With an official push from commissioners — at least partially motivated by the hopeful emails residents sent them since Thursday — county staff members will research how much money it will cost to provide air conditioning for the dozens of dogs living in Animal Care and Control kennels.
The county has plans to spend $21 million with money generated from the penny sales tax to renovate the Animal Care and Control facilities on Belvedere Road in 2019 or 2020, but the project does not include air conditioning.
“I just don’t understand how we’re about to spend $21 million and we didn’t address this AC situation,” said Vice Mayor Mack Bernard.
And despite Tuesday’s go-ahead for the exploration, it’s far from clear whether commissioners will OK paying the cost to provide AC or how long before a unit would be installed and the dogs actually feel any of that cooler air.
County staff will spend the next couple of months researching, and will come back to the Palm Beach County Commission, likely in a workshop, in December or January to present their findings.
The kennels were never built to be able to provide the air, said Dianne Sauve, the ACC director. And the kennels can’t handle more electricity than what’s already there, she told commissioners Tuesday at the first of two 2018-2019 county budget hearings.
The facility, home to about 200 dogs, has three kennels in stand-alone buildings — each about 8,000 square feet. The kennels each have 48 holding pens and some can have up to four dogs in them, depending on the size of the pooches.
No dogs have died or fallen ill because of the heat, said Capt. Dave Walesky, who is with Animal Care.
If county officials want to provide AC, it’ll take a new facility, Sauve said.
That’s what Miami-Dade and Broward counties did, but Sauve didn’t know how much the governments had to shell out.
There are alternatives.
At Orange County Animal Services in Orlando, officials installed a $450,000 ventilation system that promotes better air circulation and cooled the kennels by a few degrees. It’s a temporary fix while a new shelter is planned.
The air conditioning system the kennels need is similar to those used by hospitals. Air exchanges have to be turned over 15 to 20 times an hour. Sauve said misting fans, big fans that hang from the ceiling and window units are not options.
While the majority of commissioners said they support finding a way to provide the dogs AC, Commissioners Paulette Burdick and Steven Abrams, who cannot seek re-election in November, expressed concerns about budget priorities.
“I appreciate the public’s concern about our dogs, but … I have children living on the streets, living in hot weather, boys and girls, it’s raining outside now, who are going to expect to go to school tomorrow with wet clothes being hot, sweaty, bitten by bugs,” Burdick said, adding that the children, to her, are more of a priority than the animals.
Mayor Melissa McKinlay responded: “There are 3,000 homeless children on the streets but there also a lot of seniors and a lot of families that take great comfort in having pets.”
Abrams said whoever succeeds him on the commission will decide how to vote, but he advised staff to inform the commission at the workshop of what projects might be delayed or canceled if they do go for air conditioning.
Animal lovers have raised money and petitioned the county commission for at least the past month to direct dollars to the facility to make conditions there cooler. Some concerns residents have raised are about the dogs’ health, their potential for adoption if they appear lethargic from the heat and if those looking to adopt will even want to spend enough time in the facility to look at the animals.
County officials say they do have measures in place to help combat the high temperatures.
The windows and doors are kept open and each kennel has about eight or 10 fans. There also are fans on the floor that are bigger and blow air from the open doors in the back through the open doors at the front. Also, the dogs are allowed outside where they play in kiddie pools and sprinklers.
And about two weeks ago, staff stationed portable chillers outside and connected one to each kennel. They run during the hottest hours of the day, Walesky said.
Sauve told The Palm Beach Post in August that while every summer is hot, this summer has felt like the hottest of all.
“The kennels were built in 1992. And even though it was hot in 1992, I’m not so sure that it was this hot,” she said.
Employees and volunteers at the shelter also have to deal with the heat. Sauve said they know to dress appropriately and that every year there will be a few months that are “absolutely brutal.”