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Updated at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 20.

After years of waiting, the Humane Society of Harford County is about to take a giant step toward its goal of building a new animal shelter.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime, dream come true for us,” Mary Leavens, executive director of the humane society, said Thursday.

A design contract of $342,191 for the new shelter was awarded to Edmeades & Stromdahl Ltd. at Thursday’s Harford County Board of Estimates at the county administration headquarters.

The design funding for the new shelter, to be built at the society’s existing 26-acre site in Fallston, is included in the county’s budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. The budget was approved Tuesday evening by the Harford County Council.

Allocated in the following FY13 capital budget is $3.6 million for construction, inspection fees and equipment/furnishings for the new building. The actual funding would still have to be approved a year from now.

A new facility has been a long time coming for the humane society, a private organization which receives significant funding from the county government because its shelter also serves as the county’s dog pound.

The society has had a somewhat troubled past with numerous public complaints and a high turnover among employees and volunteers.

“The management of the humane society itself from an executive director standpoint had become far more professional and the staff and the whole operation has really modernized and become more professional,” Aaron Tomarchio, Harford County Executive David Craig’s chief of staff, said Thursday. “It’s an organization the county is willing to invest money into because they do provide a public service for the citizens of the county. They have demonstrated an ability to fundraise and to modernize their operations and we’re very, very comfortable with the leadership that’s in place.”

For several years, humane society supporters have been actively lobbying the county to build a new shelter.

“For quite some time, the county was not willing to step up with any promises of funding because they weren’t comfortable with how the shelter was being run,” David Fang, president of the board of directors of the humane society said. “This is clearly a major step forward for the shelter. For quite a while, there was some concern at the county level about the number and variety of complaints about the shelter. Some of the complaints were justified, some were not. But when Mary [Leavens] and I took over we made a conscious effort to no longer run the shelter in what we thought was a mom and pop approach to what is really a million dollar business.”

The shelter’s annual budget is slightly more than $1 million, “not an insubstantial amount of money,” Fang said. About $450,000 of that comes from the county, the rest comes from the community through adoptions, fundraising, reclaiming lost pets and online donations.

When Fang began working with Leavens, their approach was to make sure the animals were being housed in a humane manner, that overcrowding wasn’t serious and that as many animals as possible get adopted.

Once county officials saw the humane society was being run like a business, he said, things began to turn around.

“We had a shaky relationship with county officials, a shaky relationship with animal control. I like to think the efforts of our board, the efforts our staff, efforts of our elected official have helped us turn things around,” Fang said. “We’re very excited with the level of confidence they’ve placed in us.”

According to budget documents, the new shelter will be paid for through a future bond sale. Estimated annual debt service on the project is $32,500.

The site is served by a well and septic system, not public water and sewer, and will be built accordingly, according to the budget.

There had been talk several years ago of building a shelter at a site on county-owned property on Route 543, but it was determined to be too small.

Shelter officials love their site, 26 acres on Connolly Road in Fallston, and are glad they’ll be able to stay there, Fang said, especially since they’ll be able to keep Rebel’s Dog Park, which draws dogs and their owners from all over “because it’s such a nice dog park.”

Because access to the humane society is limited, the dog park closes at 5 p.m. on Saturdays and 4 p.m. on Sundays. Fang would like to see it open dusk to dawn a possibility with the new facility.

The humane society has an idea of components it would like to be in the design. In 2007, the shelter commissioned a study by Shelter Planners of America, which recommended a facility of about 13,000 square feet, with enough kennel space for about 50 dogs, which is about what the shelter has.

“The sizing for the animal population is not a whole lot different than what it is now, but the presentation will be completely different as far as user friendliness and overall aesthetics of facility,” Fang said. “The bottom line is… when you have a new facility that’s new, modern and clean, looks good, smells good, where air handlers whisk out the smell of kitty litter and dog poop, you adopt out more animals. And that’s the goal, to get more animals adopted.”

He said the new facility will have a meeting room, a front desk where families adopting pets won’t have to be within feet of a family bringing in a pet to be euthanized, a cat nursery, adoptions rooms and an area for animal control.

“It’s designed to reduce the stress level of all interested parties, starting with the animals. It’s very important to provide a low stress environment in a shelter. The animals already are terrible stressed out,” Fang said.

The new shelter will be something Harford County is proud of, employees can be proud of and visitors can be proud of, he said, in a modern facility.

“We’re all very, very excited. I hope eight to 12 months from now, when the county looks at capital projects for FY13, I hope they step up, as they have given every indication they will, and agree to fund us,” Fang said.

user comments (1)

user lindawolfe says...

I am glad to see that a new facility will be constructed, also glad to see that I was not the only one who had issues with the shelter when it was being run by the previous group. My family and I were trying to adopt 2 cats to add to our family, when they had seen on our application that our dog was not neutered they refused to let us adopt, one I have a pure breed Aussie and chose to one day have a puppy from him considering he was such a good well breed dog, second, its not like the dog and cats were going to breed and third, you adopt with them already spayed or neutered. When david Fang took over he was able to get the adoption done, because of this some of the employees were not happy about it and treated my family and I with some contempt, if it were not for Mr. Fang I would never consider going there again.




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