The Bitter Root Humane Society has been around a long time. It was started in 1972, located where the Hamilton City Wastewater treatment plant is now located. In 1984, Countess Margit Bessenyey leased the current location on Fairgrounds Road to the Humane Association for $1 per year. When she died, the estate donated the current property to the Humane Association.
The shelter is a valuable asset for the Bitterroot community on a day to day basis. Last year it took in 791 animals and found homes for 92.8% of the animals. Although they primarily deal with cats and dogs, they actually take in almost any animal. They might not take in any more bull frogs (an invasive species) but they have cared for quails, guinea pigs, a flicker, goats, a caiman (they found a home for this alligator-type creature at a reptile place in Texas), roosters, rabbits, ducks, geese, peacocks, horses, and even a cow.
According to recently retired Shelter Manager Eve Burnsides, the Bitter Root Humane Shelter is an open admission shelter, meaning that no animal is turned away. It is the only such shelter within a hundred miles.
Burnsides said the current building was constructed new for use as an animal shelter but was in need of major repairs after only five years.
“Now,” she says, “it’s falling down around our ears.” She was not kidding.
Newly hired (in February) Shelter Manager Christopher Berthoud took the press on a tour of the old building. The concrete was disintegrating in a lot of places. The water system in the building had to be abandoned and new water lines were mounted on the exterior of the walls.
Many of the chain link dog kennels have broken pieces. The laundry and kitchen areas are cramped and the boiler that heats the dog kennels is as old as the building and is obviously on its last legs.
The shelter staff started thinking seriously of some plan to rebuild or replace the disintegrating facility in 2007. It has taken a while but, according to Burnsides, they have created a plan and raised over two-thirds of the money needed to make their dream of a new facility come true. If things keep going as planned, they may be breaking ground by the Fourth of July.
Burnsides said a whole lot of thought has gone into designing the new facility that will be built on three acres of the property behind the current building which will be demolished once the new one is up. The shelter will remain open during construction.
The Humane Association has been working with Jeff Crouch and Jackie Bull from Paradigm v2 Architects in Missoula to ensure that the new design is not only an improvement but an improvement that will last. For instance, the walls will be impervious at least five feet up from the floor which, of course, will also be impervious. Any concrete used will be sealed. The doors in the dog kennels will not be chain link. They will be glass. It not only provides a good look at the dog, it provides a sound and a smell barrier.
Another planned improvement is the addition of another vestibule, so people bringing animals into the facility have a separate entrance from those who are taking animals out. That way the two processes don’t clash or cause congestion.
“We’re not building the Taj Mahal,” said Burnsides. She said every part of the design was functional and the improvements are going to measurably increase the efficiency, cleanliness, healthiness, and safety of all the animals and all the people who come and go.
The crematorium, which currently sits outside, will be relocated inside the new building.
“It’s a great community service,” said Burnsides, “and it does make a little bit of income for the shelter.”
There will actually be office space in the new building and a lot of fresh water and air, she said. The building will be climate controlled. There will be plenty of parking and a drive-through road to make the facility more accessible.
For more information about the Shelter and its plans contact Manager Chris Berthoud at 363-5311.