Questions linger as animal control switch looms
January 5, 2010
Despite a Jan. 31 deadline to close county-run animal shelters, questions remain about how King County Animal Care and Control will provide service to Issaquah and 33 other cities after the deadline passes.Officials said nonprofit organizations plan to step in to care for sheltered animals after the county shelter shuts down Jan 31. After June 30, county animal-control officers will no longer serve Issaquah and contracting cities.
“We are working hard with the cities, community-based organizations and the public to develop a regional, community-based program, and we will make every effort to ensure that animals receive the care they need, regardless of who provides that service,” Assistant Deputy County Executive Rhonda Berry said in a statement. “Public health and safety come first, along with the welfare of the animals, so we are working on a plan to submit to the council very shortly.”
Issaquah representatives attended countywide meetings to discuss possible new models for animal sheltering and control services, city spokeswoman Autumn Monahan said.
King County Animal Care and Control shelters animals, educates pet owners and helps people adopt pets. The agency also handles animal code enforcement for unincorporated King County, Issaquah and the other contract cities.
Pet owners pay for most of the services through animal licensing and fees. In recent years, however, fees have not covered expenses, and county officials dipped into tax dollars to keep shelters open.
Elissa Benson, county deputy director for strategic planning and performance management, said licensing fees generate about $4.5 million — not nearly enough to cover about $5.7 million in expenses for the agency.
The problem is compounded because few pet owners — about one-fifth countywide — license their animals and pay the attached fees.
“This region’s ability to care for the welfare of animals depends on the continued payment of pet license fees,” Animal Care and Control Interim Manager Nancy McKenney said in a statement. “Those fees pay in part for the provision of animal sheltering services.”
In September, the low collection percentage prompted then-County Executive Kurt Triplett to announce the county would no longer provide animal shelters after January and animal control after June. Balancing the county budget, however, might be the tip of the iceberg for ending the county’s role in animal control and sheltering.
County Council members had talked about such a departure as early as November 2007, during budget discussions.
Reports dating back to June 2006 indicated mismanagement resulted in animal cruelty. A 2008 report by a consultant proved even more damning.
The report said the county organization was understaffed, had too little shelter space, had too limited a spay and neuter program, failed to track licensed animals and had a strained relationship with volunteers.
A December 2009 report said the county was using euthanasia medicine in excessive doses, and needed to revise its medical practices.
King County officials said the shelter population declined by one-third by late December. The shelter stopped accepting pets surrendered by owners in mid-October, a decision prompted by worries about Green River flooding near the shelter and a push to eliminate county-provided animal control and shelters.
Adoptions at the county shelter in Kent climbed through December — up 10 percent from the same period in 2008.
Kendall LeVan, project manager in the county Office of Strategic Planning and Performance Management, said the county might continue to provide animal control services after the June deadline. If county officials decided to continue the service, LeVan said the deal would require a “full-cost recovery” contract with cities. But, she added, county officials have not provided a definition of what full-cost recovery would mean.
Sammamish Administrative Services Director Mike Sauerwein said he had heard a suggested arrangement in which cities would contract with the county for full-time animal control officers. Sauerwein said the bigger cities, like Bellevue, Kirkland and Seattle, will likely influence whatever solution county officials propose.
As for animal shelters, county officials and representatives from nonprofits are in talks to discuss private groups taking over sheltering services, LeVan said. But the negotiations have not yet produced a solution.
Seattle Humane Society CEO Brenda Barnette said she is not optimistic about the county transferring the sheltering services to new managers by Jan. 31. The nonprofit Humane Society operates a Bellevue shelter independent of the county animal control agency.
“We’re pretty concerned that they’re going out of business without a plan in place,” she said.
Auburn, Kent and Federal Way could be hardest hit, because the cities have a history of high costs — due to large sheltering demands — and low revenues, because few pet owners there license their pets, Barnette said.
“Other cities have been subsidizing them,” she said.
PAWS Companion Animal Services Director Kay Joubert said even if PAWS and local humane societies step in to take over animal sheltering, the organizations lack space for the animals — leaving 4,000 to 5,000 animals with nowhere to go.
In the interim, County Executive Dow Constantine will weigh the options, which include extending the Jan. 31 deadline until solutions can be put in place, spokesman Frank Abe said.
“If more time is needed, we’re certainly ready to work with the council on some flexibility on that timeline,” Abe said. “We recognize that we have an obligation to ensure that there is enough space for the animals and options for sheltering them.”
J.B. Wogan: 392-6434, ext. 247, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or email@example.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.