It’s taken five years and a day, but the new Jefferson County Animal Resource Center is open.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held at the new center, 4848 Hwy. 30, in House Springs on December 28, and it opened on Monday.
Jefferson County Council agreed on December 27, 2016 to spend $675,000 to purchase the former Hillside Presbyterian Church property and convert it into a resource center. The purchase price included the church building and its 7.9 acres of land.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, County Services Director Eric Larson, whose department includes animal control, noted the long journey it took to open the building.
“I’m a Cubs fan,” he told the crowd of about 100 who attended the ceremony. “Go ahead and boo. You Cardinals fans are used to your team vying for the playoffs every year. But for Cubs fans, that’s until next year. I’m used to that.
Much of the delay in opening the facility involved revisions to renovation plans. When bids became too high for certain projects – including the addition of a floor in what was the church’s sanctuary – plans were scaled back, redesigned and redone.
Larson said Jan. 3 that all expenses to renovate and furnish the building have yet to be totaled, but will likely be around $1.36 million.
The new facility replaces a small, aging shelter at 7105 Shelter Road in Barnhart that had long been criticized by local animal welfare groups.
“Do I need to ask you how different (the new installation) is?” County Executive Dennis Gannon asked those present at the groundbreaking ceremony. “It’s a big improvement.”
Gannon also recognized animal welfare group ADOPT who donated $212,000 and got the ball rolling on a new facility.
“ADOPT stands for Animals Deserving of Proper Treatment, and I think we’ve lived up to that with this new facility,” Gannon said. “I always thought I had a good opinion of animals, but my son left the state and left us with his dog, a sheepdog. Life changed for me because it became part of our family. I learned emotionally what animals mean to people.
Larson said the ADOPT donation was used to purchase “cat condos” and “dog quarters” that are much more comfortable than the cages at the old shelter.
“We can’t omit ADOPT from this story,” he said. “People like Sarah Partney and Courtney Buchholz, they’ve been key in all of this. We couldn’t have done it without their help.
Feral cats are housed in a different part of the building than domestic cats, Larson said.
“If someone comes in and wants a barn cat, we can show them the feral cats,” he said.
Larson pointed out that the name of the new facility, the Animal Resource Center, is meant to break with the past.
“We wanted a complete rebranding,” he said. “When you think of the old animal shelter, you think of a dingy, unattractive old place and we’re the bad guys. We wanted a new name that would reflect our mission: to take care of our animals and help them find new homes.
The new facility can house up to 44 cats and more than 40 dogs, Larson said.
“We will have tripled the capacity for cats and doubled our capacity for dogs,” he said.
The new facility also has a room for small animals, such as birds, guinea pigs and snakes.
Separate rooms will allow the public to visit the animals in a comfortable setting and a fenced outdoor area will allow dogs to stretch their legs.
The building has taps for hoses almost everywhere the animals will be so these areas can be cleaned easily, and a ventilation system above each cage filters odors from the building.
“It’s not going to smell like you think an animal shelter would smell,” Larson said.
He said the county was lucky enough to acquire state-of-the-art veterinary equipment at a low cost from the former Brown-Mackie College in Fenton, paying $12,500 for about $80,000 worth of equipment.
“We originally planned to have a veterinary clinic on site, but for now we will only have on-call veterinary services,” Larson said. “But they will have a nice place to work.”
At the ceremony, Larson also recognized former county manager Ken Waller for initiating the process of creating the new facility.
“He went through a lot of grief for a long time to get a better plan for a pet store in Jefferson County,” Larson said. “A big thank you to (County Administration Manager) David Courtway. After he was in a lot of grief, Ken said to him, ‘Find something or something.’ And he found this building.
“It’s the end of a dream,” Waller said. “It couldn’t have turned out any better than it is. I’m grateful to the old councils, the current council and the current county executive. They could have just dropped those plans, but they continued with them.