Humane Society plans
Under the recently enacted state "puppy mill" legislation, the Lincoln County Humane Society is facing mandates prompting it to plan for a new facility. The law applies not only to dog breeders, but to non-profit groups that shelter at least 25 dogs annually.
Lincoln County Humane Society shelter manager Liz Friedenfels says the new law, designed to combat puppy mill animal abuse, is a good thing. However, it has brought to the forefront some of the shortcomings of the current shelter building.
Under the new law, enacted in June 2011, the shelter needs to provide additional kennel square footage for each dog based on its size. At least half of the dogs taken in by the Lincoln County shelter are larger than what the shelter's kennels can legally hold.
"The state would like to see 20 square feet and some of ours are only 12," Friedenfels said.
The Lincoln County Humane Society passed state inspection last week, except for the kennel size issue. The shelter has been given an extension to June 2013 to comply with the law.
The Humane Society is looking to improve the shelter in phases, starting with the kennels.
The location of the shelter, on the Lincoln County fairgrounds, has caused a kink in expansion plans. The Humane Society has 15 years remaining on a 50-year lease with the county of a 200x300 foot lot on the east end of the fairgrounds.
The Humane Society's need for expanding comes at the same time as the county's need for a new structure to replace the grandstand, which was demolished this summer after significant storm damage.
The Fairgrounds User Group intends to place the new expo center structure in the same area as the former grandstand, near the Humane Society lot. With the help of a consultant, the group explored other locations for the expo center on the fairgrounds property, but kept coming back to the former grandstand location as the only suitable option.
The Humane Society has asked the county to expand the size of its lot and transfer ownership to them. However, the county hasn't taken any action to make changes in its arrangement with the Humane Society while the grandstand replacement project is also pending.
"They're both worthy projects and the community needs them both," said Lincoln County Public Property Committee chairman Bill Zeitz. "The Fairgrounds User Group wants to stick with the existing grandstand location, which is the rub with the Humane Society."
The city of Merrill has offered assistance to find a new location, if the Humane Society decides to move. But, the shelter will stay where it is, said Lincoln County Humane Society board president Pat Hoerstmann. If necessary, the Humane Society will plan for expansion within the bounds of the current lot, he added.
"What we'll probably pursue going forward is to remain in that lot and expand toward the parking lot (to the south of the current building)," Hoerstmann said following a county Fairgrounds Marketing & Usage meeting last week. "To move the project forward we're ready to go south."
Based on input they've received from the public, Hoertsmann said the Humane Society's current central location in Merrill is convenient for citizens.
"We're going to stay on our lot. We think it's best for servicing the community," he said. "We want to work with the Fairgrounds User Group to interfere with each other as little as possible."
Along with the pressing compliance issues, a new facility will rectify a number of other problems with the current building, Friedenfels said. They don't currently have a true quarantine area for sick animals, nor do they have an isolation area for aggressive dogs.
"We do take in every stray animal in the county, we can take animals with any disease that are still contagious," she said. "Because of the close location of the kennels, it's very easy for the animals to get sick and it can get very expensive to treat."
The current shelter facility, built in 1979, is 1800 square feet. The proposed new building would provide about double that space. While the animal capacity would not go up a great amount, the space would be more efficient, Friedenfels said. The cramped conditions in the current shelter building create a higher stress level for the animals, she added.
The cost of the new building is estimated at around $1 million.
"I really doubt we'll be able to do it all at once," Hoerstmann said, "probably $100,000 a year over the next several years."
The project would likely begin with the construction of new dog kennels off the northwest corner of the existing building. Construction would progress as money became available and the existing building would eventually be removed.
The shelter receives about one-quarter of its operating budget in contributions from Lincoln County and the cities of Merrill and Tomahawk. The majority of its revenue comes from donations and fundraising efforts. A capital campaign to raise money for the new building will kick off shortly, Hoerstmann said.
"By next summer you should see some activity on that lot," he said. "We want to provide better conditions for the animals as soon as we can."
The county expects to see plans and cost estimates on a new expo center to replace the grandstand this month, Zeitz said. The Fairgrounds Marketing & Usage group plans to meet soon after that information is available. The architects for both the Humane Society project and the expo center will be invited to attend that meeting.