New shel­ter sounds nice, but staff should be key

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

The Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers re­ceived an up­date last week about the fea­si­bil­ity of build­ing a new an­i­mal shel­ter in an ef­fort to re­place the out­dated Tri-County An­i­mal Shel­ter in Hugh­esville.

Much at­ten­tion was brought to the ex­ist­ing fa­cil­ity last year af­ter a for­mer Calvert County com­mis­sioner urged Calvert to break away from its com­mit­ment to the shel­ter and cre­ate its own lo­cally funded fa­cil­ity. The for­mer com­mis­sioner, Linda Kel­ley, a noted an­i­mal lover and ac­tivist who recently died, cited nu­mer­ous con­cerns about staffing and space is­sues at the shel­ter. Once Calvert ul­ti­mately de­cided to break its part­ner­ship, Charles and St. Mar y’s coun­ties be­gan ex­plor­ing other op­tions. St. Mar y’s has yet to make a de­ci­sion on whether to keep con­tribut­ing funds to the tri-county shel­ter, but Charles looks to be mov­ing to­ward build- ing a new fa­cil­ity.

Dur­ing its meet­ing last week, the board of com­mis­sion­ers were pre­sented the results of a $50,000 fea­si­bil­ity study con­ducted by De­sign Learned Inc., FMD ar­chi­tects and Mar­rick Prop­er­ties. Most of the dis­cus­sion cen­tered around whether the county should con­struct an en­tirely new fa­cil­ity at the cost of about $7.4 mil­lion — roughly the same cost it would be to up­date and ex­pand the ex­ist­ing tri-county shel­ter at about $7.2 mil­lion. If the county were to ren­o­vate an­other build­ing, the cost would be roughly $6.2 mil­lion.

An­other fo­cus was to cre­ate a fa­cil­ity that would have stress-free spa­ces for an­i­mals and put an­i­mals of sim­i­lar sizes to­gether.

This is a start, but the fea­si­bil­ity study didn’t ad­dress the ele­phant in the room: staffing. While we ac­knowl­edge this study was just an early step at ad­dress­ing some of the larger con­cerns the tri-county shel­ter has, there should be some ef­fort put into re­cruit­ing full- and part-time ve­teri­nar­i­ans and well-trained and equipped staff, par­tic­u­larly staffers who can help with one of the big­gest prob­lems that con­trib­utes to pet over­pop­u­la­tion: the lack of spay­ing and neu­ter­ing for strays.

Be­fore the county even breaks ground on this fa­cil­ity, a plan needs to be put in place to have a staff pre­pared to han­dle the amount of an­i­mals that come into the shel­ter. You can throw money at a prob­lem — mil­lions of dol­lars, in fact — and build a shiny, new, state-of-the-art fa­cil­ity in a cen­tral, vis­i­ble lo­ca­tion, but if you don’t have peo­ple in place to run it com­pe­tently, you’ve wasted all that money and are still left with the prob­lem that started this process.

We are pleased to see the com­mis­sion­ers are tak­ing the is­sue se­ri­ously and ex­plor­ing op­tions, but we hope they con­tinue to look for ways to ad­dress the staffing is­sue. This isn’t a “if you build it, they will come” sit­u­a­tion.

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