Humane Society of the Ochocos board hopes for a new piece of property

by: KEVIN GABOURY/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - This property, located on the northeast corner of Tom McCall Road and Ochoco Highway, is where the Humane Society of the Ochocos hopes to expand.

Step into the Humane Society of the Ochocos and the noise is deafening. Barking and howling dogs of all shapes, sizes and breeds are packed by twos into small partitions, held back from visitors by a chain-link fence. It more resembles an overcrowded kennel than a place that facilitates adoption of a family pet.
   But Greg Lynch, Humane Society of the Ochocos board member, hopes to change all that.
   At a recent meeting of the Crook County Court, Lynch requested that the county grant the Humane Society a six-acre piece of land, located at the northeast corner of Tom McCall Road and Ochoco Highway, for a new, modern facility - one that he estimates will cost around $1 million.
   "We're in the planning stage right now," he said. "We've done a lot of due diligence already. We've looked at other shelters, we've looked at designs. We have an awfully good idea of what we need in terms of capacity. It's just until we know we've got the property, there's no point in going forward."
   He estimated the capacity of the new shelter, if built, will be triple the current building, which has room for around 22 dogs and 32 cats.
   Lynch said the county has thus far seemed receptive of the idea, and according to Crook County Judge Scott Cooper, the proposal has been sent to an attorney to work out a form of sale for the property.
   "We'll take it up for further consideration once we get that form back," Cooper said. "At this point, we have not made any decisions, we have not committed a property, and we have not agreed to do this. We've agreed to examine the possibility in the form of documents."
   Cooper mentioned that some of the issues to be resolved include the suitability of the location and the assurance that it will not interfere with transportation alternatives, as well as any restrictions that may apply on the underlying ground. He also needs to be sure that the Humane Society has made a solid commitment to the project.
   However, talking to Lynch, it becomes clear that he is indeed committed.
   "It's very overcrowded," he said of the current shelter, which was built in 1999. "A big part of it is from this rescue that we were forced into. Nobody consulted us before they went out and started taking dogs; they just appeared on our doorstep. We've been overwhelmed ever since."
   Lynch is speaking of the rescue of 100 dogs from a Powell Butte ranch that has since stretched the Humane Society beyond its means.
   Also contributing to the overpopulation is the growth of the area, both in humans and animals, which puts more demand on the facility. Lynch said what is needed is a more visible and appealing shelter to encourage more people to adopt.
   "Right now, it's essentially a kennel," he said. "The dogs are all competitive with one another. It needs to be more inviting and it needs to be more visible. It's not the kind of family experience that it needs to be in order to adopt animals."
   If the land is granted and everything goes as planned, Lynch plans to obtain funding through a capital campaign and utilize not only central Oregon businesses, but businesses across the state for donations. The money will also come from state and national animal welfare foundations. He said that the Prineville community has also provided overwhelming support.
   "We've had a tremendous response from the community," he said. "There are a number of businesses that have already come forward and volunteered their services. From construction companies, to architects, to engineers, all saying, `Hey, we want to be a part of it.' I think the thing will just take off and get a life of its own. The key, of course, is to get that land."
   Judge Cooper said the issue may be discussed further at the next county court meeting on March 13, but is unsure if it will be on the agenda.
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