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Butte animal shelter given $101,505 donation

John and Patti Armstrong of Helena tour the Chelsea Bailey Butte-Silver Bow Animal Shelter with shelter manager Jacki Casagranda, center, Nov. 30 after delivering a check for $101,505 their friend left the facility in his will.

County officials want to spend about half of a $101,500 donation to the Butte animal shelter on renovating kennels and improving living conditions for dogs and the other half on buying two new animal control trucks.

But the couple who delivered the bequest on behalf of their late friend feel the vast majority of the money should go toward the shelter itself and direct animal care instead of spending so much on vehicles that officials say could cost $26,000 apiece.

John and Patti Armstrong of Helena acknowledge that language in the will of George Huston, who died last year, was vague and only said money to shelters in Butte and Helena were for the care of animals.

As far as specifying just how the money is spent, “We really haven’t got a leg to stand on,” Patti Armstrong said.

But, she said, “What George wanted was animal care, not picking up the animals.”

“We feel the money should result in taking direct care of the dogs and cats,” John Armstrong said. “We see the need for upgrading facilities, especially in Butte.”

Community Enrichment Director Ed Randall and Dave Palmer, Butte-Silver Bow’s chief executive, say they view picking up animals and the shelter as all one service and responsibility. But they say their first priority is improving the shelter.

Randall says major upgrades can be made, including new, modular kennels with better flooring and fiberglass dividers, for about $50,000.

“Our kennels are number one and if we spend $100,000 on that then that is what we do,” said Randall, who oversees animal services along with Assistant Community Enrichment Director John Moodry.

But they need two new trucks too, they said, to replace ones with 200,000 miles and mounting maintenance problems. They believe it’s possible to meet all of the needs with the donation.

The plans are only preliminary now since a public hearing on them must be held first and commissioners must sign off on use of the money. The public hearing is set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7, at the courthouse, 155 W. Granite St.

Palmer has indicated that plans could even change before that.

The Armstrongs said as of Monday afternoon, nobody from the county had contacted them since they dropped off a check for the money at the shelter on Nov. 30. But Palmer said that would happen soon.

“We did say we would improve the kennels and put the kennels first and move the old fencing outside for dog runs, but if they feel it (the trucks) is a misuse of the funds then we will probably change our line of thinking,” Palmer said Friday.

About the Hustons, Armstrongs

The Armstrongs were longtime friends with George and Dorothy Huston, lifelong animal lovers who had adopted pets from shelters in Butte and Helena. They did not have children and after Dorothy died in 2010, George redid his will and left part of his estate to the two shelters — each donation about $101,500. He died last March.

The Armstrongs, executors of the estate, walked through both shelters after dropping off the checks late last year. The one in Butte, where dogs are separated only by chain-link fencing, was especially in need of major improvements, John Armstrong said.

It was extremely loud, ventilation seemed poor and the temperature wasn’t ideal, among other problems, he said.

“We saw the need for the actual facility itself that would take care of the dogs and put them in a better position rather than sitting on cement floors and behind wire cages,” he said.

Shelter officials acknowledged those needs that day, too, he said, while also mentioning a desire to “replace one vehicle used to transport dogs to and from the vet.”

Plans for now

Randall and Moodry said both trucks need replacing. They are not only needed to respond to calls and pick up animals all over the county, they said, but are also used daily to take dogs and cats to vet clinics for needed care.

Picking up animals and caring for them are all one operation, Randall said, but he and others acknowledged that big upgrades to the shelter are needed. As it is now, they said, dogs sometimes get injured in the fencing, they can be at each other’s throats and it is loud and hectic.

“Research shows that noise and chaos in a kennel is not healthy for the animals,” Moodry said.

Under a plan reviewed by them and Budget Director Danette Gleason, these improvements would be made:

• The current fenced kennels would be replaced with modular ones with epoxy-like flooring and fiberglass dividers that would allow dogs to see out front and sometimes to the sides, but also escape the sight of other dogs when they want.

• The flooring would be much easier to clean and the dividers and new material on walls would cut down on noise and vibration. Ventilation improvements are also part of the plan.

• Some of the old fencing would be used to create three to four long runs outside so dogs could get hours of fresh air at a time. That would also allow many kennels to be cleaned at the same time.

• A new fenced area would be created where dogs could play and people could be outside with animals they're thinking of adopting.

Randall said the county will spend $20,000 on its own for all new roofing on the shelter in March, the outside of the building will get new paint and landscaping improvements will be made.

Officials have priced the kennel improvements and new trucks and think all can be done under the donation, Randall said, but the shelter would come first.

“We will make sure that everything we need to do for that shelter is complete and we can pay for it before we do anything (else),” he said.

If the public or commissioners still don't like the current plans, Randall said, he and other officials would be OK with changes.

That makes the Armstrongs feel a little better, but they still don’t want a giant chunk of the money spent on vehicles.

“The major concern for us is that the animals get the care they need and we saw a need in the animal shelter itself,” Patti said. “That’s what we’d like to see.”

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Government and politics reporter

Reporter with emphasis on government and politics.

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