Garden City Police Lt. Dave Smith beamed with pride.

And Nancy Garhart could barely contain her excitement as she showed off the facility.

When the new Garden City-Finney County Animal Shelter opens for business later this month, Smith and Garhart will continue with their different, yet related roles. Local police operate the shelter with a nice assist from Garhart and other humane society volunteers who go out of their way to help stray and unwanted dogs and cats land in happy homes.

On Tuesday Smith and Garhart joined a crowd of local citizens who gathered to celebrate the new animal shelter desperately needed to handle a growing, unwanted pet population.

They toured a shelter that can house twice as many animals as the old facility. Knowing the expanded capacity would help slow the need to euthanize animals was encouraging.

Still, most everyone at Tuesday's open house also knew the road to the better shelter at 124 Fleming St. was a bumpy one.

Early on the Garden City Commission listened to citizens' input in making a shelter to replace the current, dilapidated facility a high priority. The Finney County Commission wasn't so quick to buy in, however.

Critics couldn't understand the need to spend taxpayer dollars on such a building, even though local governments have a responsibility to fund the basic public service of providing adequate shelter for the stray and unwanted pet population.

After much back and forth, the city and county agreed on a reasonable plan to commit $700,000 toward a new shelter.

It was a good start. Add in the generosity of many private citizens who donated time and money, and this community now has more than just a basic animal shelter.

General contractor Kenny Green and subcontractors committed significant resources of their own to finish a facility that, unlike the old shelter, will offer a positive environment for visitors, volunteers and staff.

Such features as a place for people to get acquainted with prospective pets, and an education room to teach them about the animals and proper pet care will improve the chances for dogs and cats to be adopted.

That should help satisfy those who argued that responsible pet ownership should be the highest priority.

In the end, the shelter project was driven by community input and effort. As part of that, it also was a model in encouraging public debate that shed more light on the problem, and motivated many to help.

Public discussion on a new shelter had its painful moments. Humane society volunteers who spend long hours helping animals actually were called lazy for not raising funds to pay for a new shelter.

Still, we know spirited discourse helps citizens better understand issues and improves the decision-making process. Publicly hashing out the pros and cons of any project is far better than watching governments rubber-stamp big spending initiatives.

Now the community has an animal shelter that's welcoming and well-equipped, and without a hint of unnecessary extravagance.

Local scuttlebutt has it that when state inspectors came in to sign off on the new shelter, they deemed it the best in Kansas.

That may be. Either way, you'd be hard-pressed to find any animal shelter built with more thought, caring and generosity than the one soon to open in Garden City.

E-mail Editor-publisher Dena Sattler at denas@gctelegram.com.