This year, the Jackson County Animal Shelter is beginning a metamorphosis that will make the public shelter healthier for animals and people alike.
The Board of Supervisors has voted to build a $1.3 million wing — the start of a three-phase plan that will include modern kennels to help stop the spread of diseases, a big new veterinarian shop with an extra surgical table so the county can offer discount spay and neuter events, two air-cooled horse stalls and an air exchange that will bring a constant flow of fresh air into the buildings.
Phase I is included in this year’s fiscal budget, which began Oct. 1.
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The first building coming, in the next 12 months, will be built across the front of the property, taking the place of the parking lot, the old veterinarian building and about a dozen kennels at the end of one of the old buildings.
It will give the shelter a new entrance from the west — a glass entryway to a front lobby, with a showroom for small animals, a quarantine for puppies and 16 kennels for large dogs in the back. There will be an employee break room and two offices for management and adoption.
The next two phases will be built as wings off that building at right angles, to the north. They will be 80 percent kennels. Those buildings will form a “U” that will be fenced at the end to create a large, enclosed play yard.
The plan is to house animals in kennels that are built to modern standards — kennels that no longer have exposed open trenches that when washed out can spread disease and contamination.
Exposed trenches are a health hazard, Director Joe Barlow said. What’s coming will be an enclosed track with a flusher that eliminates waste from the cages.
They don’t want to increase the number of animals the shelter will hold, but rather make it a more appealing place for people to come and see animals to adopt and eliminate cross-contamination, Barlow said. “My goal is saving animals and let the rest take care of itself.”
He said they’re looking at the most modern shelter kennel designs available.
The shell of a new veterinarian building is now in back. When Hurricane Nate cleanup and the Jackson County Fair are complete this month, county crews will begin turning that 70-foot by 40-foot metal-beam structure into surgical rooms, an entrance counter, checkup rooms and horse stalls in back.
A new outlook is here
One of the biggest misconceptions about Jackson County’s public animal shelter is that dogs go in and within days, they are dead, Barlow said.
“We have some that have been here for seven or eight months.”
More than 2 1/2 years ago, the shelter began to change. Barlow and his staff have moved the needle. Today, a team of volunteer walkers from the community comes in to give dogs — especially the long-timers — a chance to get out of the cage and into an open yard.
“The amount of time dogs were spending in the kennels was not healthy,” Barlow said. “Now they are socialized and walked three or four times a week.”
The three volunteers compare notes to make sure every dog gets his turn. They get dogs out and throw a ball or play, return it and get another.
“The walkers are so consistent that I can go to a kennel to get a dog to show, put the leash down and they’ll come put their head in it,” Barlow said.
Other ways to help
The county also has set up a way for others to help. The department keeps a computer list of donations, divided into $25 increments. When someone sends a check, it’s broken into $25 slots to be filled when the money is used to help with an adoption.
There’s a woman in Ocean Springs who this year is responsible for helping get 60 dogs adopted in this way.
It helps with expenses for the person or family who is adopting.
People in Jackson County are investing in their animals and so are county leaders.
Board of Supervisors President Troy Ross sees this as the biggest of the three phases with an eye on solving some of the problems the shelter has had in the past.
“It’s something we knew we needed to do,” Ross said. One goal is a better environment to attract adoptions.
Supervisor Ken Taylor said, “That place is old and decrepit and needs to expand and keep up with times. This is a super thing for our citizens.
“They’ve got some great employees out there who are getting more visibility for the animals on social media and more interest in adoption,” Taylor said. “And that means fewer animals are having to be put down.”
Supervisor Randy Bosarge said, “It’s just time for a new facility, something the public can be proud of.”
Fewer animals were put down at the Jackson County Animal Shelter this year.
24% were euthanized
37% is the ASPCA’s national average for public shelters