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Animal rescue group bows out of plan for new Porter County shelter

Updated: April 9, 2013 11:43AM



VALPARAISO — A potential partnership between Porter County and a local animal rescue group to build a new county animal shelter has dissolved, as Lakeshore PAWS moves forward with its own plans for a facility and county officials consider what to do next.

“There were so many details and it just became an overwhelming task,” said Porter County Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South. “It doesn’t mean we don’t still need a new shelter. We do.”

The commissioners and Jeanne Sommer, executive director of Lakeshore PAWS, signed a letter of intent in June. At the time, the goal was to explore the possibility of Lakeshore PAWS paying for a new building and serving the county’s needs under contract, with the county providing the land.

“The hard part and the complicated part we all ran into was the animal control,” Sommer said, adding the two entities parted ways a couple of weeks ago.

Lakeshore didn’t want to lease space to animal control, which is now under the auspices of the Porter County Sheriff’s Department and had formerly been part of the shelter. Such a relationship would be complicated and expensive under a public/private partnership, Sommer said.

A feasibility study, put together last spring by the California firm Shelter Planners of America, recommended a shelter of 10,500 square feet, more than double the size of the existing shelter at 2056 Heavlin Road.

The price tag was estimated at $2.9 million, making a partnership with Lakeshore to handle some of the cost all the more appealing, though the details of who would have paid for what had not been ironed out, Blaney said.

The county needs to decide which direction to take, Blaney said, adding Shelter Planners still has plans for a new shelter that it has not released to the county.

The shelter has had a tumultuous past, with a turnover in directors and financial irregularities, in addition to overcrowding and a disease outbreak.

Jon Thomas took over as interim director in November 2011 and was named permanent director a few months later. County officials have been pleased with the progress made at the shelter since.

“I feel a lot better about us moving along alone than I would have 18 months ago,” Blaney said.

A donor in the community offered last year to match contributions made toward a new shelter for a significant amount of money. Blaney is meeting with the donor in the coming days to see if that person is still interested.

Regardless, Blaney said county officials want what’s best for the animals at a low cost, despite the setback with Lakeshore.

“It’s disappointing but I think we will still be able to move ahead,” Blaney said.

Lakeshore, meanwhile, is looking at a facility of around 6,000 square feet, and is revisiting preliminary plans it had done for a shelter last year.

“I would hope that by mid-April, we would have the plans finalized,” Sommer said.

The relationship between the county and Lakeshore may not be over. The Lakeshore shelter will have a spay/neuter clinic, a service it could provide by contract to the county. “That’s the most expensive part of the building,” Sommer said.



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