Humane Society To Build Smaller Shelter

Slow fund-raising prompts cutback from 17,000 square feet to perhaps 5,000

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Tacking into a financial headwind, the Humane Society of Central Arizona will trim its sails and start work on a scaled-down $500,000 Payson animal shelter, shelving plans for a $3 million dream facility.

The Humane Society hopes to build indoor, soundproofed kennels and a low-cost spay-neuter clinic in the course of the next year on land it already owns next to the existing shelter just off Main Street, said treasurer Joanne Conlin.

“We’re hoping we can raise another $100,000 so that we can build something for between $500,000 and $600,000,” said Conlin. “We recognize those poor little animals need a home soon — very soon.”

She said the shelter has had a busy summer, with full kennels almost every day. “It’s been a struggle to house animals — we’ve had a lot of puppies — so everyone should come down and adopt.”

The shelter handles about 1,400 animals a year, mostly dogs brought in by Payson’s animal control officer and Payson residents. Currently, the animals are housed in both indoor and outdoor kennels, without an effective way to isolate sick animals and protect all the animals from the elements.

Two years ago, the Humane Society launched an ambitious fund-raising drive to build a $3 million shelter, but the recession and other woes curtailed fund-raising. In the past 12 months, the Humane Society has raised about $174,000.

The fund-raising drive has brought in about $1.1 million. So far, the Humane Society has spent about $600,000 to buy the land, prepare the site for construction and pay fund-raising overhead.

That leaves just $500,000 in the bank.

“At that rate, it would take another 10 years to have the money” for the original plan of a 17,000-square-foot building, said Conlin.

“We can’t do that to these poor animals — we have to get them into a healthy and safe environment.”

A facilities update prepared by Diane Reid said “when the plans were created, intentions and expectations were high that the funds for the $3 million shelter would be forthcoming from individuals and foundations. However, the unprecedented economic circumstances of the past two years have made the task of raising the additional necessary funds for the “dream” shelter, a very slow and difficult process.”

She said the board has decided to build as much as possible for $500,000, but design the facility in such a way that the Humane Society can add to it in the future.

Shelter planners will now work with an architect to develop plans for a 5,000-square-foot building to provide shelter to the roughly 130 animals a month that pass through the facility.

The shelter makes strenuous efforts to find a home for any animal deemed adoptable, keeping some for months. Extremely sick or aggressive animals are euthanized if the shelter cannot find the owners.

The shelter has been bulging at the seams this summer, with every slot full.

Conlin said the community had provided wonderful support, but the Humane Society board decided they simply couldn’t raise enough money in the face of the economic downturn.

“Our community has been very, very supportive. We have been blessed. The dedication to this shelter and to the animals in this community just brings tears to my eyes,” she said.

Unfortunately, fund-raising has languished in the past year, although a recent wine tasting event brought in $100,000.

Fortunately, the Humane Society has worked out questions about its $7,500 monthly contract with Payson.

A year ago, Payson Police Chief Don Engler had proposed cutting the contract by two-thirds, on the theory that the town was only legally responsible for 72 hours of care for the animals brought to the shelter by the town’s animal control officer.

The Humane Society countered with an internal study that suggested the town’s $90,000 didn’t pay the full cost for handling animals picked up in Payson for the first 72 hours.

A review of state and county law convinced town officials that they are legally responsible for any strays picked up in the town limits and brought to the shelter. Moreover, the Humane Society hasn’t pressed for an increase as a result of its internal study.

The Payson Town Council recently approved an open-ended extension of the shelter’s contract at the same rate as last year.

About a year ago, the Humane Society board rejected an offer from Payson Mayor Kenny Evans to sell its land off Main Street for about $500,000 and move the shelter to town-owned land overlooking the site of the Payson Event Center. Evans argued that the shelter would then have $1 million to fund the building, on a site with fewer potential conflicts with neighbors.

Conlin said she’s convinced that even with the smaller facility, the shelter still has the best location.

“We’re happy with this site: it’s a good location. It’s nice, flat land. People know where it is. Really, you couldn’t ask for anything better — right off Beeline and Main Street. You get a lot of traffic in this area – so it’s a good site.”

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