Poor ventilation and overcrowding at the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter have prompted City Councilman Robert W. Curran to call for a plan to come up with $18 million to build a new animal shelter.
At a council work session Tuesday, Curran asked officials from several city agencies to investigate whether to ask voters on the November 2016 ballot to consider financing a new shelter. He said a BARCS capital campaign, the sale of waterfront property near the Horseshoe Casino in South Baltimore where the shelter is located and a bond could fund the project.
"It's clear what we need to do," Curran said. "There are only so many cages, so some good, domesticated dogs have to be put down. We need a new facility."
Curran estimated that it would take three years to come up with the money to pay for and build a new shelter unless an investor comes forward to redevelop the shelter's three-acre Stockholm Street property, less than a mile from the casino. Developer interest could speed up the scenario, but officials said no investors are actively considering the property.
Caron A. Brace, a spokeswoman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said discussions about financing a new shelter are in the "infancy stage and all strategies are on the table." The city also is considering retrofitting an empty building.
"The funding challenges are extensive, which requires this to be considered in the full context of the city's ongoing human service needs," Brace said.
Shelter director Jennifer Brause said BARCS operates at maximum capacity, taking in about 12,000 animals a year, mostly cats and dogs. The shelter runs on an annual $3 million budget.
Overcrowding has prevented BARCS from dropping its euthanasia rate below 23 percent, Brause said. The rate was 98 percent when the current facility opened about 30 years ago.
"We get an average of 35 new animals a day, and sometimes up to 60 to 70," she said. "Every day I have to make spaces available, because we are always at capacity. When a large group is brought in, you can imagine how hard that day and week is for us."
Brause said the shelter works with rescue groups and foster homes, but "it's not enough. If we had more space at the shelter, it would give us more time to save those animals."
As a stopgap, Curran filed legislation that would give owners of seized animals five days, down from 10, to challenge the confiscation, which would give the shelter more flexibility in managing space constraints. Curran said BARCS sometimes has to put down adoptable animals instead of vicious ones that are being held pending legal challenges.
The bill would also allow the shelter to keep puppies seized during raids in confidential off-site locations and give BARCS the authority to try to recoup the cost of providing care and medical attention to seized animals. No hearing on the legislation has been scheduled.
A new shelter could also provide better cooling, heating and ventilation, according to a needs assessment study released in August. Proper ventilation is needed to control the spread of airborne viruses and keep the animals comfortable.
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To meet modern requirements, a new shelter would need at least seven acres. That would provide enough space for larger examination and grooming rooms, additional room to quarantine pets and classrooms to provide public education, according to the study.
Councilwoman Helen Holton, who chairs the council's Budget Committee, said she'd prefer to see the city finance a new shelter through the annual spending plan and grants, rather than long-term debt.