Butte-Silver Bow officials are hoping a private campaign spearheaded by dog and cat lovers can raise money to build a new animal shelter at a more suitable place in town, perhaps near Skyline Park.
The current shelter is hard to find, sits next to an industrial gravel operation, is partially on private property, and is run down, they say.
“The one we have is outdated and needs a lot of work, and it would be like throwing good money after bad trying to fix up what we have,” said Dave Palmer, Butte-Silver Bow’s chief executive.
Ed Randall, who oversees Animal Services for the county, said the current shelter is “in the middle of a rock quarry” and needs major improvements.
“We should do better,” he said.
Pat Holland, Butte-Silver Bow’s director of government buildings, noted that the county spent about $22,000 last year putting a new roof on the current Chelsea Bailey animal shelter off Centennial Avenue just west of urban Butte.
But that was four or five years overdue as it was and had to be done no matter what plans there are for the future, he said. But the shelter also needs major drain and plumbing upgrades, among other things, and costs would be significant.
A new metal building could cost $500,000 or more, he said, but it could be designed as a shelter with better ventilation and noise control and ways to help prevent contamination in dogs and cats from spreading. That would all be better for the animals and the workers.
“There is a lot more to it than just putting a dog or a cat in a cage, walking away, and waiting for it to be adopted,” Holland said.
County officials face plenty of spending pressures already and, among other things, must find or raise additional tax dollars in the next budget to pay for significant new pay raises for police officers.
But Palmer, Randall, and some members of the Animal Services Board believe a fundraising drive led by a nonprofit group could raise a large share of money for the shelter.
It might be similar to Friends of Stodden Park, a group that initially raised money to promote passage of a bond issue for new Butte’s water park. The voter-approved bond paid for $7.2 million in construction costs with an additional $1.5 million from other sources.
“I think a lot of people would donate to that because they love animals and they love their pets,” Palmer said.
Animal Services still has $101,500 plus a little interest from a donation made to the shelter in late 2017 by John and Patti Armstrong of Helena on behalf of their friend George Huston.
Huston, who died in March 2017, put provisions in his will giving part of his estate to the animal shelters in Butte and Helena. He and his wife Dorothy were lifelong animal lovers and had adopted pets from both shelters. Dorothy died in 2010.
The only stipulation to the donation is that it be used for the overall care of animals. County officials are considering using much of the money to purchase new kennels better designed for the health, comfort, and safety of the animals.
Officials want the kennels to be portable so they can be moved to a new facility, if one is built. They have visited the shelter in Livingston and liked their kennels, saying they are 20 years old and still in great shape.
Any plans to use the donated $101,500 will be shared with the Armstrongs for their approval, Palmer and Randall said.
“They just wanted it to go to the care of animals, and this definitely fits that,” Palmer said.
Randall says there are probably several dog and cat lovers in Butte who would help spearhead a campaign for a new shelter, and like Palmer, he thinks it would be well received by many in the community.
As far as locations for a new shelter go, Palmer said one early idea is at or near Skyline Park off of Continental Drive on the east side of Butte. The county owns the land, and the park has specific areas where dogs can roam and play without being leashed.
But that’s just one idea. The county owns land elsewhere that might be suitable, too, Palmer said.
He said he would soon set a meeting with stakeholders — including Animal Services officials and board members as well as officials with Public Works and Land Records — to discuss the issue of a new shelter, its potential location, and a possible capital campaign.