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County animal group building new shelter

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The Bartholomew County Humane Society is moving ahead with construction of a new facility, as it continues to raise money for its


Higher-than-expected costs and the effects of the recession have left the nonprofit agency with about a third of the $1.5 million it will take to build the new animal shelter. Construction is expected to be completed in nine months to a year, and the organization broke ground this past month.

“The existing shelter has led a good life and given us so much,” said Kim Showalter, Humane Society board president. “But it is now time to replace it. We’re ready to move ahead.”

The new, 8,000-square-foot facility will be constructed a short distance south of the current building behind the Duke Energy substation on County Road 200S. It will almost quadruple the size of the existing 2,400-square-foot shelter.

The building project will be entirely privately funded. Aside from a contract with the county to take in stray animals caught outside the Columbus city limits, no tax dollars are used to support the Humane Society.

The organization has kicked off a public campaign with the goal of raising $500,000 during the next six months. Whatever amount is not raised will be funded through a low-interest construction loan supplied by PNC Bank.

“There won’t be a better time,” said Cheryl Zuckschwerdt-Ellsbury, a Humane Society board member. “Interest rates are very low right now; but when the economy improves, it will get more expensive.”

She said her organization had been urged to break ground now by financial consultants who believe both interest rates and building costs will rise early next spring.

The new shelter will offer a number of new and improved services, Zuckschwerdt-Ellsbury said. They include:

n A large community education room.

n Two family greeting rooms.

n Animal training area.

n A surgery room and a separate recovery room.

Much of the instruction will involve teaching pet owner responsibility and the necessity of controlled animal breeding, she said. She added Bartholomew County residents also need to be aware of the millions of tax dollars being spent as the result of irresponsible pet owners.

“If we are ever going to improve the situation with animals, we are going to have to educate people better than we have in the past,” Zuckschwerdt-Ellsbury said. “We need to get people to look at their environment in a totally different way.”

The family greeting rooms will be a new addition the society has long needed, Zuckschwerdt-Ellsbury said.

“Right now, we don’t have a room where you can take in a dog and sit down as a family and say: ‘Is this a fit?’” she said.

The training area is mostly intended to better prepare both pets and humans for living together.

“Without that training, we often have the animal returned in two weeks or less,” Zuckschwerdt-Ellsbury said. “We’ve even had new owners drive down the lane, turn around and come back within 15 minutes because the dog doesn’t ride well in the car.”

Surgeries at the Humane Society are mostly done at little to no cost by a retired veterinarian. But, due to a lack of room, the operations are performed on a pop-up table in the kitchen.

“We’re also in there washing dishes or cleaning a cat bin,” Zuckschwerdt-Ellsbury said. “The surgery and recovery rooms will provide a much cleaner and sanitary environment.”

The national average cost for new shelters rose from $100 per square foot in 2000 to $163 in 2004. So the $188 per square foot cost is within the average range for 2013, society leaders said. In addition, the group is expected to save $100,000 by holding off construction on an entrance facade until later.

Nevertheless, the former educator shook her head as she thought about the price tag for the society’s third shelter in 41 years. She recalled the current facility cost $85,000, while the first was erected for $15,000.

“When we discovered it was going to be about $1.5 million, that was a big gulp,” Zuckschwerdt-Ellsbury said. “We thought that amount was really out of the ball park. But it costs that kind of money because we’ve changed our attitudes over the past 50 years on the way we handle animals.”

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