The need is clear.

The commitment to move forward is clear.

But when it comes to building a new animal shelter to replace Jackson County’s woefully antiquated facility, scraping up the dollars to act remains a hurdle.

Until that happens, a small group of volunteers will continue to run themselves ragged.

Mary Adams, an English professor at Western Carolina University, has been volunteering to work with animals for 24 years. She says the work of saving animals is a continual state of crisis in the county.

She recounted an incident last year when 12 pit bull mixes arrived at the shelter in Cullowhee. Pit bulls can be difficult to place in new homes; there weren’t enough dog runs available at the shelter and transfer partners couldn’t take the pups in.

“I bottlefed two litters,” Adams said, “and our volunteers pulled as many dogs as we could to keep anything from being euthanized. That kind of thing happens all the time. It’s always an emergency up there if you care to save the creatures.”

Finding volunteers to keep dogs in their homes, along with raising money for medical costs and insurance, is a month-to-month challenge, Adams said.

County leaders are eyeing a new shelter as part of a larger complex involving the Green Energy Park in Dillsboro. The project, which would include a dog park, walking trails, an event space and “Innovation Center” for Western Carolina University art students, has an estimated price tag of $12 million.

Adams says among the needs that should be addressed with a new shelter are isolation rooms for puppies and kittens, proper office space for staff members and an adoption area with room for volunteers, rescue groups and trainers.

“As to which of those needs is most pressing, it depends on whom you ask,” Adams said. “…The cramped working quarters, … the over-reliance on volunteers and foster homes, the inability to grow … they’re all pressing.”

Animal rescues in the county are handled via a combination of transfers through the Humane Society of Jackson County, grants and a partnership with Catman2.

Kaleb Lynch, shelter manager for Catman2, said a larger animal center for the county would benefit his operation as well.

“When cats and kittens begin flooding the shelter, we are constantly having to pull cats to make room,” he said.

Catman2 focuses especially on the cats who need more advanced care, such as those with broken limbs, head trauma or other illnesses, Lynch said. If Catman2 doesn’t take them, nobody else will, he said.

“Our limit is 80, but I try very hard not to get up to 80, as it stretches me pretty thin. It’s important to me to give the animals in my care the very best I can give them, and overloading Catman2 does the cats no favors.”

The current shelter simply wasn’t built to handle the needs the county faces today. Pushing 40 years, it was established for a county that had a human population of around 26,000 in 1980 and around 43,000 today. It’s a safe bet the number of animals needing rescue has followed the same general trendline.

The shelter last year took in 935 animals. There were 360 animals adopted, while 294 were transferred and 119 were returned to an owner. The shelter held 43 animals as of Dec. 31.

It’s time to get moving on an adequate replacement.