Two cities have ‘buyer’s remorse’ over animal shelter. Don’t let that delay the project

A shih tzu mix in his kennel at the County animal shelter.
A shih tzu mix in his kennel at the County animal shelter. The Tribune

After agreeing to partner with the county on building a new and much-needed animal shelter in San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles and Atascadero are having second thoughts.

They may want to go it alone, which would mean building and operating their own North County facility—as well as providing animal control officers to respond to calls in the community.

The two cities have asked the county to delay its shelter project for six months while they make up their minds. That’s disappointing. We’ve all suffered the pangs of buyer’s remorse, but in this case, it’s a little late in the process to be ruminating.

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After all, the cost-sharing agreement between the county and the seven cities was signed back in February, and, as Supervisor Lynn Compton noted at Tuesday’s board meeting, there’s been talk of the need for a new shelter for years.

We believe Paso Robles and Atascadero had plenty of time to look at alternatives, rather than waiting until almost the last possible moment. (The cities have until Oct. 31 to back out without a penalty.)

Why didn’t they bring this up sooner?

According to Paso Robles Mayor Steve Martin, it appeared the cities had little choice but to go forward with the plan when the agreement was first presented. Since then, city officials have heard from constituents who believe the $13.7 million price tag for a new shelter is “an awful lot of money.” Martin told the Board of Supervisors that he believes he owes it to constituents to analyze the cost of alternatives.

So be it, though in this case, we believe consolidation makes economic sense.

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A full-service animal shelter isn’t just a collection of kennels and cat rooms. Shelters include areas for grooming, medical treatment, food storage, pet adoptions, administration, staff meetings. And because municipal animals shelters are obligated to care for a range of animals—including horses, livestock, poultry and reptiles that may have been abandoned, injured or abused—they need space for that as well.

Also, the staff is responsible not only for the animals housed at the shelter, but also for responding to calls of dog bites, animal abuse and neglect, injured and stray animals, etc.—at all hours of the day and night, which means having staff on call.

Creating and staffing two full-service shelters at two separate locations within roughly 15-20 miles of one another seems both redundant and burdensome for taxpayers.

For clarity, though, it might help if the county gathered data on the cost of other, similar-sized shelters, to judge whether the $13.7 million is in line with other projects.

And by all means, the county should attempt to keep the cost as low as possible—as the Board of Supervisors directed—to make the project more economical for the cities, as well as for county taxpayers. However, there is only so far you can skimp—unless you want to start euthanizing healthy animals to make room for new arrivals.

If Paso and Atascadero ultimately do decide to take on the responsibility of providing animal services, rather than continuing to contract with the county, that is their prerogative.

We urge the county to keep the project on schedule. If need be, let the designers know that the project may need to be downsized.

Don’t wait around while Paso and Atascadero to make up their minds. With or without the participation of all seven cities, a new shelter must be built.

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Fifteen dogs and 10 cats displaced by Hurricane Harvey arrived at Woods Humane Society in San Luis Obispo County, California, on Thursday, September 14, 2017.