A new home for Jeffco's homeless pets

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By AJ Vicens

When it comes to replacing Jeffco’s aging and crowded animal shelter, County Commissioner Kevin McCasky has set an ambitious goal: Groundbreaking for the new $9 million facility will take place by Nov. 1.

"How's that for an optimistic schedule?" McCasky asked the assembled crowd Oct. 1 at the northwest corner of the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, where the 30,000-square-foot shelter will be built. The Table Mountain Animal Center — the name of the current shelter and of the new one — serves Jefferson County and its municipalities.

Funding for the new facility, scheduled to open in late 2009 or early 2010, came from three chief sources. The first $3 million came from Jeffco’s general fund, and another $3 million will come from dog-licensing fees. The rest is to be raised by the Table Mountain Animal Center's charitable foundation in a capital campaign.

The new building is replacing the current 32-year-old, 13,000-square-foot facility in Golden.

TMAC is the second-largest animal shelter in the Denver area and cared for more than 10,000 animals in 2007. The shelter is a nonprofit entity that provides animal care, adoption, education and animal control services on an annual operating budget of about $1.4 million.

"Our dream is coming true," said Judy George, the foundation's president.

That dream was a long time coming. Nick Fisher, TMAC's executive director, said the need for a new facility emerged in the late 1990s. The money wasn't there, and it took awhile to find a model that worked. A countywide dog-licensing program was instituted last year, and revenues from that will help fund the structure. Jeffco also gave the center a 50-year lease on the land it will occupy at the fairgrounds besides ponying up $3 million to get the fund-raising started.

"There's a lot of moving parts," said District 3 Commissioner Kathy Hartman. She compared the complications of getting all the parties together to the recent turmoil on Wall Street and finalizing a massive financial bailout. Hartman said it was the commissioners' duty to find a way to get the new shelter built.

"The commissioners have a public safety responsibility to deal with strays and other animal issues," Hartman said. She said it was McCasky's idea to provide $3 million from the county’s general fund.

McCasky said community residents can chip in to raise the needed funds by making sure dogs are properly licensed.

"The tag animals get is their ticket home," he said. "It is a benefit to them, and to the shelter."

Ben Drotar, TMAC's director of development, said people can donate to the shelter online, and the foundation's capital campaign is working to obtain large, "quiet" donations. People who donate online at www.tablemountainanimals.org can indicate exactly where they want donations to go.

"It's about us building community support," Drotar said. "The governments have done what we've asked of them. People can license their dogs, and in this hard economy, we're asking, if they can, to open the checkbook as well."

Drotar said the capital campaign should be complete by the end of the year. Every donation helps, he said.

"It's about people saying, 'I want more than a dog pound,’ " Drotar said. "That's how we're going to get there."