By DAWN HINSHAW - firstname.lastname@example.org
An expansion at the city animal shelter, being dedicated today, should make it easier for frantic pet owners to reunite with lost dogs and cats. Instead of going to different facilities, all lost or stray animals picked up in Richland County now will be taken to the city shelter, off Shop Road and I-77.
Animal lovers hope the expansion will provide a stage for finding good homes for more unwanted animals, too. The long-sought collaboration between the city and county will bring an improvement in service, leaders say.
“This is a convenience for the consumer,” said Jim Sonifeld, president of the Animal Mission, the shelter’s fundraising arm.
County administrator Milton Pope said the arrangement is more efficient, but he doesn’t know yet whether it will save money.
The county spent $1.2 million on shelter construction, providing one-third more space for dogs, cats and farm animals that end up at the shelter.
An airy, barn-like building with high rafters is filled with dog runs. It was designed with air flow and natural lighting in mind, shelter director Marli Drum said.
A separate concrete-block room is stacked with 50 cages for cats. And a six-stall barn nearby accommodates barnyard animals — a pony, donkey, chickens and goats — who have taken up permanent residence.
The 8,000 square feet of additional space will be used for holding animals before they are made available to the public for adoption or euthanized.
Now, only about 3 percent of the animals coming through the city shelter are reunited with their owners, Drum said.
In Richland County, 5 percent of animals end up back home, a spokeswoman said.
In recent years, the county contracted with a boarding business to take care of animals picked up by animal control officers.
“That was never a good situation because the county wasn’t in control of it; they were just contracting for it,” said Mary Denis Cauthen, a member of a county advisory committee on animal issues.
“This provides a long-term solution.”
The merger was debated for years but kept getting hung up on disagreements about which staff should have which role.
In the end, the county is maintaining a separate animal control staff of 12 people, housed at its public works complex.
Pope said Richland County has taken a broad approach to animal care — and partnerships with other local governments — by joining Lexington County in support of a new no-kill animal shelter being built by Project Pet.
The group expects to break ground on the $4 million shelter this summer, spokeswoman Denise Wilkinson said. It will have an aggressive spay-neuter component.
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.