Fifty years ago, for animal control in Bartholomew County there was only a common pen in a concrete block building off Water Street that Columbus residents nicknamed “The Pound.”
“Every type of animal was thrown in there together,” said Cheryl Zuckschwerdt-Ellsbury, a board member of the Bartholomew County Humane Society.
“There was an open chute that anyone could walk up and shove an animal in there. Someone would throw the food in and the animals would fight and kill each other over it. That was the old way when there wasn’t any public pressure to do things differently.”
The first effort at change by a group of concerned residents in Columbus was to take animals from the pound to the Humane Society in Indianapolis. But when they discovered most of the transported animals were being euthanized, the group tried to stir up interest in doing something different.
The Bartholomew County Humane Society was established in 1966. In 1971, the young organization took out a 10-year lease from the Solid Waste Disposal Authority on property located off South Mapleton Street, where the recycling center now stands.
The first shelter constructed at that location was made up of eight dog kennels, four cat cages and a small office.
Zuckschwerdt-Ellsbury said that as the 1960s came to a close, many Bartholomew County residents were still throwing away animals as they would throw away trash.
After the lease ran out on the Mapleton Street shelter, the second and current Humane Society shelter was built in 1982. The 2,400-square-foot facility was constructed on three acres of land that now includes a pet cemetery.
While the second shelter was an improvement, the growing popularity of the Humane Society eventually brought overcrowding.
By 2004, the society’s board of directors had already determined they needed a new shelter.
“That decision was largely due to a basic philosophy change to become a low-kill shelter,” Zuckschwerdt-Ellsbury explained. “Because of that, the population of animals increases.”
Since former landfills contain high levels of flammable methane, revised state building regulations prevented the organization from constructing another shelter on its current site.
A decision was made in 2004 to acquire 10 acres of property owned by Bob Vinson located a quarter-mile from the current location.
Architectural students from both Columbus North and Columbus East spent a good part of their 2004-05 school year designing what was intended to be a $750,000 shelter.
Construction was originally scheduled to begin in spring 2005. But after the design was completed, reviewed and revised with Bingham at the helm, the Humane Society discovered in 2005 that their new home was going to cost more than twice what they were expecting: $1.5 million.
Learning from mistakes
Last August, the Heritage Fund of Bartholomew County issued a $25,000 goal challenge for the Humane Society. That goal was reached during the second week of November completely through individual donations.
Today, the shelter handles almost 1,300 animals annually. Zuckschwerdt-Ellsbury said the combination of programs at the new shelter is intended to humanely care for unwanted animals, provide them with homes and reduce their numbers.
“Hopefully, our new building will have the environment to help us thrive in the future,” Zuckschwerdt-Ellsbury said. “We should never have to build another facility twice the size to take care of the problem. This should be as big as you have to get to handle the problem.”