FRESNO — Fresno County is planning to replace its temporary animal shelter at the Highway 99/180 interchange with a new, more hospitable complex.
The project, estimated to cost $1.7 million, comes as the current quarters behind the old morgue fall short of what's needed to house the thousands of animals that are lost or dumped in unincorporated communities each year.
During hearings on the county budget Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors signaled support for demolition of the old morgue and construction of a relatively low-cost shelter at the West Nielsen Avenue site. Supervisors didn't allocate funds for the effort, but committed to coming up with the money once the proposal is fine-tuned.
"This plan seems to me to make the most sense," said Supervisor Phil Larson. "We have to do animal control and we have to find funding, and I don't think we can get a better deal."
Health officials are still in the early planning stages, but the current thinking is to build a steel structure capable of housing as many as 250 animals, from small dogs to horses. An intake building to perform animal health exams and administrative offices would also be constructed at the site.
"This kind of simpler model of animal housing is what we're looking at," said David Pomaville, interim public health director for the county.
As basic as it may be, the proposed complex is a big step up from the current facilities. The operation now lacks space, services and basic comforts, such as temperature control.
"This last weekend it was 110 and we had our misters on and portable air conditioners going," said Karen Wilkins, director of Liberty Animal Control Services, which manages the shelter. "And in the wintertime, it can get so cold."
Wilkins said animal control officers are making do with what they have. But she's looking forward to seeing improvements.
Both she and county officials agree, though, that the location of the temporary shelter has worked out well. It's centralized and doesn't have many neighbors.
County health officials were compelled to open the facility in October when the Central California Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals hastily ended its animal-control contract with the county.
The county considered a joint animal-control plan with the city of Fresno, which also was slated to lose its SPCA contract. Ultimately, however, the county went its own way. Health officials put up temporary barracks for strays and hired Liberty to run them.
The new animal-control program has its limitations. Under the county's $750,000-a-year contract with Liberty, only injured and dangerous animals are picked up not all cats or farm animals are held, for example.