Community members weigh in on proposed animal shelter

BIG RAPIDS — As members of the community filed into the Pioneer Group’s downtown office Tuesday night for a meeting called by Debbie Szot, it was clear the proposed conference room would not be large enough.

The more than 40 people then situated in the lobby of the office building to discuss their ideas and concerns about the county animal shelter that will be under new management this summer.

ANIMAL LOVERS: More than 40 people filled the Pioneer Group’s downtown offices on Tuesday night to discuss a proposed new county animal shelter. Debbie Szot, founder of the Riley MacKenzie Fund, called the meeting. She is one of four submitting a proposal looking to take over management of the shelter (Pioneer photo/Kyle Leppek)

Current managers Ken and Susan DeVries, who have operated their privately-owned shelter for 22 years, announced they would retire their service effective July 1. The Mecosta County Board of Commissioners announced it was accepting proposals for new management of the shelter.

Szot, founder of the Riley MacKenzie Fund, is one of four interested in running a new shelter. Szot held Tuesday’s meeting to gather volunteers and the thoughts of the community as to what the shelter should be. Community members, county officials and members of the Riley MacKenzie Fund weighed in on the subject.

Many of the questions were geared toward Szot’s proposal. Many attendees worried if past practices would continue at the new shelter.

“One of the neatest things about the proposals is that it does include cats, and the proposal has no Class B transfers anymore,” Szot said. “So no matter who gets the bid, those are two really neat positive things that are going to happen.”

She added that the proposals also called for lethal injection as the sole means of euthanasia. Although the group never wants to put an animal down, if it must, it should be done in the most humane way possible. Szot said the five veterinary clinics in Mecosta County already have agreed to provide those services.

Several members in the audience asked about the possibility of a “no kill” shelter. However, Animal Control Officer Trent Livermore said that would not be a feasible option. The shelter would either have to turn away animals or risk them piling up.

“You guys haven’t had anyone dealing with cats in 20 years,” he said. “I anticipate whoever gets this bid will be flooded and full of cats within the first 15 days they are open.”

No matter whose proposal is chosen, Szot believes the new shelter should be a collaborative community effort. Her five page proposal includes suggestions to work with colleges and schools, volunteers and other organizations.

“I see this as a real opportunity for you all to develop something that can be used as a model all over the state, all over the country if we do it right,” said Tony Rutledge, an attendee. “We have a real chance here to make some incredible changes in all of this and be able to show the rest of the state that this can be done by a group of dedicated individuals.”

MEETING: Debbie Szot ran Tuesday’s meeting in Big Rapids where community members discussed their ideas and concerns about the county animal shelter that will be under new management this summer. (Pioneer photo/Kyle Leppek)

Another member of the audience asked if Szot had considered purchasing the DeVries’ current shelter and property which is up for sale. Lonnie Grahm, a supporter of the organization, explained it would cost more money to remodel and refurbish the building than to build new. It also wouldn’t have enough room to fit everything envisioned in the proposal, like a medical room and training areas, Szot said.

When questioned about funding for the new shelter, Szot admitted they would undoubtedly need donations and fundraisers to operate. She said the yearly budget for a shelter in Mount Pleasant is $366,000, although that shelter is larger, includes an animal control officer and a few paid staff members.

According to Mecosta County’s budget, the current shelter’s operating fund increased by 51 percent this year. The fund was budgeted $33,103 for 2010 and 2011 and was budgeted $50,000 for 2012.

Szot said she was confident the county would support the new shelter because it isn’t something she sees as temporary.

“We are in it for the long haul,” she said. “This isn’t a five-year gig for any of us; this is forever.”

The four proposals will be heard at the Sheriff and Jail Committee meeting this morning between 10:30 and noon in room 202 at the Mecosta County Building, located at 400 Elm St. in Big Rapids. Szot will speak at 10:30 a.m.

Mecosta County Sheriff Todd Purcell said he expected the board would make its decision in a timely manner.

“I would say if it wasn’t Thursday of this week, it would be two weeks from Thursday at the next board meeting (when the decision is made),” he said.

The board of commissioners will meet on Thursday at 10 a.m. at the Mecosta County Building.

Leave a Reply