NEW MANCHESTER - The sound of barking dogs at the Hancock County Animal Shelter is so loud sometimes that it's hard to think, much less speak, above the din.
A marked contrast with the quiet cats that far outnumber the dogs at the shelter.
Soon, those dogs will be able to bark to their hearts' content in 14 new outdoor runs.
Hancock County Animal Shelter spokesman Glen Thomson shows off a Great Dane that employees have named Mr. Ed. -- Stephen Huba
The new facilities, scheduled for completion by the end of August, will improve the quality of services for the hundreds of dogs that are brought to the shelter every year, said Ruthanne Danford, a Hancock County Animal Shelter Foundation board member.
"We just wanted to have a nice place where we could exercise the dogs," she said. "We've been wanting to add on to the shelter for the last few years. It's going to be so much better for the employees and the animals."
The shelter is operated by the Hancock County Animal Shelter Foundation through an annual contract with Hancock County commissioners, who lease the building on Gas Valley Road to the foundation. The shelter is funded through private donations, revenues generated by a tax levy, and support from the county commissioners.
But the new, partly-enclosed runs, at a pricetag of $195,000, are being funded entirely by foundation donations, Danford said.
The runs will provide shelter for the dogs, while giving them an option to be inside or outside. At approximately 10 feet wide and 25 feet long, they will replace a series of runs that sit on a slope and are difficult to maintain because of mud, Danford said.
"We'd have to bring in three truckloads of crushed limestone a year. That's 20 tons each. But it just kept sinking in, there was so much mud," she said. "The dogs were muddy all the time."
The foundation board is planning other improvements for the shelter, including interior renovations and the construction of a large, enclosed area where the outdoor runs currently are.
Shelter officials say the improvements will help them deal with the increasing number of animals - mostly dogs and cats - that are brought to the shelter every year. In 2012, the shelter took in an estimated 590 dogs and 780 cats, Danford said.
Currently, the shelter has about 50 dogs, including puppies, and 120 cats, including kittens.
"This is kitten season," shelter spokesman Glen Thomson said. "Once the weather starts to get warm and the cats go into heat, we start to get all kinds of mother cats and kittens in."
Most of those animals are kept until they are adopted, but some that are too sick or too aggressive have to be euthanized, Thomson said.
Animals that are adopted go only to homes that pass a screening process, which may include home visits and reference checks. The standard adoption fee of $150 for average-sized male dogs and $165 for female dogs covers the cost of shots, worming, flea treatment and spaying or neutering, Thomson said.
"We always want to make sure they get spayed or neutered because there's enough out there," he said.
For the month of July, the shelter is offering discounted adoptions: $50 for kittens, $50 for adult dogs and $25 for adult cats. The shelter also takes animals for adoption to the PetSmart at Robinson Town Center every weekend.
(Huba can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)