By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- Pike County Animal Warden Debbie Lambeth ticks off items on a wish list for the shelter in Pittsfield.
New cages. A new public entry into the office building. Better lighting. Insulation in part of the office. Fresh paint. A load of gravel.
The city of Pittsfield owns the facility and will take care of the routine maintenance items. The rest could come through the Richard L. Gray Perpetual Charitable Trust.
Gray, a farmer in the northern part of the county who died in November 2005, established the trust to provide for the care of animals and to prevent cruelty to animals in Pike County. The trust funded a spay and neuter program for the county since 2009, but it wants to shift its focus to improvements on the animal shelter.
Lambeth, County Board Chairman Andy Borrowman, Ag Committee Chairman Fred Bradshaw and Pittsfield Mayor John Hayden plan to meet with trust representatives to discuss the funding shift.
"We're not sure right now what kind of money the Gray Trust is going to put into it, but we are thinking it will be a lot more of a permanent nature than just maintenance," Bradshaw said. "We kind of need an idea, before we do much planning, of what kind of money they're thinking about."
The trust bought two lots and additional acreage as a "buffer zone" in Pittsfield's industrial park in July 2011, and although no formal announcement was made, it was expected a new animal control facility would be built at the site. By January 2012, a Pike County Board committee was raising concerns with plans by RLG Properties for the new animal shelter and animal control services. A draft agreement called for the county to contract with RLG to perform all functions currently handled by the county's animal control, but the county wanted to be sure RLG would provide better service at a lower cost to taxpayers.
By April 2012, the trust said the animal shelter project "working in conjunction with the county's assistance ... is now no longer being considered."
The trust recently awarded grants to promote animal welfare -- $50,000 each to the Pike County Fair and the Western Illinois Fair and more than $53,000 to the county's FFA chapters.
Lambeth and assistant warden Shelly Coleman welcome the trust's support to renovate the existing building, but they hate to see the spay and neuter program come to an end.
The trust provides $50 for a dog spay, $40 on a dog neuter or a cat spay and $25 for a cat neuter with the pet owner paying any additional cost for the procedure. About 1,400 spay and neuter certificates on cats and dogs have been given out since the program started.
"It has been a godsend to our county," Lambeth said. "We probably average two to three requests for certificates per day. Since the first of January, I gave out 175."
Nearly all of the trust's grant, $30,000 last year, went to the certificates, with the rest used for supplies like medicine.
"It was first come, first served, with no income requirement. You have to live in Pike County. You have to use a Pike County vet," Lambeth said. "We have seen such a decrease in the amount of people calling to bring kittens in and a definite decrease in puppies. We're a small shelter, and when we get flooded with puppies and kittens, they're not as likely to be adopted."
Without the trust's support, Lambeth said the shelter cannot afford to offer a spay-and-neuter program.
The county possibly could find a way to fund the program, or look for a grant, "because of the fact it's been such a good program and well received," Borrowman said. Board members "at least are thinking about it. We don't want to lose that completely."
Lambeth and Coleman provide animal control services across the county. They make sure all dogs in the county are vaccinated against rabies and registered, handle animal bite and neglect cases, manage leash laws over 800 square miles in all the towns that have leash laws, pick up stray animals, care for animals at the shelter and handle animal adoptions.
"We are not a no-kill shelter, but we have a very successful rescue program that lot of our animals go on," Lambeth said. "We try very hard to find homes for all our dogs."
In 2012, the shelter took in 323 dogs, adopted 217 and had 71 reclaimed. It took in 69 cats, adopted 76 and had two reclaimed. By the end of April in this fiscal year, the county took in 117 dogs, adopted out 84 and had 31 reclaimed. It took in 15 cats with 22 adopted, including carryover from last year, and two reclaimed. Any animals euthanized, nine dogs so far this fiscal year, are dangerous or so sick that they cannot get well.
Communities across the county pay $3 per person per year for the county to enforce leash laws. Pittsfield maintains the facility and deducts the cost from its annual payment.
"There's a list of little things that need to be done, a lot of wear and tear with people in and out, animals," Hayden said. "We'll get it fixed up."
The facility, built in 1974, saw its last major improvement in 1988 when the office was expanded.
"The size of this facility is what two people (can do) with all the paperwork, the running," Lambeth said.
The trust has been a major benefactor to the animal control program, but other donations also help the shelter.
"We can always use bedding, dog food, cat food, cat litter, cleaning supplies like bleach," Lambeth said. "We have a lot of people donate dog food. Wal-Mart is a great contributor. They give us their broken bags of dog food, cat litter and cat food they can't sell."
WHO WAS RICHARD GRAY?
The late Richard L. Gray had a lifelong love of animals and a desire to protect their welfare.
"He just really liked animals. He always had dogs, never a lot of dogs, but always one or two," said Fred Bradshaw, a Pike County Board member who "lived just across the field" from Gray northwest of Griggsville in Fairmount Township.
Gray, who died in November 2005, was a lifelong bachelor. He farmed for a while as a young man, then rented out the acreage.
"He was a collector of antiques. He had property. He owned 700-800 acres of some of the better land in Pike County," Bradshaw said. "Dick lived a very conservative life."
Gray might go to an antique auction out of state and sleep in his car to save the motel costs. "He dedicated his life mostly to making money," Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw told a story from when his boys were little and their dogs would go over to Gray's farm.
"Dick called up one day and said our dogs were over there. We said we'll get them," Bradshaw said. "He said, ‘Don't bother. They're asleep. When they're awake, I'll bring them home.'?"