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Porter County Animal Shelter director marks a first year of changes, successes

Director JThomas visits with pair dogs Porter County animal shelter Valparaiso Thursday Nov. 29 2012. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

Director Jon Thomas visits with a pair of dogs at the Porter County animal shelter in Valparaiso Thursday Nov. 29, 2012. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 2, 2012 10:30PM



VALPARAISO — On Jon Thomas’ first day as interim director of the Porter County Animal Shelter, he walked into a facility that had been closed for two weeks because of a parvovirus outbreak in the dogs.

The place, he said, was filthy, with piled-up laundry soiled with animal waste.

“The place stunk, and I don’t think the animals were happy,” he said.

One year later, the shelter has undergone a noticeable transformation. It took several weeks but, with thorough cleaning, Thomas and the shelter employees got rid of the smell. Adoptions and income have increased, and discussions over a new, larger shelter continue.

Thomas started as interim director on Nov. 28 of last year, and was officially named director a few months later. The previous director quit after only three months on the job, and Thomas inherited an assortment of problems from a string of former directors.

That included unpaid veterinary bills dating back to 2008 that totaled more than $25,000. The brunt of that was paid in the first half of this year, with money from this year’s shelter budget.

There also had been problems with theft, rectified by changes in how the shelter takes donations.

Thomas, who had worked at the shelter part-time for two weeks before he was named interim director, said the facility brought in $49,200 last year. That figure stands at $59,000 so far this year, and he expects it to hit $65,000 by the end of the year.

Thomas credits the hard work of the shelter staff and the support of the community for helping turn the shelter around. He also has restructured the staff, bumping up the number of part-time employees from four to 12. The number of full-time employees at the shelter remains at four, and the shelter still relies on volunteers.

“People, when they work with me, have really done a great job,” he said. “This is hard work, taking out 40 to 45 dogs a day and cleaning this facility.”

Thomas dealt with a hoarding case involving 107 dogs five weeks after stepping up as interim director, and also has handled separate hoarding cases involving 73 rabbits and 49 guinea pigs.

Still, the number of animals at the shelter is down from where it was a year ago because of increased adoptions. The number of cats was 120 when he started and is now around 50; there were about 53 dogs at the shelter a year ago, and there are 38 now.

He’s also found homes for two goats, a potbellied pig, a boa constrictor, a large white cow, an alligator, several roosters and chickens, and about nine horses.

The shelter also can officially claim to be a no-kill facility, maintaining a 92 percent success rate, over the industry standard of 90 percent for no-kill facilities, said Ashley Dec, the shelter’s animal care manager.

“The changes we’ve made here have all been because they’re necessary,” said Dec, who started at the shelter about six weeks before Thomas did.

Officials expect talks about a new shelter to continue in the coming months. The not-for-profit animal advocacy organization Lakeshore PAWS signed a letter of intent with the Porter County Board of Commissioners mid-year to discuss providing a new shelter.

“Negotiations with (Lakeshore) PAWS are ongoing and I look forward to making this issue a priority come January,” said Porter County Councilwoman Laura Blaney, D-at large.

Blaney, who will take a seat representing the South District as a county commissioner next month, has played an active role in working toward a new shelter.

“Our county is still in desperate need of a new and larger shelter, and Lakeshore PAWS is in negotiations with Porter County to build a brand new facility on acreage off of U.S. 130 and Indiana 149,” said Jeanne Sommer, co-founder and executive director of the not-for-profit. “There seems to be a lot of support from the public and based on conversations with several Porter County officials. They are supporting the idea of turning over the animal care to a private organization. There is a lot to take into consideration in order to make it the best scenario for the homeless animals and the citizens of Porter County.”



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