Animal shelter in works

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Jefferson Pparish is hoping to build a new shelter for the West Bbank to replace the facility on Ames Boulevard. A cat stares out of its cage as shelter employee Timothy Kennedy cleans cages Friday, November 30, 2012.
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Jefferson Pparish is hoping to build a new shelter for the West Bbank to replace the facility on Ames Boulevard. A cat stares out of its cage as shelter employee Timothy Kennedy cleans cages Friday, November 30, 2012.

West Bank designs $8 million facility

Plans for a new West Bank animal shelter are slowly progressing, and officials are considering designs for a new $8 million facility to replace the long-troubled existing shelter.

Animal Shelter Director Robin Beaulieu said she met with several parish council members to discuss preliminary plans for the new shelter, which officials hope will be a model for animal care in the area.

An architect has prepared a rough draft for a 30,000-square-foot facility that is roughly 10 times as large as the shelter on Ames Boulevard. Beaulieu said that the parish still must identify funding for the project and is considering a bond issue to pay for it.

She hopes the parish could start construction on the new main shelter in 2014 and eventually create an additional “no-kill” shelter in the parish as well.

“That’s definitely a direction we want to move in,” Beaulieu said.

Parish President John Young announced plans to build a new West Bank animal shelter in January 2011, and the project was supposed to be finished within a year.

Young said the parish’s timeline changed for several reasons, including a change in the proposed location of the shelter, a change in the design procedures and the need to secure funding.

Initially, the parish wanted to build the new shelter near Oakwood Mall on Wright Avenue, however, Young is considering another site on Peters Road near Lapalco Boulevard because of space concerns.

Additionally, Young wanted to get specialized design help for the facility to avoid some of the foibles experienced in the construction of the Jefferson Performing Arts Center.

Now he feels that the design in place will create an animal shelter that rivals the parish emergency operations center as far as being an industry model.

“We have what we think is a really good plan now,” said Young, although he noted that the design has increased the price tag of the building from the initial estimates of $3 million.

“Unlike the performing arts center, we don’t want to push it ahead until its ready. … We have to make sure we can afford to build it.”

The West Bank shelter is outdated and in poor condition. At times, sludge has backed up into the antiquated facility during heavy rains.

In addition, there have been complaints of frequent animal sickness that at times led to mass euthanizations. In August, a woman’s pet dog was improperly euthanized at the facility as an assumed stray.

Parish Councilman Chris Roberts asked Young about the status of a new West Bank shelter as part of the 2013 budget discussions. Councilman Ricky Templet said he periodically hears from residents concerned about conditions at the existing West Bank site and the delay in building a new one.

“The West Bank, we don’t always get things as fast as the east bank,” Templet said. “We need to move forward as fast as possible.”

But he said the plans for the new shelter are encouraging. The facility will allow for more sterile conditions to prevent the spread of disease, special quarantine areas and several independent air flow systems.

In addition, the facility could include a gift shop, and eventually an adjacent dog park.

“It would be state of the art, as far as animal centers go,” said Templet, noting that animal care experts from the University of California-Davis helped with the design. “It’s not cheap, but it is necessary.”

While the new center will solve some issues, Beaulieu is concentrating on making improvements in training and operations at the existing shelters as well.

Beaulieu, who took over as director about 14 months ago, said there has been about a 20 percent decrease in euthanasia during her tenure.

That drop is part of an increased focus on creating partnerships with private foster homes and business that make it easier to get pets ready for adoption and increase the public’s exposure to them.

In addition, the spay and neuter program hopes to perform 10,000 procedures by the end of this year compared to roughly 6,000 in 2011, she said.

If the parish ever wants to move to a “no-kill” model, which means that pets considered viable for adoption are never euthanized, it must get better at moving animals into homes, she said.

It also must improve its ability to rehabilitate animals with minor behavior problems to make them adoptable, which requires space, time and experience, she said.

“It’s little behavior that can be tweaked, but we don’t have the time to tweak them,” Beaulieu said. “That’s the big issue with no kill; you have to have a place to put (the animals).”