The van, valued at $35,000 but purchased by the county for $23,000, will stay parked at the county animal shelter. However, its primary purpose is to be available to animal adoption groups like ARF for long-distance trips. In North Carolina, stray animals in need of homes are all too plentiful, but in states with stricter spay/neuter laws like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the animals are in demand. When local shelters get too full, ARF volunteers roll a rented van full of canines up north — with the van purchase, rental costs will no longer be an issue.
The homeless animals of Jackson have been reaping the reward from the trips.
“We’ve gone through another month without having to euthanize a dog,” ARF volunteer Allison Padgett told commissioners last week. “That is 19 months in a row. That is mostly due to ARF.”
With a new van equipped with cruise control and air conditioning, those long road trips will become a little bit easier for the organization’s tireless volunteers. But commissioners know that a more secure, long-term solution is needed when it comes to animal control in Jackson.
The county’s animal shelter facility has had a barrage of insults hurled against it in recent years as animal advocates have made a strong case for replacing it. It’s 35 years old with a failing septic system, a well and heating system without backup power, spotty internet service and limited space. The layout is far from ideal, office space is small and cramped, and the building is difficult to secure — it’s been subject to multiple break-ins over the years.
The current board of commissioners has voiced strong support for building a new shelter in the near future, having a needs assessment completed by Connecticut-based Design Learned Inc. However, the report came back with an estimated price tag of nearly $6 million to build an animal shelter with all the desired amenities.
That number took commissioners aback, as they’d been estimating in the $2.5 million range for planning purposes. To some, even that figure seemed too high, meaning the nearly $6 million estimate would just be too expensive.
Now, the board is once more feeling optimistic that they’ll be able to get the project done for a more reasonable price. They’re planning to work with Ron Smith, a Jackson County native who’s an architect with South Carolina-based McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture. Smith has designed several animal shelters before, mostly in the $2-$4 million range, so he’ll be showing commissioners some examples and options to consider. Commission Chairman Brian McMahan said the Design Learned study provided a good picture of what an all-inclusive shelter would look like, but the next step will be deciding how to pare down the costs while still meeting the county’s needs.
The shelter will have to sit on the backburner for a bit, however, because Smith is currently busy helping commissioners plan another construction project: the health department.
“What happens to that will have an indirect effect on what happens to the animal shelter as far as timing goes,” McMahan said.
The health department project could also prove to be less expensive than initially anticipated. At first, commissioners were considering building a completely new structure on a new piece of property, a project guesstimated to cost in the $10 million range. However, an initial assessment Smith completed indicated that, space-wise, the existing building could work just fine. It had been planned to eventually house about 100 employees, but currently somewhere around 60 people work there — the lower number of workers is due largely to cuts from the state, Commissioner Mark Jones said.
Those numbers indicate that the best course of action may be simply to remodel the existing building to make the space more functional, possibly building an addition to house clinical space.
“Right now if I had to bet — and I’m not a betting man — I’m saying most of the information would essentially be pointing toward trying to remodel,” McMahan said. “But we’ll have to wait and see what comes up.”
Helping homeless animals in Jackson County is an all-hands-on-deck volunteer effort, and more hands are needed to do the work.
“We have a tremendous need right now for fostering animals. We have a tremendous need for help in general with these organizations,” said County Commission Chairman Brian McMahan during a meeting last month.
McMahan plans to put hands to the plow by driving a van of animals up to Pennsylvania for adoption later this month — help is always needed to keep animals from being euthanized due to lack of shelter space. Needs include:
- Fostering animals so they can wait for their forever homes without taking up space
- Driving vans of animals to states where stricter spay-and-neuter laws mean that adoptable mutts are in high demand.
- Donating food to help out pet owners who may be having financial difficulty feeding their pets.
- Giving money to support animal rescue efforts.
Animal rescue organizations in Jackson County include ARF (www.a-r-f.org), Catman2 Cat Shelter (www.catman2.org), the Jackson County Animal Shelter (animal.jacksonnc.org) and the Cashiers-Highlands Humane Society (www.chhumanesociety.org).