County jail’s animal shelter goes to the dogs, for now

Stock image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Two years ago there was talk of Washington County building its own animal shelter at the Purgatory Correctional Facility to benefit both at-risk animals and inmates.

Stock photo, St. George News

Somewhere along the way, however, the push to have an animal shelter at the county jail hit a wall.

Prior to the project stalling, it was the subject of public meetings and architectural designs were in the works.

Yet the facility hasn’t moved forward due to budgetary concerns and a roughly $2.5 million price tag to build it, Washington County Commissioner Gil Almquist said Tuesday.

That is higher than the original estimate of $2 million in 2017, but Commissioner Victor Iverson told St. George News the cost could have reached $3 million.

Bringing an animal shelter to Purgatory was one of Almquist’s campaign goals when running for County Commission last year. But limitations of the county budget and its many obligations didn’t prove friendly to those plans.

“I still have that as a dream,” he said, adding the county is nonetheless being served through the animal shelter in LaVerkin, which has been contracted to provide shelter for stray dogs picked up in the unincorporated parts of the county.

“Our plans are to take care of the animals no matter what,” he said.

Plans to expand the LaVerkin animal shelter are in motion, Almquist added. The county has budgeted money to the LaVerkin Police Department for that very purpose and necessary materials have already been purchased.

Gil Almquist speaks at a luncheon hosted by the Washington County Republican Women in St. George, Utah, May 3, 2018 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

An expansion would create more volunteer opportunities, he said, and inmates from the Purgatory Correctional Facility would begin to become involved via work-release programs. Almquist said he has been in communication with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office about that option.

In the short-term, inmates would provide labor via work crews to aid the expansion. However, Almquist ultimately hopes to see them care for the animals and help rehabilitate them, which aligns with the proposed county animal shelter’s original goals.

While such a facility at Purgatory would be used to rehabilitate at-risk animals and make them more adoptable, officials envision as a valuable rehabilitation tool for the incarcerated humans caring for the animals.

Inmates who interact with the animals would learn some marketable skills through vocational training, as well as potentially grow in compassion, empathy, patience, trust and other beneficial traits through that interaction.

“So we’re reaching the goal inch by inch at a time,” Almquist said, “and I’d rather it were a mile at a time.”

While the LaVerkin animal shelter serves the county well, it is located on the county’s east side. Almquist said he hopes to work with Ivins and its animal shelter, which would serve the county’s west side needs.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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