Beckley, WV (WVNS) –Raleigh County Commission and the City of Beckley are one step closer to building a county animal shelter.

For $8,600, the county hired Animal Arts of Colorado to conduct a study on whether it’s feasible to build a public animal shelter.

Animal Arts representatives will be in Beckley on September 13, 2022, with hopes of conducting the study and advising commissioners on a potential budget and plan.

Currently, Humane Society of Raleigh County (HSRC) operates a no-kill shelter in Beckley, the counties only shelter. On Tuesday, September 6, 2022, county officials said they are unlikely to participate in the study because there is a possibility the county will build a shelter that kills animals.

HSRC Executive Director Brett Kees said his group wants the county to pass laws that require pet owners to spay and neuter cats and dogs, along with hiring an officer dedicated to enforcing the law. He said a $50,000 annual fund to cover spay and neuter costs for low-income pet owners would reduce the number of strays.

“Quite frankly, I’m not going to help them build a kill shelter,” said Kees. “Because it’s fundamentally against what we do. Just ask the people what they want, let them vote.”

In February, Raleigh Commission President Dave Tolliver announced the county Animal Control officer, who serves Raleigh County and the City of Beckley, would not be taking 911 calls for stray animals, because the non-profit HSRC shelter was overcrowded and did not have space to accept animals.

County and city government allots $69,000 each to the shelter annually, about a fifth of the shelter’s operating budget.

Kees said the money is appreciated and used for operating expenses but does not cover the cost of caring for all of the animals brought in by Animal Control. Kees said the shelter can not place dogs and cats in unhealthy conditions by violating industry standards regarding overcrowding, despite the money paid by county and city officials.

Kees prefers to keep 100 animals, with maximum capacity at around 150, including 85 dogs. At one time, shelter officials reported previously, the shelter averaged double the maximum capacity, a practice Kees stopped in 2019.

In response, Raleigh Commission and the City of Beckley agreed to combine resources to build an animal shelter for county use. They have not guaranteed the shelter will not kill animals, although earlier statements by county and city officials suggested vicious dogs would be euthanized and that other animals could be put down after an undefined time frame.

West Virginia code permits counties to kill dogs and cats after five days, although Tolliver and Mayor Rob Rappold have both said the shelter would likely euthanize animals as a last resort.

Negotiations between city and county officials and HSRC began to sour when Kees enforced guidelines on overcrowding of animals.

Raleigh Commissioner Greg Duckworth said it’s the Commission’s position to make laws regarding construction of a county shelter and not the position of HSRC, but he said he prefers for the county to work with HSRC.

“My hopes are, and have always been, the consultants would come in and tell us it’s better to work more with our local Humane Society,” Duckworth said. “I don’t want to sever that relationship, you know? I think what they do over there is good.”

“We’re not trying to kill any animals,” he added.

In reference to whether commissioners have officially decided on whether a county shelter would kill dogs and cats, Duckworth said, “There’s never been any discussion of us being a kill or no-kill shelter.

“We haven’t gotten that far, yet.”

Duckworth, a retired law enforcement officer, said he is concerned with cases of vicious dogs, which can harm or even kill people. He said the county must have a place to keep vicious animals, which the current agreement with HSRC does not provide.