St. George officials discuss future of animal shelter

ST. GEORGE — As the city grows, so too does the need for increased animal welfare.

This file photo show the St. George Animal Shelter just off Red Hills Parkway. The facility was built in 1980 and underwent major renovations in 2014, St. George, Utah, March 2, 2018 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

This was the topic of discussion between city officials and shelter planners at Thursday’s St. George City Council meeting. The overall result could be a new facility in the southwest corner of the city.

The council and staff heard a presentation concerning the possible expansion or replacement of the current animal shelter, which is considered lacking in space and amenities needed to meet the rising demands brought on by the city’s recent growth.

“The existing site is really small,” Mike Barnard, president of Texas-based Shelter Planners of America, told the City Council over a Zoom call. The city has been consulting with Barnard’s company on what might be done to upgrade the animal shelter.

Shelter Planners of America took a look at the St. George area and the animal shelter in 2023 in order to determine what may best fit the needs of the growing city, Barnard said.

In 2023, the city’s population was estimated to be 107,000 people. During that year 790 dogs, 458 cats and 38 pet animals were taken into the shelter. Nationally, normal intake from an animal shelter is 2-3% on the human population. In St. George that number is 1.2% of the city population. The city’s size is also expected to grow by 54% to 165,000 over the next decade.

Other statistics Barnard mentioned were that 57%, or around 725 of the animals in the shelter last year were adopted or transferred out. The national average is between 70% and 80%. Of the animals that are returned to their owners, they made up 514, or 40%, which is higher than the 10% to 20% national average.

This shows the St. George area has pet owners who cared deeply for the welfare of their pets and made an effort to find them when they went missing, Barnard said.

“I think is speaks volumes to your community as far as animal welfare goes,” he said.

St. George Operations Manager Marc Mortensen discusses the potential future location of a new animal shelter facility just west of Bloomington area with the City Council, St. George, Utah, June 13, 2024 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The city has the option to either expand the current facility on the small parcel of land where it resides, or build a whole new complex located elsewhere in the city. The current shelter was built in 1980 and has limited expansion potential due to bordering the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.

A new or expanded shelter would require better indoor facilities and outdoor access for dogs staying at the current shelter, as well increasing the capacity of dogs and cats housed there.

The current shelter houses 42 dogs and 29 cats for an average stay of 19.4 and 23 days respectively. This would increase to up to 64 dogs and 70 cats for around the same time period with a new of expanded facility.

Staying at he current site will require the construction of a multilevel structure, Barnard said. While this would help with space restrictions to an extent, future expansion potential would remain limited, and moving animals, their food and other items between floors also isn’t ideal, he added.

Another option placed a new animal shelter on city-owned property west of the Bloomington area in the vicinity of a solar farm and RV park.

A new shelter is estimated to need around three acres of land and projected to be up to 15,000 square feet in size at a price of $400-$450 per square foot, or between $6 million and $6.75 million.

The city has up to $3 million marked in next year’s budget for the potential project, City Manager John Willis said.

This file photo shows a one of the dogs previously housed at the St. George Animal Shelter, St. George, Utah, Feb. 5, 2024 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Though Barnard recommended that a new shelter be placed in an area that is it readily visible and accessible to the public, Marc Mortensen, the city’s operations manager, said trying to place it near a commercial center within the city wouldn’t be easy.

For one, the city didn’t own any property that may be used for that purpose, plus it could be a very pricey venture at such a location. However, the farther out of the city the shelter is, the more expensive getting utilities to the property, he said.

Despite the limitations of the current facility, Barnard praised the city’s animal shelter staff for their work.

“They’ve done a fantastic job with what they had to work with,” he said.

As Barnard and members of the City Council discussed a new animal shelter, talk shifted to an animal shelter project proposed by Washington County in 2016 that would have been connected to the Purgatory Correctional Facility.

Despite funds being collected for the project, it ultimately failed to move forward. Some members of the City Council began to revisit the idea.

“I think it would take a lot of pressure off the cities if the county took this on,” Councilwoman Natalie Larsen said, adding that perhaps the city and county could partner on the project.

The file photo shows an architectural drawing of the county animal shelter proposed to be built at Purgatory Correctional Facility in 2016 | Image courtesy of CRSA, St. George News

One of the concepts behind a Washington County animal shelter at Purgatory was having inmates care for the animals. This was considered a way to help rehabilitate the inmates and potentially keep them from returning to jail.

St. George Police Chief Kyle Whitehead said an issue with that idea — and not just the county but other jurisdictions with a similar ideas — is liability. The county or other entities be on the hook legally if an inmate is bitten or attacked by a dog they were meant to care for, he noted.

Whitehead said he would speak to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office about the old county animal shelter idea, yet also encouraged the council members to levy their influence on the issue as well.

Discussion on the animal shelter soon concluded as the City Council needed to adjourn for a regular meeting at 5 p.m. While no votes were taken at the time, Mayor Michele Randall told the city will likely approach county officials about the 2016 animal shelter project.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2024, all rights reserved.

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