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Board OKs new $500K feline wing for animal shelter

Rowan County commissioners agreed Monday to accept a Winston-Salem philanthropist’s offer to build a $500,000 feline wing at the county animal shelter.

Christine Morykwas will cover all expenses to construct the 2,358-square-foot addition. Morykwas and her husband are supporters of the Forsyth County Humane Society and have helped build shelters elsewhere.

Commissioners directed County Manager Gary Page and County Attorney Jay Dees to formalize an agreement with Morykwas and bring it back to the board. Depending on how long that takes, the new facility could be ready for use by the end of this year or the beginning of 2015.

In July, Morykwas met with Page, commissioners Vice Chairman Craig Pierce, Animal Control Supervisor Clai Martin and Barbara Hart, a local animal advocate who Pierce credited as instrumental in bringing Morykwas to Rowan County.

In return for the gift, Morykwas wants the county to adopt written protocols for medical treatment, sanitation and a new spay-neuter program with a licensed veterinarian. The county would also be required to adequately staff and maintain the addition and operate it solely as part of the Animal Control program for 20 years.

“I thought all her requests were very reasonable,” Pierce said.

The county will get what Pierce called a “state of the art facility” for cats with features to reduce the spread of illness, including separate air-flow systems for different holding areas and sealed flooring that’s easier to clean and sanitize.

And the county would then have the existing shelter to house only dogs.

The gift would come with added cost for the county, including utilities, insurance and supplies. The proposal asks the county to hire more employees to staff the addition, but commissioners said they might be able to pay interested volunteers to do jobs such as clean and answer telephones.

Hart said she and Morykwas connected on social media earlier this year through their shared concern for shelter animals.

Morykwas, who built a no-kill shelter in California, “has a passion for cats,” Hart said, and had donated money to the Rowan shelter for adoption fees so cats could be placed in homes or with rescue groups.

Currently, Hart said, cats are housed in runs next to dogs at the shelter, and healthy cats are in runs with sick ones.

“She saw a lot of the cats were having medical problems and dying,” Hart said. “It’s basically because the shelter has no room.”

Morykwas said that when she saw the problems at the shelter, “my opinion was that you really shouldn’t sit there and complain. … You need to try to make those changes.”

She sent a contractor to look at the current facility, which because of its age, condition and layout, couldn’t be adequately updated. She started working with Hart, “and it call came to this.”

Morykwas, whose 25,000-square-foot Valley Animal Center in Fresno, Calif., started as a cat shelter, said that while she’s worked with nonprofits in the past, this is her first project with a county-run shelter. The size needed, she said, is less than it would be in places with higher numbers of animals coming in each year, and that made it “something that was doable, and it was really the only avenue to make a big change there.”

She said the direction county officials are taking with the shelter also influenced her.

“They’re trying to make positive changes, and we’re working together to do that, and that’s all you can ask,” she said.

The board also heard Monday from Dr. Greg Lowe, a veterinarian with Rowan Animal Clinic with whom the county is considering contracting for spay and neuter clinics, consulting and other services at the shelter.

Lowe said he would have a contract ready for commissioners to review later this month. Pierce said he expects the cost of spaying or neutering each animal to be less than the adoption fee, allowing the county to use the difference for the additional costs associated with the new wing.

The county is making changes at the shelter. At the end of June, it dismantled the gas chamber that had been used for years to euthanize animals and began using only lethal injection. Officials say they hope to move toward a model where no healthy, adoptable animal is euthanized, and Pierce said the new cat wing would be “a giant leap forward” in that effort.

The county taking responsibility for spaying and neutering animals before they’re adopted is another big step, commissioners Chairman Jim Sides said.

“The reason these dogs and cats reproduce is because people don’t take care of them,” Sides said. “Well, we’re going to take care of them.”

The county “won’t eliminate the problem,” Sides said, but he hopes a few years from now, the shelter has more space than it needs.

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