Animal shelter faces space challenges, director calls for new facility


Cleo Westin

Twyla Anderson, a regular volunteer at the Ames Animal Shelter, said there are guinea pigs in the hallway because there is no other place to put them.

Ames is in need of a new animal shelter due to the lack of space for operations and not being up to their standards, the Ames Animal Shelter director and some volunteers said.

Dick Wilson, a regular volunteer at the shelter, said the current facility is too cramped for animals and the only solution is to build a new shelter.

“The rooms are too small, and I don’t know what you can do without having a whole new building,” Wilson said. “There’s definitely a need there, I don’t know why the city is procrastinating.”

Twyla Anderson, also a regular volunteer, said the facility is not equipped or nice enough to have events where kids come in and see animals like other shelters do. She also said right now, there are guinea pigs in the hallway because there is no other place to put them.

“I’ve seen people who wanted to adopt a cat and come in and sit on the floor,” Anderson said. “It’s sad, it really is, that they don’t have any room to run and stretch– and the litter box is really not far from their food in these tiny cages.”

Ames Animal Control Supervisor Ron Edwards, who also defined his role as the director of the animal shelter, had additional space concerns. He said new animal intakes are housed in a trailer unit, a freezer with euthanized animals is in a pantry that also houses overnight intakes, and the dog isolation room serves as another pantry.

“We’ve had some very difficult hoarding cases,” Edwards said. “They’re taking up rooms that are typically where adopters would go in and do a meet-and-greet.”

Last year, the shelter had its highest increase in animals taken in since 2005 and ended the year with 280% more animals than at the end of 2021. The shelter also improved its live release rate last year to 98% and had an all-time record high live release rate for cats and dogs just above 98%.

“We’re seeing those trends continue to increase year after year, so we need to make sure that when we do build a facility that we’re looking toward the future, not just today,” Edwards said.

Edwards said the facility is up to code, but his goal is to provide a better quality of life for the animals, adding that he looks to the Association of Shelter Veterinarians on their standards for what a future shelter could look like.

“My goal would be that we look at not just what the minimum standards are but what those enhanced care standards are,” Edwards said. “Why would we build something that doesn’t meet the recommendations of the professionals?”

Ames City Manager Steve Schainker said discussions on the animal shelter and other projects that need a bond vote will probably be held no earlier than February 2024. Schainker said the city is in need of a new animal shelter, moving Ames Fire Station 2, creating fire station 4 and building a city-owned gym.

“Those are the ones that I think are needed now– again, I can’t just bring them to the council, and they can’t just start building them– those will need votes,” Schainker said.

Schainker said state law requires a 60% approval on a bond vote for the city to approve those projects, and it will be up to the city council in the future on which ones to prioritize, if any.

Edwards said he hoped discussions on a new shelter would be sooner rather than later, but the shelter will continue doing what they can with what they have.

“I’m saddened to hear that because I think they need something pretty quickly out there, they’re just so overcrowded,” Wilson said.

According to the fiscal year 2023/24 city budget, the city will update estimates for a new animal shelter, explore how other cities paid for their shelters and develop a financial strategy.

Edwards said those wishing to adopt, donate or volunteer can do so on their website. He added that the cats from the October hoarding case cannot be adopted at the moment due to a pending court case that has its first hearing April 4.