ST. GEORGE – Plans for a county animal shelter are moving forward, but help is needed in the form of volunteers, donations and support from municipalities in Washington County.
The shelter is planned to be located on property adjacent to the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility and the project has the potential to help both animals and inmates.
The Friends of Washington County’s Animals Foundation , which is handling fundraising for the shelter, is hoping to raise $250,000. An anonymous donor has pledged to match the funds dollar for dollar, foundation chairman Randy Fields said.
“So we’re really, really excited about that to start our fundraising out,” Washington County Commissioner Zachary Renstrom said. Renstrom is spearheading the project.
County inmates will help build the shelter and care for and work with the animals, which will reduce costs and benefit the inmates. Numerous studies have shown that caring for an animal benefits inmates, Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher said in an earlier interview, and correctional facilities in Utah and around the country have similar programs.
Thr project is progressing on three fronts, Renstrom said. The design phase is moving forward, fundraising efforts are getting underway and officials are studying the best way to run the animal shelter once it is built.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Renstrom said, “that things are going really well right now. It’s still early but it’s the most amount of movement we’ve had on it, ever. And I think the momentum is there now to get it accomplished.”
Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, county officials are contacting counties in Arizona, New Mexico and Idaho that have implemented inmate-run animal shelters and asking for their advice.
“And also we’re just asking them, ‘Hey, what would you do different if you could start all over again?'” Renstrom said.
The county is forming a committee to develop the policies and procedures that will eventually be adopted to run the shelter, and county staff members are planning to attend a Humane Society conference in Las Vegas for a workshop about prisoner-run animal shelters.
The estimated cost to build the shelter is close to $2 million but Renstrom hopes that inmate labor, donations from animal advocacy groups and support from area cities will bring down the cost of building and operating the shelter. So far, however, none of the municipalities have given the county a firm commitment.
The county has committed $200,000 towards the new shelter plus ongoing operating expenses. The county will also be contributing in-kind donations such as machinery and manpower. For example, county road crews could help prepare the site at a lower cost than hiring a private contractor, Renstrom said.
About $1 million is be needed to start construction, Renstrom said, but the exact figure won’t be known until the design plans are finalized. The county is looking for a contractor to complete the design and construction plans at an estimated cost of $90,000.
Fields is excited about the progress towards making a county animal shelter a reality, which has long been a dream of his.
“The county is, in earnest, trying to get it budgeted, costed and moved along,” Fields said. “So at the moment, I’m about as happy a human can be about it.”
The foundation already supports local animal advocacy by funding toys, blankets and beds each month to the St. George Animal Shelter, and providing funds for training difficult dogs, Fields said.
“(The foundation) is for animal welfare concerns within Washington County, and certainly the shelter is one of them,” Fields said.
How to help
Anyone interested in volunteering, donating or otherwise supporting the shelter can contact the Friends of Washington County’s Animals Foundation by email, or send donations to:
FWCAF (Friends of Washington County’s Animals Foundation)
P.O. Box 910774
St. George, Utah 84791-0774
The foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization and donations are tax-deductible, Fields said.
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