By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times
After years of being requested but never really considered, Itawamba County may have a shot at getting its own animal shelter after all.
The debate of need vs. cost for a local animal shelter has been ongoing for years, but Monday morning’s meeting of the Itawamba County Board of Supervisors saw the first significant steps toward the construction of a facility. The board met with Fulton Mayor Paul Walker and Alderman Hayward Wilson, both representing the City of Fulton, and Fulton veterinarian Dr. Doug Thrash to discuss the possibility of constructing a countywide animal shelter.
Although nothing is set in stone and there are numerous details to work out, that possibility is looking good.
According to county administrator Gary Franks, the plan is for the proposed shelter to be constructed through the non-profit FIRST Foundation using funds donated by a group of interested parties. The facility is proposed to sit on land donated by the City of Fulton.
At this point, there is no governmental input and no cost to the public for the construction of the proposed facility. All construction costs are to be paid via funds raised through the FIRST Foundation or by donations of materials and labor. The estimated cost to build such a facility is around $100,000.
According to Dr. Thrash — one of the individuals helping spearhead the project — the goal is to construct the animal shelter with little or no cost to the taxpayers of Itawamba County.
“We wouldn’t be asking the city or county to put forth any money,” Thrash said. “If we can’t raise the money to build the building, then we’re dead in the water.”
Currently, there is no timeline for the construction of the shelter, although Thrash indicated that plans are moving forward quickly. Based on the amount of interest out there, Thrash said he is confident that the county would have its own shelter in the near future.
“There are enough interested people in Itawamba County that I don’t think getting volunteers will be a problem,” Thrash said. “We have a plan and complete faith that we can get this building constructed.”
Once that happens, public entities — i.e. Itawamba County and the City of Fulton — will be able to contribute funds to its upkeep based on its usage for area animal control problems.
Although no specific amounts were mentioned, Thrash said he’d like to know if both entities would be willing to offer funds, if needed, to pay for the operation and maintenance of the facility.
Thrash said he’d like for the facility to be funded primarily through donations, fundraisers and pet adoptions.
Representatives from both boards seemed intrigued by the proposal, but still had plenty of questions about both the need for such a facility and the logistics of its operation.
As far as cost is concerned, the general consensus seemed to be that the facility would save both the county and city money in the long run.
“There’s really not much doubt that, once that facility is constructed … that its operation will be as cheap or cheaper than what we’re spending now,” Franks said. “We don’t know exactly how much is being spent [on animal control], but it’s a significant amount.”
Animal control has been an issue in-county for years, one that Sheriff Chris Dickinson said he spends considerable resources trying to resolve. Dickinson said deputies respond to an average of four animal control complaints every day. Most of these calls, he said, result in multiple visits and dozens of miles worth of travel.
“We make continual trips on each animal control call,” Dickinson said. “We can easily make a 100-mile round trip on a single animal control call.”
Franks roughly estimated the county spends $25,000 annually on animal control issues.
The City of Fulton would likely save money as well. Currently, the city operates a small shelter inside the city’s landfill. Captured animals are held at this location for 14 days; those that aren’t claimed are taken to Amory’s shelter at a cost of $25 per animal.
According to Mayor Walker, the city spends between $13,000 and $14,000 on animal control each year. The city also has a certified animal control officer on staff.
“I think this is a good way to spend the county and city’s resources toward a common goal,” Franks said.
In theory, having a local animal shelter will help control the stray animal population, cutting costs for both entities.
“I know every one of you has a ‘dump site’ in your districts: A place where people drop off their animals,” Thrash told the board, adding that having a local shelter with a drop off area would help eliminate some of the random dumping. “There’s no way we can cut out all of the problems … but we can help alleviate some of them.”
Every animal housed in the shelter, Thrash added, would be spayed or neutered before leaving.
“We can drastically reduce the number of stray animals in Itawamba County in two years,” Thrash asserted. “That will make Itawamba County a safer place.”
Despite a lot of hazy details, local leaders were optimistic about the project’s potential and seemed to offer their support.
“We want to make this thing work because we think it’s important,” Alderman Wilson commented. The sentiment was echoed by members of the board of supervisors.
Said Supervisor Steve Moore, “It would be a whole lot better than what we’ve got.”