Updated animal services program debuts

July 6, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

The way King County, Issaquah and 26 other cities handle animal control, sheltering and pet licensing services changed last week.

The updated plan took effect July 1, as 27 cities and the county signed a cost-sharing agreement to provide animal services.

Officials hope the changes help the county move beyond a troubled, unprofitable era in animal services. Problems with King County Animal Care and Control leadership, organization and operations led to public outcry and legal challenges, prompting the King County Council to direct County Executive Dow Constantine to make changes late last year.

The two-and-a-half-year agreement divides King County into four animal control districts, each staffed by at least one animal control officer. Even the name — King County Animal Care and Control — changed to Regional Animal Services of King County.

The agency handles responses to complaints about vicious animals, animal-cruelty investigations and pickups of stray animals.

The updated agreement calls for similar services, but puts more emphasis on pet licensing to help fund the agency. The county estimates pet licenses can raise most of the $2.5 million needed to pay for the bulk of the program.

Issaquah City Council members agreed last month to join the regional plan.

The city generated almost $65,000 in pet-licensing fees last year — dollars used to pay for animal services in Issaquah. Mayor Ava Frisinger and city Parks & Recreation Director Anne McGill said the city could opt to change the contract in order to increase enforcement patrols, although the county has yet to provide a cost estimate to the city.

The city could join the enhanced agreement alongside Sammamish and Snoqualmie in order to share increased services and bring down the cost.

In Issaquah, the added patrols could be used to enforce leash rules at Timberlake Park, the South Cove preserve where the city banned dogs last summer after numerous complaints about unruly animals.

McGill said the initial phase of any increased enforcement effort would include education for pet owners about city rules.

The changes enacted last week represented the latest step in a monthslong effort to remake the county animal services agency.

Officials closed a county animal shelter in Bellevue last month. The larger shelter in Kent will remain open. The county estimates the Kent shelter will serve about 8,000 homeless and lost animals this year.

The county has also offered a grace period to owners of unlicensed pets in order to boost the number of residents purchasing licenses.

Constantine said the changes should make for a better, less expensive animal services agency. The mayors of Mercer Island, Redmond, Shoreline and Lake Forest Park joined the executive for a ceremonial contract signing July 1.

“Regional cooperation has been the key to redesigning King County’s animal care and control system,” Constantine said in a news release. “Each of the 27 partners in this effort has contributed to shaping the final product, and we look forward to working toward better care at lower cost over the two and a half years of the city contracts.”

County offers licensing grace period

Owners of unlicensed pets can license their animals without facing a fine until Oct. 1, as part of the updated animal control plan enacted last week.

King County, Issaquah and 26 other cities signed on to the two-and-a-half-year agreement last month. The pact includes a 90-day amnesty period for owners of unlicensed pets to purchase a license without facing a fine.

A no-tolerance policy for unlicensed pets goes into effect Oct. 2. Outlaw owners face $125 fines for unlicensed spayed or neutered pets, and up to $250 for unaltered animals.

Purchase licenses at more than 100 locations across the county, including Issaquah City Hall, 130 E. Sunset Way, veterinary hospitals and QFC grocery stores. Find the complete list here.

License fees for spayed and neutered pets remain unchanged at $30. Owners of unaltered pets face a $60 fee, down from $90. Every dog and cat older than eight weeks in unincorporated King County, Issaquah and other contracting cities must be licensed.

Seniors and people with disabilities can receive discounts. So can owners of pets up to six months old.

The county offers benefits to owners of licensed pets. If county officers find a lost pet, the agency attempts to skip the shelter and deliver the pet home. The shelter also holds licensed pets longer as strays.

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