The Rockwall Animal Shelter is not the most heartwarming of places, but officials hope to change that with a new facility.

“The city’s recognized for several years this facility is about at the end of its usefulness,” said Jeffrey Widmer, director of building inspections and code enforcement. “Is it prudent to put the money into it that it would require to refurbish and upgrade it, or is it better to build new?”

The 1,800-square-foot animal shelter is about 20 years old. It has been expanded three times since the mid-1980s. In 2002, a trailer was moved in to provide an office and restroom for the shelter employees.

Rockwall has started talking with its architect to see what can be built for the amount approved in the recent bond election. Widmer said he hopes to have some ideas back to the council within a month.

A $2.71 million proposal for a new animal shelter and adoption center was defeated in November. Voters approved a related proposal to reallocate $1.33 million of unspent bond money toward the project. The city’s idea was to use the money to offset the cost of the $2.71 million adoption center. Instead, $1.33 million is all Rockwall has to work with.



Location, location, location

The current shelter is located at 1600 Airport Road, behind the city’s service center. It’s an awkward location that people sometimes have trouble finding even when they know what they’re looking for.

Those who do find the shelter often don’t come back and don’t recommend others visit.

“That’s sad,” Widmer said. “The idea is to keep people here. The longer they stay, the more likely they are to fall in love with one of them.”

Rockwall keeps an average of 3.1 animals in a kennel each month. State law requires a shelter to keep an animal at least 72 hours. The city’s average is 10 days. By then, an animal is usually back with its owner or has been euthanized. About half the animals are put down, Widmer said. Heartworm testing and euthanasia are conducted in a separate treatment room. The animals are frozen until they can be taken to a Dallas landfill licensed to take dead animals.

There is some hope the city can put an adoption center in the new facility, although the cost constraints could make that difficult. A shelter with an adoption center has three times more pet adoptions than one without, Councilman John King said.

“Our purpose is not to kill the animals,” King said. “Our purpose is to adopt the animals out.”



Limitations

The only public space in the animal shelter is a 14-foot by 7-foot lobby, the first addition to the kennel space. There’s no place to socialize with animals. Many facilities around the Metroplex have a “get-to-know” area, Widmer said.

“If you want to get to know a dog, and you have to look through a chained link fence, that doesn’t tell you much,” Widmer said.

If weather permits, potential pet owners can take animals out into the parking lot, where they must contend with traffic and heavy machinery.

The back door of the lobby opens onto “Adoption Row,” a line of 17 chained-link kennels that extend to the back of the building. It’s a drab, monochromatic area, with gray gates and concrete floor and white insulation in the ceiling held up with chicken wire. Ductwork and large florescent lights hang from the ceiling. Walls are cinderblock and sheet metal. A stand of six stainless steel cat kennels is tucked away in the back.

Some more kennels are in another addition that forms an L to the right, the second addition. An old, white bathtub sits in one corner where shelter employees dip the animals for fleas and ticks. A quarantine/isolation area in the back was the third addition.

Each kennel has a guillotine door that leads to an outside kennel. Some air circulates through the building when those doors are open. When they’re kept closed due to weather, the smell of two decades of penned-up animals is a nasal assault.

“We do a good job,” Widmer said. “The kennels are all clean. We keep them washed out. But the concrete has absorbed the odors over all these years.”

A new shelter would have an air circulation system. It would also have glass walls rather than fencing for the kennels. Visitors are asked to keep from putting their fingers through the gates to touch the dogs. The animals are also able to touch each other. Both spread disease easily.

Drainage is an issue. With so many additions, the different parts don’t always line up quite right, and the slopes aren’t always correct. Animal control workers routinely spray the floors clean, and water stands in some places rather than draining. There is quite a bit of rust along the bottom of metal walls and doors.

Climate control is nearly impossible. The walls conduct heat and cold very well. There is a furnace for heat, as well as overhead heaters hanging from the ceiling. Two window units provide air conditioning.

Noise is also a concern. Dogs howling and barking quickly reach a deafening crescendo, making conversation inside — and sometimes even outside — the shelter impossible.



Joint effort?

The Rockwall County Emergency Services Corp. formed a subcommittee to gauge interest in a joint animal shelter project. The offer raised some eyebrows on the council, particularly for Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Cotti. The corporation did not make the offer before Rockwall’s bond election failed, he said, and the project should remain a city endeavor until it says otherwise. As far as talking to other cities, Cotti said he would rather Rockwall approach them rather than working through the corporation.

“We have worked hard through the bond process to get something passed,” Cotti said. “Nobody has stepped up to say, ‘Maybe we can help.’”

Rockwall shouldn’t close the door on any offer that could improve the city’s effort, Councilman Matt Scott said. The city will not spend any more than the $1.33 million its voters authorized, regardless of what anyone else wants to put up, he said.

“If they’re willing to give us their money, we’re more than happy to take it,” Scott said.

The council last week authorized up to $21,000 for the architect to come up with a new design.

The idea could have some merit, Widmer said.

“If it’s win-win, it’s a good idea — if we can share the cost and all the jurisdictions take advantage of it,” he said. “We’ve got to talk with everyone and see who’s interested.”

That’s not to say the animal shelter has not served its purpose.

“This facility has brought animal service to where it is,” Widmer said. “It’s certainly served a need. To bring the facility up to speed with the operation we run and the service we provide warrants a new facility.”

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