Humane Society Touts Plan

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Pete Aleshire/Roundup

The Humane Society trotted out some current residents of the animal shelter to announce plans to go ahead with a new shelter on the existing site. Also attending were board members Lisa Boyle, Ellie Watson, Myrna Tipps, Barbara Brenke, Dorothy Young and John Wakelin. Staff members include Chris Durbin, Crystal Hoffner, Travis Henderson and Kenny Wright.

The Payson Humane Society trotted out a pack of happy dogs and determined board members on Tuesday, to reaffirm its plans for a new animal shelter and its ongoing fundraising drive.

Potentially higher building costs and fear of a whole new round of town approvals prompted the Humane Society to reject an offer to swap two acres off Main Street for five acres of town-owned land overlooking the rodeo grounds.

“The board’s decision was based on issues of time and cost related to an alternate site near the Payson Event Center. The alternate site would require additional costs for landfill, grading, soil preparation, and a new site plan. It would also require rezoning and possibly a conditional use permit.”

The group has raised more than $60,000 in the past two weeks, making a dent in the $3.6-million cost of the new, 15,500-square-foot, sound-proofed facility.

All told, the Humane Society has raised about $620,000 of the money it needs, with groundbreaking expected in January. The group hopes to have a new facility ready for the animals in about a year, but that depends on the fundraising and whether the board decides to seek a construction loan.

The board members said they just couldn’t wait any longer, given the condition of the existing facility and the uncertainties of the move. They said they’ve already spent $100,000 to $200,000 to prepare the existing site. However, Mayor Kenny Evans had suggested that investment could be included in the value of the land if the Humane Society decide to swap it for town-owned land. He also argued that actual grading costs would be the same and that the group could potentially raise $500,000 by selling the existing site and leasing town land. However, board members on Tuesday seemed equally concerned about the need for a rezoning and perhaps a new conditional use permit.

The long process of approving the two-acre site underscored the group’s concern about finding themselves trapped in the parable of the dog with the bone, in which the mutt drops the soup bone he has in his mouth to grab for what looks like a bigger bone reflected in the water.

“The mayor and the town have been really supportive,” said board member John Wakelin, “but we’ve already been through planning and zoning on this site. So we were going to have to go back and do some things all over again with a new group of people,” he added.

He said four or five financial institutions have already approached the group about whether it would need a construction loan – rather than waiting to raise the full $3.6 million necessary to build the new facility.

The Humane Society would prefer to raise the money to keep operating costs as low as possible. The group already owns the two acres behind the existing shelter outright. At present, the land is empty except for a couple of sheds and a can crusher the group operates a couple of times a week to turn donated cans into cash.

In addition, the group has applied for several grants.

Currently, the Humane Society has contracts with Payson, Gila County, Star Valley and the Tonto Apache Tribe to shelter stray dogs, cats and other animals. The shelter makes a strenuous effort to find homes for all the animals it takes in, but must euthanize animals that prove unadoptable. Despite the government contracts, much of the shelter’s operating budget and all the money for the new facility comes from private donations.

Some of the dogs making do in the current crumbling shelter got a little romp across the new site on leashes, to take a star turn in the press conference photo. The current, cramped shelter had major problems, said board members, including the lack of temperature controlled kennels or a good way to isolate sick animals from the rest of the pet population.

The decision this week to plunge ahead with fundraising to build on the present site represents the latest turn in a long saga. The Humane Society searched for years to find a site, before acquiring the land behind the existing shelter. A veterinarian owns an adjacent property and plans to build an animal treatment facility that can handle horses and cattle as well as pets.

However, no sooner had the group received a conditional use permit to let it operate despite zoning restrictions on the land, than the developer of an adjacent luxury condo project appealed. The neighboring property owner said barking dogs and the can crusher would disturb the soon-to-be-nearby neighbors. The council rejected that appeal of the use permit, but authorized the mayor to negotiate on moving the shelter to the event center.

Evans had hoped moving the shelter would create fewer conflicts with neighbors and give the town two acres strategically placed between Main Street and a 153-unit condominium project expected to interject shoppers and strollers into the redevelopment area.

However, he proved unable to convince the Humane Society that moving to the new site would not cost more money and perhaps ensnare the project in a fresh set of approvals.

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