After 20 years of enduring overcrowded and unhealthy conditions, Merced County's stray animals will have a state-of-the-art shelter by the end of the year.
County officials gathered Friday at the shelter's construction site to celebrate its roof-raising.
Already, the building's concrete foundation has been poured and much of its steel frame is standing. On Friday, the Board of Supervisors, along with others who've played a role in bringing the shelter to fruition, signed and raised one of the building's roof beams.
"This is a very proud day," said Mike Tanner, who served as the county's agriculture commissioner from 1983 to 2003. Tanner began pushing for a new, bigger shelter more than 20 years ago, he said. "This has been such a long time coming. It's going to make such a difference for both the animals and the shelter's staff."
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Though the county has been planning a new shelter for years, it took county leaders until last year to set aside the project's $8.8 million budget.
It's a move Stanislaus County officials hope to make one day.
Just last month, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors approved a motion to proceed with architectural drawings for a new shelter and negotiations with the cities that participate in the shelter.
The Stanislaus board opted for a project that would rebuild a portion of its dilapidated shelter and add buildings. The cost of that project is estimated at $9.9 million to $10.8 million. A second option is building a new shelter, estimated at $11.7 million to $13.2 million. Either option would expand the 14,600-square-foot shelter to 38,678 square feet.
Merced's new shelter will open on Shuttle Drive at the Castle Commerce Center by the end of the year, officials said. It will replace the county's 44-year-old Grogan Avenue shelter.
That shelter houses about 200 animals on an average day and is so overcrowded that as many as five dogs often share a cage meant for one.
New building much larger
The new shelter will have 150 dog runs and 150 cat cages, three times as many as the Grogan Avenue shelter.
It will house state-of-the-art medical treatment facilities, an outdoor courtyard and secluded rooms where people can interact with animals before deciding whether to adopt them, and classrooms to hold workshops on responsible pet ownership.
Not much has been done to improve the old cinderblock shelter since it was built in 1964. Staff members have said they believe the building is so dingy and depressing, it discourages people from visiting, lowering the shelter's adoption rate.
Last year, the shelter euthanized more than a third of the animals that came through its doors.
Several Merced County civil grand juries have inspected the old shelter over the years. All of them called for major improvements, Tanner said.
Officials say the new shelter will mean a much healthier environment for strays. With each dog in its own kennel and 11 dogs in each room, the risk of spreading disease among the shelter's population should decrease dramatically.
Cats will be kept in glass-front cages to better protect them from germs, said Rick Blackwell, the county's animal services manager. The new shelter also will feature anti-microbial floors and an automatic cleaning system.
Its design will leave room for growth. The 22,000-square-foot, one-story building will come with enough space to double its size in coming years.
George Miers & Associates, based in Moraga, designed the shelter. George Miers has designed more than a dozen animal shelters across the country.
Salida-based J.L. Bray & Son is the project's contractor.
After the shelter is finished, the county will vacate the Grogan Avenue building -- which it leases from the city of Merced -- and turn it over to the city, county spokeswoman Katie Albertson said.
The Merced County Animal Shelter serves about 8,000 animals a year. Besides cats and dogs, it shelters rabbits, chickens, ducks and coyotes, among other farm and wild animals.