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Shelter expansion moving forward

"An embarrassment."

"Shameful."

"Heartbreaking."

"Smelly, ugly, outdated and dangerous."

People used those words Tuesday to describe Stanislaus County's animal shelter, just before county supervisors voted 4-1 to develop an expansion plan.

Supervisors also endorsed applying for state bond money that could bring short-haul rail service from the Port of Oakland to the former naval air station at Crows Landing. And, they voted to seek enterprise zone status for much of downtown Hughson.

Dog owner Sally Mears, one of many pleading for a better animal shelter, said, "(Former officials) could not see the inhumane, out-of-date, cruel killing facil-ity they had."

A "needs assessment" presented Tuesday envisions nearly tripling the size of the 13,000-square-foot pound built in 1974. Better ventilation, easier cleaning and separating more animals would help decrease the kill rate of 14,000 per year, a consultant said.

"There is quite a bit of death there at the shelter," said Mary Whetstone, president of Animal Services Auxiliary. "The animals do not have much of a voice. They need your help. Please help them."

Susan Robinson, Coalition for Cats and Dogs president, said, "What we do and don't do for them demonstrates what kind of humans we are. We need to show that we can provide much better than a pre-morgue atmosphere for down-and-out animals."

Supervisors Jim DeMartini and Bill O'Brien balked at the price estimate — as much as $13 million. DeMartini said that equates to $480 per square foot.

"That seems like an unusually high amount of money," DeMartini said. "We do have a responsibility to take care of the animals and protect our staff. But we also have a responsibility to the taxpayers to make sure their money is spent wisely."

He voted to move ahead on a development plan that would include design and financing options and determining the comfort level of the shelter's seven contract cities to paying perhaps twice what they pay now. Oakdale and Turlock run their own shelters.

But O'Brien voted "no," saying it would make more sense to address the root cause: pet overpopulation.

"What if we put additional resources into spay-neuter?" O'Brien said. "What if we stop the problem? Thirteen million dollars is beyond my level of satisfaction."

Although the shelter was designed to house 262 animals, it's bursting at the seams with an average of 330, forcing regular mass euthanization. If officials continue to turn a blind eye, the report said, the housing need could rise to 944 pets per day.

The expanded shelter could accommodate 476 animals, the report said.

"It's time now to move ahead and get something done," Supervisor Tom Mayfield said. "But the cities have to participate in this."

Supervisor Dick Monteith said teams of volunteers could raise money to help pay for the expansion, and O'Brien suggested fining more rogue animal breeders who are ignoring the county's registration laws.

In other action, supervisors unanimously:

Supported a resolution to establish a rail link from Crows Landing to the Bay Area

DeMartini, who represents the county's West Side, was in the minority in the board's Feb. 27 vote favoring PCCP West Park as master developer of a business park at the former air station. He joined the board in a show of unanimity Tuesday, but he characterized the rail dream as pie in the sky because firm owner Gerry Kamilos faces "almost insurmountable odds" securing bond money and finding a willing rail company, DeMartini said.

Patterson City Manager Cleve Morris sent a last-minute letter asking supervisors to guarantee that any rail-caused congestion in Patterson would be mitigated. Supervisors refused, saying such concerns can be addressed as the county negotiates with West Park in the coming year.

Asked for state permission to add 215business-zoned acres in Hughson to the county's 70,000-acre enterprise zone. The designation helps spur economic growth.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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