HUACHUCA CITY — Questions continue to swirl about the fate of the Huachuca City Animal Shelter after a December 2018 electrical fire and plumbing problem caused the facility’s closure.
Animals housed at the town’s shelter were relocated to the Nancy J. Brua Animal Care Center in Sierra Vista for what was believed to be a “short-term” arrangement.
Since then, the town of Huachuca City and the City of Sierra Vista have entered into an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) where Sierra Vista accepts Huachuca City’s displaced dogs and cats. However, unlike the Huachuca City shelter, the Nancy J. Brua facility does not take in stray animals that are found on county property. Since there is no county shelter, those animals are transported to city-run shelters in Willcox and Douglas through IGAs with the county. Huachuca City had such an IGA when its shelter was operating.
The IGAs allow animal control officers to transport stray pets to shelters that are close to areas where the animals are found.
Members of the community are expressing concerns about reuniting pets and owners, given the long distances from where pets are picked up and the shelter locations.
“The adoption rates out of that shelter were really high,” argued Mary Moran, one of the former Huachuca City volunteers. “We were successful with adoptions because of the shelter’s location and a core of dedicated volunteers that promoted the animals, the town’s police department and dedicated animal control officers.”
Because of its centralized location, Moran and others are pushing for the Huachuca City shelter to reopen, a discussion that came up at a Feb. 13 Huachuca City Council meeting. The animal shelter issue packed the council chambers with animal advocates and members of the public.
Cochise County Supervisor Peggy Judd, who spoke at the Feb. 13 Huachuca City council meeting, said after touring the Huachuca City shelter, she was relieved to see it had not been completely destroyed by the fire.
“After looking at this building, I could see a lot of potential,” she said when talking about the possibility of refurbishing the structure. She also spoke of the facility’s favorable location.
“Location is everything. Animals should be as near as possible to where they’re picked up,” she said. “Families cannot retrieve their dogs if they’re in another part of the county. So location, when it comes to retrieving lost animals, is huge.”
However, Huachuca City Mayor Johann Wallace said reopening the town’s shetler is not an option.
“In order for the shelter to be refurbished to code, the estimated cost would be close to $200,000,” he said. “The last estimate for refurbishing the facility was done more than a year ago, and it came in around $160,000, and construction costs increase over time.”
Wallace said Huachuca City cannot afford to pay for maintaining the shelter without finding ways to subsidize its operating costs.
The county is holding a work session on March 24 to explore different options for another animal shelter, Wallace said.
“If the county decides it wants to pay for refurbishing the Huachuca City shelter and enter into a equitable agreement with us, then we would probably consider that,” he said. “But it’s my understanding that the county does not want to enter into an agreement with Huachuca City for a number of reasons, and I both understand and respect their position on this.”
Cochise County Public Information Officer Amanda Baillie confirmed the mayor’s comment, saying, “Huachuca City did approach the county about repairing the shelter, but we didn’t feel it could be brought up to acceptable standards. Since that time, we’ve been exploring other options.”
Jere Fredenburgh, another former Huachuca City Animal Shelter volunteer who spoke at the city council meeting, wants to see a centrally located, county shelter.
“I’ve put a lot of time, effort and research into finding a centralized location for a county shelter,” she said. “My desire is to have a county animal shelter. When Huachuca City’s shelter closed, I started looking at possibilities in Hereford, Palominas and Whetstone.
"In my opinion, the Huachuca City Animal Shelter, once refurbished, would make a good, immediate, short-term solution as a county shelter. It would also take pressure off other shelters throughout Cochise County that are impacted by the additional animals that were once dropped off at Huachuca City..”
Fredenburgh noted that nearly 400 animals came through the Huachuca City shelter every year.
“Now that the shelter is closed, these 400 animals are being transported to the Willcox or Douglas shelters some 60 miles away where it is very difficult for people who have lost their pets to find them,” she added.
When asked about the county’s position regarding a centrally located shelter, Baillie said the county has made no decision about opening a centralized animal shelter.
She also reminded the public that at the March 24 work session, county staff will present an update to the board of supervisors on options that are being explored.
“There will be no vote taken at that work session,” she noted.
Meanwhile, Mayor Wallace said the town will continue its IGA with Sierra Vista as a safe, temporary place to house its displaced dogs and cats.
“We truly appreciate this agreement we have with Sierra Vista,” he said. “It’s a win-win for the animals and the town.”