For 16 years, animal care workers and residents of Inyo County have been trying to fund a new animal shelter to replace the outmoded facility currently operating in Big Pine. With the adoption of a new county operating budget on Sept. 17, the project will finally be getting under way.
The Inyo County Board of Supervisors has earmarked $200,000 toward the shelter project, which brings the total funds to roughly $500,000 to build a brand-new shelter to replace the aging cement structure on County and Reynolds roads.
Additional monies include $175,000 in tax-free donations to the Animal Shelter Trust Fund that was established in 1997, plus $130,000 from ICARE, a non-profit animal welfare organization, according to ICARE President Ted Schade.
The project is currently in the design phase, and site assessments continue on the 80-acre property the county owns from Baker Creek to School Street. But more money is needed to realize the full extent of the project, according to Inyo County Sheriff Bill Lutze, who oversees Animal Control.
“We’re hoping for more donations from the public,” said Lutze, who added the facility’s final price tag would likely be closer to $750,000. To reach that number, Lutze said project organizers are thinking of creative ways to raise funds, like allowing members of the public to sponsor kennels with cash donations of $1,000 or $5,000, in exchange for the donors’ names affixed to the kennels. The public may also be able to sponsor such features as a water fountain or rose bush on the new site, said Lutze. The county is also continuing to look into available grants to fund the project, and wants to organize more fundraisers such as run/walk events and barbecues.
The Inyo County Animal Shelter is housed in a cement building erected in 1929 that was originally used as a dairy barn. Three decades after it was built, the structure was turned into a shelter. According to Schade, ICARE’s original intent was to improve the facility through fundraising efforts like the annual ICARE Dinner, which brings in between $30,000 and $40,000.
Schade said the non-profit’s focus turned to spay and neuter programs after initial “Band-Aid” attempts to improve the shelter seemed futile. It was clear that the only real solution was to start over and build a new one.
“You have no idea how bad it was down there,” said Schade, referring to the shelter of nearly 20 years ago. “Cats were living with dogs. They were living on top of the dog crates. They’d escape through chicken wire … It was like a concentration camp.”
There were also no public hours, and animal control officers tasked with picking up strays also handled adoptions. For an essential service like animal control, the place is just too small, said Julie Laughon, the shelter manager who has served the facility as long as ICARE has existed. Laughon has seen far too many animals get euthanized due to overcrowding over the years.
“We’re the third largest county in the state, and we only have 15 kennels for the dogs. Eighteen for cats,” said Laughon. “We need at least 24 for each, plus at least two isolation wards each.”
Laughon listed the features of the animal shelter of her dreams: A front office, an entry room, a vet room, feeding and medication areas, a grooming area, isolation cells, plenty of kennels so that the animals don’t have to double up. Plus, the dirt parking lot has to be paved and marked, and provide drive-up loading and unloading. She also needs two offices for staff. Currently, most of the above features, plus a lunchroom for Laughon and her assistant, are housed in a cramped suite that contains one desk and some chairs, a refrigerator, a bathtub, a microwave oven, all the animals’ grooming and medication implements, and the shelter mascot, Vincent, an affable senior cat adopted by staff when it was clear he was going to continue to get passed over by shelter visitors.
Most importantly, “We really need a much better place to show adoptable animals,” said Laughon. “Some type of adoption center where the animals pay attention to the people and are not distracted by all the smells around them. That’s all they want to do when they get let out of their kennels – smell everything.”
“This is where the county sells its only product,” said Schade, referring to the hundreds of lost and abandoned dogs and cats that end up at the shelter every year. “We need to market them well.”
For information on donating to the cause, visit the ICARE website at www.icareforpets.org  or call (760) 872-3802.