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Shelter needs room to run

“He scored very high on his behavioral test,” said Jackie Bell, development coordinator for SCRAPS, about Astro, the terrier mix at the facility in Spokane Valley on Tuesday. (Kathy Plonka)
“He scored very high on his behavioral test,” said Jackie Bell, development coordinator for SCRAPS, about Astro, the terrier mix at the facility in Spokane Valley on Tuesday. (Kathy Plonka)

SCRAPS director advocates regional facility to provide added room, savings

As 2012 dawned at the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service shelter in Spokane Valley, about the only thing there was room for was animals. A two-week bargain basement sale allowed people to adopt dogs for $25 and cats for only $15. The results were remarkable: There was not a single cat in residence and many of the dog cages stood empty.

“That’s never happened before,” said SCRAPS director Nancy Hill. “I’ve never seen no cats in the adoption room. We’re enjoying it. We’re living in the moment.”

The moment didn’t last long. Only 10 minutes after the doors opened Tuesday morning, two kittens arrived. But they would have the cat room to themselves while shelter employees were crammed into whatever office space could be squeezed in the building. One desk is in what is essentially a small closet. “We’ve carved out all the space we can,” Hill said.

Food, cages and records fill several storage sheds. Staff meetings and dog training classes are held in the chilly garage. There are only two bathrooms to serve 25 employees, dozens of volunteers and the public.

The shelter cannot expand. Built in the early 1970s on land owned by the Spokane County road department, the sewer line and the nearest fire hydrant sit on the other side of nearby railroad tracks. Putting water and sewer lines under the tracks is prohibitively expensive and without them the fire marshal won’t allow expansion. After years of rent-free operations, the shelter is also due to start paying the road department about $50,000 a year in rent.

The road department is an enterprise fund and Hill said such funds need to bring in money and can’t let their land be used for free. “I haven’t gotten a bill yet,” she said.

Hill was pinning her hopes on a regional shelter that would include Spokane. The plan called for the purchase of a building near the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center that would be turned into a new, larger shelter. But the plan failed spectacularly at the ballot box in November, leaving Hill stuck with rising costs and limited space.

The goal is still to work toward a regional plan and find a new location, Hill said. “What I am hanging on to here is there is an operational cost savings in a regional system,” she said. That savings could be enough to lease a new location, Hill said. “It depends on what property we can find.”

The city of Spokane just signed a two-year animal control contract with SpokAnimal, but Hill is hoping the new mayor might help her cause. “The whole idea has merit,” she said. “We’ve got to find a way to make it happen.”

Hill said she plans to spend the next several months finding a new location and having discussions with Spokane and Spokane Valley. The shelter needs to be more centrally located and on a bus route, she said. “I’m not sure we can make it another year here without bringing in Porta-Potties.”

But there is a bright spot as Hill contemplates the future of the shelter: The shelter handled fewer animals in 2011 than in 2010. “I believe the Spokane area is becoming more responsible. It’s exciting,” she said.

Hill believes pet owners, particularly those with dogs, are spaying, neutering and microchipping their pets more. The percentage of dogs returned to their owners is 47 percent, while the rate for cats is 3 percent.