Mary Whetstone thinks less may be more in terms of Stanislaus County's proposed animal shelter renovation.
Whetstone is a co-founder and president of the Animal Services Auxiliary, a group that supports and provides volunteers to help at the county shelter on Finch Road in Modesto. She is proposing that the county spend less on the proposed shelter to make it more feasible for participating government agencies, and to get it built sooner.
The county animal shelter has been criticized for several years because of overcrowding, disease outbreaks and a high euthanasia rate. The shelter was built in 1974. The county population has doubled since then.
The Board of Supervisors is working on a proposal for a new facility to address the problems. Members will consider hiring an architectural firm for the shelter expansion at Tuesday's board meeting.
A needs assessment study concluded that a replacement facility would cost $10 million to $13 million. A more precise cost would be developed with the architectural plans.
The cost of the facility would be prorated between the county and the cities that use it. Turlock and Oakdale operate their own shelters and would not participate. County officials expect to discuss the project with the cities when the architectural plans are in, Supervisor Jim DeMartini said.
Whetstone, a passionate animal advocate, said she believes a more modest shelter project -- perhaps $5 million -- more easily could gain approval from cash-strapped local governments. It would address the most urgent needs, with expanded kennel space and a surgical room for spay and neuter operations, she said.
Another benefit, Whetstone said, is it could be built in one or two years, rather than the five-to seven-year estimate on the more comprehensive facility.
Additional shelter features, such as an adoption center and an education center, could be built later if funds are available, Whetstone said.
"It meets the needs, and isn't a Taj Mahal," she said. "$5 million gets the basics, and helps the animals."
Tim Fedorchak, senior management consultant in the county's chief executive office, agreed with Whetstone's analysis.
"That's my concern, too," he said. "If it's too grandiose a plan, we risk not getting anything. Clearly, we have some expansion needs and operational needs."
The idea isn't a new one. Supervisor Bill O'Brien proposed a similar plan earlier this year. The bigger facility would cost the county and cities an estimated $250,000 to $300,000 to run, and O'Brien suggested a smaller facility, putting $300,000 into spay and neuter programs to reduce the number of animals coming into the shelter. He was outvoted 4-1.
O'Brien said last week that he supports the decision of the board majority, but feels his proposal makes more business sense.
"Mary likes the idea, and that's great. For me, it's about solving the problem, not just building a great big building," he said.
DeMartini said the project likely would be funded with bonds, and hinges on the participation of the other cities. Based on the number of animals the shelter takes in from each area, Modesto would pay for 41 percent of the project; the county, 38.5 percent; Ceres, 11 percent; Riverbank, 3.4 percent; Patterson, 2.3 percent; Waterford and Newman, 1.3 percent each; and Hughson, 1.2 percent.
"We would like to build something to last us into the future," DeMartini said.
"If the cost is too high, we will have to take a look at it," he said of a scaled-back project.
Groups tired of waiting
Whetstone worries that other animal welfare groups, tired of waiting for the county situation to improve, are moving to build their own facilities.
Traci Jennings of Mutt-Minders in Modesto has formed the Humane Society of Stanislaus County, with the long-range goal of building a shelter. Alley Cat Guardians in Modesto has launched a campaign to establish a spay and neuter clinic.
A humane society shelter could pick and choose which animals it accepts, while the county shelter must take all animals brought to it, Whetstone said. If the county shelter isn't improved in the near future, people adopting animals would go to the humane society rather than the county shelter, she said, and the county euthanasia rates would continue unabated.
Having a new county shelter and a humane society shelter would be good, Whetstone said, but added that she wants an "even playing field," meaning an updated county shelter that is more attractive to the public.
"I'm not anti-humane society," she said, "I'm pro-shelter animal."
Two shelters wouldn't compete
The humane society shelter is probably five years away, and would not compete with the shelter, Jennings said. "There will always be a need for a county shelter," she said.
O'Brien doesn't see the humane society as county shelter competition either.
"There are so many animals, we will take all the help we can get," he said. "If the humane society wants to come and help, that's great."
Fedorchak said another shelter would take some of the pressure off the county facility. "That would be great," he said of the Humane Society of Stanislaus County plan.
Jennings said she could support Whetstone's idea.
"I see some merit in it. They need the space, and they desperately need a proper clinic," she said. Spay and neuter operations now are done in a trailer behind the shelter.
"We seem to have this all-or-nothing idea -- fix it all or not fix any of it," Jennings said.
Whetstone envisions a committee of five to seven people to monitor conditions at the renovated shelter. Members would tour the shelter once a week, and report to the county animal advisory board once a month, she said.
She said she hopes animal welfare advocates will back her on the scaled-down shelter, and she urged people to call the clerk of the county board, O'Brien's office and the Animal Services Auxiliary to voice support. "The animals have no voice; they depend on people to speak for them," Whetstone said.
"It's sane," she said. "It's not a Taj Mahal, it's basic animal care. If we need more, we can come back and build more. They can't postpone it five to seven years. They can't. It's not fair."
Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2349.