COVINGTON — As the county's population has increased, so has the pet population, and now the director of Newton County Animal Control is hoping commissioners and the voters will see fit to approve a new animal shelter.
Animal Control Director Teri Key-Hooson has proposed a new facility to be funded by the next round of SPLOST. The current SPLOST sunsets at the end of June 2011, and County Attorney Tommy Craig recently told commissioners a referendum would need to be held in March to avoid interruption of collections. Projects have yet to be identified, but Key-Hooson has put in a request for a facility to cost an estimated $2.5 million, with an additional $775,000 for equipment.
"We are turning away more (animals). In our desperation, we have reached out to a lot more rescue groups and we've had a very good response from them, so we're keeping the numbers about the same as far as euthanasia, but we are processing a lot more animals," Key-Hooson said of the need for a new shelter.
The current shelter on Lower River Road was built 20 years ago, but the population has more than doubled since then. In 1997, the county's population was 54,000, and based on a formula used by the American Veterinarian Medical Association, that was equal to a pet population of 13,500 dogs, 15,500 cats, 2,150 birds and 1,500 horses, said Key-Hooson. With the population topping 100,000 now, the pet population should have roughly doubled, she said.
The current shelter has 18 dog runs which hold two to three dogs each, 26 cat cages and five puppy pens. Betty Bellairs, chair of the Newton County Humane Society, recently told commissioners the shelter is insufficient to meet the demands being placed on it.
"As the county population grows, so does the animal population. People are having to bring animals to the shelter who never would have thought about that due to the economic conditions. They're losing their own shelter," Bellairs said.
Key-Hooson said the shelter is seeing the impacts of the economic downturn weekly.
"We're getting people who are having to move on a moment's notice and may be put out of their house with no place for their animals. They end up bringing them here, not because they want to," she said.
At bare minimum, more dog runs need to be added, which could be accomplished by expanding the current facility, Key-Hooson said.
"We know times are hard right now. We have to be realistic. But we also need to think about the animals ... The major goal of any animal shelter is to reduce the number of euthanasias. The extra room, whether the shelter is renovated or whether we get a brand new facility, will help with that," she said.
Projects to be included on the next SPLOST referendum are expected to be finalized by January.