By Mason W. Canales
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS – The current city animal control facility is small, and a new one is long overdue.
The white building that houses the city's stray animals is roughly 900 to 1,000 square feet. It sits behind the old city police station on Harley Drive.
It was used as a phone switching station, then a building for detectives, before it became the animal control building, said Police Chief Mike Gentry.
The shelter houses 12 dog kennels, enough cages for about 20 cats, a small quarantine area, a small two-person office and barely enough walking room for two between the cages.
George Fox, an animal rights activist and president of Assisi Animal Refuge in Killeen, remembers helping painting the shelter white in 1995.
"It was too small then, so it has been too small for awhile," Fox said.
Fox was pleased that Harker Heights is planning to build a new facility next to the fire station, on the corner of Indian Trail and Clore Road, he said. The size of the old building was a big hindrance to animal control, but there is nothing else wrong with the facility.
"It is too small; they have some good people working there but it is understaffed," Fox said, claiming the building doesn't allow for more people to work in it.
Currently, there are two animal control officers working for Harker Heights. The city is hoping to hire two more once the new shelter is finished in about 11 months, Gentry said.
The new facility will also allow for some volunteers to work there, said City Manager Steve Carpenter.
The two officers currently handle an average of 1,500 animals a year.
Out of those 1,500 animals, about 240 go to rescues and refuges, about 400 are adopted, and 370 are returned to their owners, said Animal Control Officer Rebecca Hejnal.
"We try really hard to get them back to their owners if we can," Hejnal said. "We are doing really well compared to when I first started."
Each animal is held roughly five days. The state requires all animals to be held three days, and Animal Control doesn't count the day the animal was caught and the day it decides what to do with the animals, said Lt. Loretta Fox, with police department. On that last day, it is determined whether the animal should be held for adoption or if it should be euthanized.
There are about 400 cats and 250 dogs euthanized a year, Loretta Fox said.
The goal is to get the animals adopted out, Carpenter said. The new facility will be more attractive to people and be able to house animals longer to hopefully increase the amount of adoptions.
Room to grow
According to the site plans, the new facility will contain 31 dog kennels and a room with 40 cat cages with a glass wall to view from the lobby, a larger quartantine area, and other animal holding areas.
For at least the last three years, Harker Heights has been getting the top mark from the Texas Department of Public Health on the current shelter, a ranking of satisfactory. It something they hope to continue with the new facility.
Satisfactory is what most facilities get, said Beverlee Nix, Texas Department of Public Heath Zoonosis Control specialist for health service region seven.
Facilities that need to work on the up keep of their building, maintaining paperwork or repairing problems typically get put on probation, Nix said. A facility that gets an unsatisfactory ranking is atrocious.
"For its size and the volume it has to handle, they have made satisfactory," Nix said of the Heights' shelter. "I know the city will be glad to give them a new facility because it is small. ... I have always thought it was too small for what the community needs, but that is not limited to Harker Heights. That is a problem with all communities as they grow."
Sometimes people call the Texas Department of Public Health to complain about problems with shelters, but they have not received one about Harker Heights' facility, Nix said.
Three years in the making
The city has been discussing and working on this project seriously for about three years, Carpenter said.
The project has had a total of three architects, which were obtained by using a Request for Proposal. The city could not work out an agreement with the first architect. The city couldn't agree on a vision with the second architect, Carpenter said. That is probably where the most time was wasted on the animal shelter, he added.
Michael Marrs, the current architect, is meeting the city's needs for design and time frame, Carpenter said.
"I think that worked out really well and we are going to end up with a good facility," Carpenter said.
The budgeted amount for the building has also gone from $500,000 to $1.2 million.
Carpenter was not sure when discussions about shelter first started.
"The idea for it goes way before the construction," Carpenter said. "It starts as an idea. Most projects take quite a while, when you think about it, from the time its conceived to construction."
Most everything the city has constructed in the past three years, including the police station, the Farm-to-Market 2410 Community Park and the new library, have been long-range projects.
Once the city gets the bids, the construction of the building is expected to take about nine months, a period that is on par with the construction of the other new city facilities. The library was constructed in about 12 months, the FM 2410 Community Park in about nine months, and the police station took about nine months.
Those projects were prioritized and completed, and it is now time for the city's animal shelter, Carpenter said.
"As our cities grow the shelter has to grow, too. It is probably long overdue for Harker Heights," George Fox said. "Cities have priorities and animals are not always the first priority.
"The population is growing, and thus the animal population is growing and they are dealing with that."
Contact Mason W. Canales at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7554.