ST. CLAIRSVILLE The upcoming year will see some changes at the animal shelter. The Animal Cruelty Task Force of Ohio was asked to look into the condition of the Belmont County Animal Rescue League and visited the shelter Dec. 27 to look into a list of concerns. After five hours of speaking to BCARL board members, staff and volunteers and touring the facility, they produced several recommendations.
The task force members noted that the shelter is one of many small, rural operations in the state that struggles with limited resources and abilities. They add that the staff has proven receptive to their suggestions for improvement.
ACT officials and a team from the Humane Society of the United States will return in one week and remove sufficient dogs to ensure no dogs will be required to sleep outside. The removed dogs will be placed into verified rescues.
ACT also recommends the purchase o 30 elevated and insulated dog houses, built at cost by the Ohio Reformatory for Women at $50 each to house the dogs during winter while the shelter is cleaned in the morning and early afternoon. Recommendations also include the expansion of the current prison dog program. Workers would assist with cleaning kennels and provide basic animal care during the day.
Other recommendations include workshops on compassion, fatigue, burnout, customer service and electronic data management, as a review of all policies and procedures by ACT, the commissioners, and BCARL.
In addition, they recommend the appropriation of funding for a shelter architect to design plans for long-term improvements such as indoor/outdoor runs for better drainage, ventilation and additional rooms.
Verna Painter will also be retiring from BCARL in November after more than 40 years of involvement. Painter chose not to comment, but Board President Judy Geimer said Painter had made that decision some time ago. She will assist in training her replacement.
"It's a big job to run this shelter," she said.
Geimer will continue to meet with ACT for the benefit of the shelter. She added that the building was constructed about 15 years ago.
She added that BCARL has already made an outreach to work with the local prison to provide the shelter with labor and improvements. She said this initiative has been ongoing for weeks and will likely begin in January.
She noted that all work and improvements must be approved of by the county commissioners, since the county would pay for any upgrades. BCARL and the commissioners should have a better idea of costs after the architect has made recommendations.
Geimer added that she does not foresee any practical difficulties in the expected recommendations.
However, she is concerned that euthanasia may increase. The dog warden can bring in as many as 20 dogs a week, placing the shelter beyond the capacity of 63 dogs. In such instances, she said the volunteers would take 20 dogs that had been with them for a long period of time and place them in dog houses to avoid euthanizing them. The new dogs would be given their spaces inside the shelter.
"We have good dog houses. We put hay in them, and as soon as someone gets a home the very next one in line moves into the kennels," she said.
"Contrary to the words said by people, they're concern was we're a little soft and we probably save more animals that we should, so somewhere down the road that is going to change," she said.
"We're a kind little group, contrary to that Facebook bashing," she said. "I don't know what's going to happen. I know changes are going to take place."
She said that people have randomly taken pictures of dogs that were temporarily placed outside while the kennels were cleaned. She said every animal that passed their doors is spayed or neutered and inoculated.
"I don't know right now what the answer is. It's going to take months to put this all in place. we use rescues, we'll continue to use rescues, it's just when you get in 20 stray dogs a week there's nowhere, and we are still a county shelter. We turn no dog away."
Commissioner Ginny Favede said some issues have been addressed and she expects the progress to continue as some dogs are removed. She noted that PETA has been in contact with the commissioners regarding the dogs that have been tied up outside.
"It's a good step-one in looking at all of the allegations that have been made and the issues that are at the shelter," said Commissioner Mark Thomas. "From a commissioners' standpoint, we want to work with a board out there who's primary purpose is to get dogs to new owners or to other shelters. I think one of the goals will be in as much as humanly possible is to keep as many animals alive in adoptive homes as we can."
Thomas said the commissioners own the facility and provide insurance and upkeep, but they contract with BCARL to operate the shelter.
DeFrank can be reached at email@example.com