ATWATER -- Castle Commerce Center is going to the dogs.
And to the cats, too.
Merced County is about four months away from opening its new animal shelter, and shelter officials can't wait.
"This is huge for us," said Kristi Caseri, animal control supervisor for the county. The current shelter is about 30 years old and overcrowded.
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"We've had four or five dogs in a kennel at once," Caseri said. "Hopefully, the new shelter will stop that."
The new facility, slated to open in January, is costing the county about $8 million. David Robinson, agriculture commissioner for the county, said the shelter should open on schedule.
Robinson said the current shelter, on Grogan Avenue, was built for an annual population of about 3,500 animals. Now that number is up to about 9,000. "The shelter is too small, and too hard to keep sanitized," Robinson said.
Located on a long, skinny four-acre plot near the Merced Adult School, the new shelter will be a one-story, 22,700-square-foot building. It will have 143 dog runs, 150 cat runs, areas where potential adopters can meet animals and medical treatment areas.
The current shelter has 46 dog runs and 60 cat runs.
Putting more than one animal in a holding cage often leads to sick dogs and cats, Caseri said. And with only one animal in a cage, the staff knows which dog isn't eating or which one is sick.
Robinson said one point he's stressed with the new shelter is that it should be a nice place for the community to visit. Too many times, people in Merced consider adopting a shelter animal, but they don't want to come to the current shelter because of the overcrowding and threat of disease. In the new shelter, those folks will have an area to get acquainted with the animal they are interested in, Robinson said.
"This is a fantastic project, and we're the first ones in the San Joaquin Valley to put up a modern shelter," Robinson said.
But there's an even more pressing reason for a new shelter -- the health of the animals.
"Our euthanasia rate should decrease because sick dogs and cats won't be exposed to healthy ones," Caseri said. The shelter's euthanasia rate last year was 37 percent. "Hopefully, that rate will go even lower."