Animal shelter care in Cedar City

By Dawn M. Aerts

Iron County Today

CEDAR CITY–Kelly Esplin, a long-time veterinarian along with dozens of others in town, is at work to provide a new, safe and better place for the hundreds of homeless dogs and cats that need good care and a humane shelter facility that can accommodate growing numbers.

Unfortunately, the austere Cedar City Animal Shelter on Kittyhawk Road was never designed as a suitable shelter, says Esplin of the 60-year-old, cold-storage structure that is now used to provide safe space for animals hoping for an adoption and a permanent home.

“It all about humanely caring for these animals,” says Esplin of the pets who need immediate or up to date medical attention.”  In short, Esplin says he has always found the bond between people and animals hard to describe.  “An animal becomes part of your life, there’s a special relationship forged and I think that is what moves all of us to be part of this effort.”

Esplin, a native of St. George, graduated from Colorado State University in 1981, and relocated to Cedar City in 1983 where he opened the doors to the Southern Utah Animal Hospital.  Since then, he has grown a full-service practice and hospital that can treat dozens of animals, short and long term, with a staff of 15 who handle everything from office calls, and medical evaluations to surgical assistance and basic care.

He points out that clear growth in the residential population has driven up the number of homeless, surrendered, or abandoned pets.

“We hear from people who work with animal control, that many more are being found or delivered to the doors of the cold storage building – there is a law that animals need to be held for five business days, but that space just isn’t there, which leads to overcrowded conditions.  So how do you handle that growth?”

According to one Utah Rescue Director, ‘Dogs can go through a huge shelter/rescue system without any final adoption or placement.  In many cases they will be transferred — to Salt Lake City, to other counties, to second, or third-tier sites who may have an exchange agreement.’  In short, dog and cat transfer numbers are seldom available or examined.

Esplin, for one, has always had a soft spot for animals who have no voice.

“As a young boy I grew up on a ranch in Northern Arizona,” he said. “When I was five, I would wake up before the horses got up, ride them over to the water trough, get off, and back again.  Caring for them was a big part of my childhood memory.  As it turns out I had a great role model with my uncle being a vet and seeing the work that he did – So it was that kind of experience that led me to this career.”

While Esplin notes that animal care practices haven’t changed much over the years, the growth in abandoned pets has skyrocketed.  “Some of the most challenging calls I take, are the after-hours emergencies that come up.  I know those times always took me away from my family and time with them on a regular basis, so it’s something that stays with you and becomes part of your life.”

It was Mayor Maile Wilson who asked Esplin to help launch a community-wide effort aimed at securing land, developing a site plan, a floor design and then raising the much-needed funds that can turn the vision into a reality for Cedar City.

“The city is the driving force here.  They know they need to do something – and it’s definitely on the Mayor’s list of community goals,” he said.

Some animals will go to sites like Best Friends in Kanab, a sanctuary that partners-up with 1800 rescue groups, shelters located across the U.S.  Their 2016 report shows a total of two dogs received from the Iron County Shelter and two dogs received from the Cedar City Shelter.  In total, the Kanab site reports 1,311 (received) animals with an adoption-out total of 1,108 from throughout the U.S. (

For now, it is Esplin’s goal to work with committee members, residents and officials who want to provide a better-place for homeless animals.

“We’re hoping for city approval at the next council meeting with a public hearing set for February 28 to draw further discussion and interest.  If all goes well, a ground-breaking ceremony will be held in early March.”

Fundraising volunteer Mike Miller will focus on enlisting organizations, partnerships and neighbors in the effort.

“We have invited the Iron County and Enoch Shelter to be part of the project – but there is much to do in the community. It’s really a vision based on a growing need to humanely care for these animals.  They deserve good care, and I think everyone would agree on that.”

The proposed new shelter would provide expanded square footage; 14 kennels would become 30, and the floor plan would be able to accommodate up to 40 cats with additional space for isolation, exercise area, and better ventilation systems.  The projected floor space would be 380 % greater than the current shelter site.

At present, municipal shelters often seek out secondary pet rescues or other sites for dogs and cats who are not adopted.  According to John Fox, Salt Lake City Humane Society, animal transfer has become commonplace, which becomes a mixed bag of available data.

“I have to say, I love working with the people here,” said Esplin of his practice.  “Helping families care for their animals is something I love doing.”


Caption:  Kelly Esplin, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.M.V.), is part of a city-wide effort to secure a new animal shelter for Cedar City homeless pets.



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