Perry revives interest in building new animal shelter

mstucka@macon.comFebruary 24, 2014 

PERRY -- The Perry Animal Shelter regularly floods. One enclosure is held shut with a dog collar. Pieces of the ceiling dangle down, and paint is flaking off everywhere. The door to what used to be the cat shelter has a giant hole eaten right through the middle by rust.

But the building is being used in ways that might not have been envisioned when it was built perhaps 40 years ago. In one run, where rust has eaten up the pipes that hold fencing together, a sweet black-and-white spaniel known as 13-PAS-255 has lived since December. She’s undergoing heartworm treatment through one of the shelter’s partners and is maybe halfway through her life.

In many other animal shelters, “she would have been gone,” said Senior Animal Control Officer Angie Reed. Within a badly corroded building, unusual things are happening.

But the building wasn’t supposed to be like this. Years ago, Perry officials rebuffed an invitation to build a joint animal shelter with other Houston County governments, saying they didn’t want that effort to hold up their progress toward getting a new animal shelter for the city.

Now a Warner Robins Animal Control-run shelter, which takes animals from Centerville and unincorporated Houston County, has been open for more than four years. And a decade after fundraising and rallying began for a new Perry shelter, the city in some ways has to start completely over.

Perry is just now beginning to move, again, toward a new shelter. Last month, Mayor Jimmy Faircloth announced plans to form a task force to determine the city’s needs and options. Faircloth hopes to have that group formed by the end of this week.

Faircloth said such a task force will be the quickest way for experts, such as volunteers with Friends of Perry Animal Shelter and a veterinarian, to bring informed choices to City Council.

“I know it’s been somewhat low on the priority list in the past, but the conditions we have at the shelter are deplorable,” Faircloth said Friday. “I understand that, and council understands that.”

It’s also not clear yet how much money the city would have for the project from its sales tax referendums.

City Manager Lee Gilmour said city leaders still need to figure out just what kind of animal control, and what kind of shelter, they want. On one end, the city could get out of the animal control business altogether, which Gilmour said would result in a lower quality of service from unincorporated Houston County. On the other end, the city could opt to build a shelter in a highly visible location, with an on-site adoption center and a place to walk the dogs. Gilmour said that might cost $1.1 million to $1.3 million, if the city already has the land.

Gilmour said the current facility was built from what he calls a more historical perspective, that stray animals were a nuisance, and animal control was there to keep the dogs from tearing up neighbors’ properties and such. Despite that, and with extensive help from the Friends of Perry Animal Shelter and other partners, the city has a good adoption rate. Gilmour said the numbers vary, but the last time they checked some 50 to 60 percent of animals were adopted.

And that adoption rate shows in unusual ways. A trailer hosts the shelter’s cat room -- now dubbed the “kitty cottage” because “cat house” didn’t work. High in a corner on top of a stack of crates, is a single antisocial black cat not yet used to the animal control officers. All 24 crates were empty, but that will change as cats start their breeding season, Reed said.

Helping keep crates empty is Friends of Perry Animal Shelter, which last year alone adopted out more than 500 animals, said its 62-year-old founder and president, Davis Cosey. Faircloth has tapped Cosey to lead the task force studying the animal shelter.

“It’s just outdated and needs to be replaced. You don’t have to have a task group to figure that out. I think one of the best things is for people to just go down there and look at it because it speaks for itself,” Cosey said.

Open-trench drains carry water -- and disease -- from pen to pen. That’s a design problem, but other problems just can’t be cured.

“You just can’t clean porous concrete and rusted metal. You just can’t get all the disease out of it,” Cosey said.

Years of waiting

Even 10 years ago, the shelter was too old. Then-Mayor James Worrall told The Telegraph in 2004, “We’ve been talking about the need for a new animal shelter here in Perry for a number of years. Ours is grossly inadequate.”

At that point, only 10 pens were available in the main building. Since then, shaded outdoor pens with fans have been added. Volunteers built the outdoor pens, added heating and air conditioning to the main building, and ultimately built their own adoption center downtown for Friends of the Perry Animal Shelter. They routinely spend all day Saturday adopting Perry’s animals out of the PetSmart in Warner Robins.

Perry’s government has made several efforts toward getting a new animal shelter, but officials have changed, the economy faltered, things seemed to come up and the inertia fizzled away, Cosey said.

Cosey said he wants the new shelter to at least get the basics right, such as controlling air circulation and water drainage to limit the spread of disease. There would be a place to quarantine new or sick animals. There’d be mouse-free locations to store food and a place to prepare food. Workers would be in the same building as the animal shelter itself, not in a cast-off trailer a muddy walk away. The shelter would be highly visible and welcoming.

But the price tag will depend ultimately on what the city builds. Cosey said a better shelter will keep animals healthier, attract more volunteers and get more animals adopted out. He said he won’t let his frustrations get the best of him because animals’ lives are at stake.

“We’ve been supporting it for a long time,” he said Friday, “and will continue to do so. It would just make everything so much better if those old kennels could be replaced.”

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