Baltimore County will build a $5 million animal shelter to replace its aging facility in Baldwin as part of a plan to improve services for pets, officials announced Monday.
The county also will begin offering spay and neuter services at the current shelter within the next week, they said.
"This will address a lot of complaints," said Dr. Gregory William Branch, the county's director of health and human services. "We've outgrown that antiquated facility. It's definitely too small, and it's not configured for all the things that we need now."
Features of the new shelter will include more kennel space, a meet-and-greet room for adoptions, a surgical suite for spaying and neutering, an outdoor exercise area for dogs, and a cat socialization room. It also will include a dog park that is open to the public, as well as additional parking and office space for employees and volunteers.
Branch said the county does not know when construction will begin. The new facility will be built near the existing one, which is located on 14 acres. Animals will stay in the current shelter during construction, he said.
The county has not been able to offer spaying and neutering because the shelter — which Branch said is more than 30 years old — has no space for it, he said. But the county recently provided a temporary trailer that includes an operating room.
The spaying and neutering service will be available "within the next week," Branch said. It will be covered by the current $65 adoption fee, which also includes vaccinations, a license and an identification microchip.
For now, only people who have adopted through the shelter can have their pets spayed or neutered there, though the county plans to eventually expand the service to all county residents, said health department spokeswoman Monique Lyle.
Earlier this year, county leaders announced plans to partner with a nonprofit organization to manage some shelter services but did not receive any responses to its request for proposals. At the time, county officials said they would rather focus on enforcement issues — such as dealing with dangerous dogs — than adoptions.
That proposal followed complaints from animal advocates about the shelter, including concerns about its euthanasia rate, which was 63 percent last year.
County resident Donna Bernstein, who had pushed for a public-private partnership at the shelter, said she was not satisfied with the county's announcement Monday, saying there are management issues that a new building won't fix. For example, the shelter hours are inconvenient for many residents, she said.
"In a normal situation where there was a well-run shelter in the first place and this was just enhancing it, that would be fantastic," Bernstein said. "Until the protocol and procedures are changed from within, it doesn't matter how pretty the place is, it's just going be business as usual."
But County Councilman Todd Huff, who represents the district where the shelter is located, said he hopes the new building provides a more welcoming atmosphere for volunteers and people who want to adopt.
"With a new, bigger facility, we'll be able to invite more volunteers in here to help," said Huff, a Lutherville Republican. "It's going be more adoption-friendly and more inviting to people who want to come out and adopt."
Funds in the capital budget will cover engineering costs for the new shelter, county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said. When it's time for construction, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's administration will have to ask the County Council to approve the expenditure.
The county also is changing the name of the Baltimore County Animal Control Division to the Animal Services Division.
The new name represents a change in the county's mind-set, Branch said. As opposed to only focusing on controlling stray animals, "we're trying to provide services to the animals and their owners."
"We want people to be able to feel very comfortable with the animals that they're adopting," he said.