to one of the city shelters.”
Long-term health needs such as injuries could also be addressed at the county shelter, Renstrom said.
“We think it’s kind of a win-win situation, it would help the prisoners,” he said, “and it would also help the animals.”
Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher also called the proposed shelter a “win-win.” The construction phase can give inmates work experience which can help them get jobs when released.
Numerous studies have shown that caring for an animal benefits inmates, Pulsipher said, and correctional facilities in Utah and around the country have such programs.
Fields said studies show that inmates benefit from being responsible for the care and feeding of animals, which can reduce recidivism. Even a small reduction in recidivism would pay for the cost of the shelter.
The county has never had an animal shelter, Pulsipher said, and the Sheriff’s Office has had to rely on city shelters to house animals from the unincorporated areas of the county.
“That’s the county’s responsibility and they need to step up and do it,” Pulsipher said. “The county actually has animal control ordinances, ordinances on the books for vicious animals, but they never really stepped up and fulfilled their responsibilities.”
Dealing with horses and livestock has also been a challenge, Pulsipher said, because of the lack of a large-animal facility. The next phase of the shelter project will be a fenced-in area behind the new shelter for larger animals.
Pulsipher has already heard from volunteers that are willing to work with inmates and teach them how to do basic obedience training.
“Look at how much more of a positive experience it’s going to be not only for the inmates training them but for the people that adopt the animals that have some basic obedience training,” Pulsipher said.
Many different people in the community along with local animal groups would love to be involved and partner with the county to make it happen, the sheriff said.
“I think it’s kind of a win-win for everybody. It’s a big vision that I’ve had and I’ve been working on it a long, long time, but I think Commissioner Renstrom, he sees the value in it.”
As currently planned, the estimated cost to build the shelter is $1,932,568, but Renstrom hopes that inmate labor, donations from animal advocacy groups and support from area cities will bring down the cost of building and running the shelter. So far, however, none of the municipalities have given the county a firm commitment.
“… I think with having the inmates run it, we’re keeping down our labor almost to basically nothing,” he said.
Renstrom also hopes animal advocacy groups and others in the community will help with the construction and operating expenses.
“We’ve already actually had several builders come to us and say ‘Hey, I’ll do my work for cost.'”
- What: Open house to discuss a proposed Washington County animal shelter
- When: March 29 at 6 p.m.
- Where: County commission chambers, Washington County Administration Building, 197 E. Tabernacle Street, St. George, Utah
- Ivins No-Kill Animal Supporters website
- Ivins City Animal Shelter and Adoption Center Facebook page
- Friends of Ivins Animal Shelter Facebook page
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