County looks to improve shelter system

Nearly 700 people attended a town hall meeting Monday to discuss the embattled King County animal-shelter system, with dozens speaking their piece before the County Metropolitan Council.

  • Monday, June 2, 2008 6:56pm
  • News

King County Council member Reagan Dunn brings his 9-week-old puppy

Proposed plan has some bite with funding

Nearly 700 people attended a town hall meeting Monday to discuss the embattled King County animal-shelter system, with dozens speaking their piece before the County Metropolitan Council.

Organized by the Council as a means of getting feedback from area residents, the meeting took place at the Highline Performing Arts Center in Burien.

A total of 74 people spoke in regard to joint proposals released last week by County Executive Ron Sims and the Council. One of those proposals calls for the county spending an additional $965,000 for its Animal Services Care and Control division this year, while the other speaks to development of a long-term master plan for improvements to the shelter system.

Animal Services Care and Control oversees operation of the county’s two shelters: one in Kent and the other in Bellevue.

Funding for the improvements would include $570,000 from a county animal-benefit fund that has grown for more than 20 years from public donations. The rest of the money would come from the county’s capital improvement budget.

The Council is considering major changes in the county’s shelter system since receiving critical reports by consultant Nathan Winograd last month and by a citizens’ advisory committee in October. Winograd stated in his report that “the county has failed for more than a decade to take the necessary steps to reform the shelters.” The advisory committee called shelter conditions “deplorable” in its report.

“The short relief will not solve the long-term challenges,” Councilman Dow Constantine told the crowd prior to public testimony, of the need for long-term planning. “We need a blueprint to move forward. We want a model with the highest care where no animal with a chance to recover should be killed, period. That will be our standard.”

That statement drew applause from the audience, as did a puppy brought to the meeting by Councilman Reagan Dunn, who said his family adopted it from a shelter in Yakima.

But not all the crowd’s reaction was positive.

Several volunteers from the county shelters spoke out against some of the funding proposals that Sims is outlining for this year.

One of those expenditures is to bring a consultant on board, to oversee improvements to the shelter system.

“You’re spending $85,000 for a consultant, that’s wrong,” said Doug Parker, a volunteer at the Crossroads shelter in Bellevue, noting what the county is opting to spend for the expert. Parker added more money should be spent on shelter medical programs to help animals, rather than on an official.

Shelby Russell-Diaz, a county animal-control officer, disagreed with the Council even hiring consultants.

“We’re lacking resources and training,” Russell said. “Don’t throw more money at consultants to tell you something we’ve been telling you for 20 years.”

A few residents told the Council they were concerned what would happen if the county got out of the shelter business and instead contracted with a private agency for animal services.

Derek Yoshinaka, a Kent resident and volunteer at the county’s Kent shelter, wanted to know what would happen to the numerous dogs he said are rejected by animal-rescue groups as too tough to adopt, if a private agency takes over the shelters and only accepts adoptable dogs. As a public shelter, the county accepts all dogs and cats brought to the facility. Private agencies also usually charge a fee to take an animal, he said.

“You need to keep open a no-fee facility to give animals a chance,” Yoshinaka noted.

Other speakers claimed the county rarely prosecutes animal-cruelty cases because of a lack of training and a lack of officers who focus on cruelty cases.

“We want animal cops in King County like they have in other parts of the country,” said Susan Michaels, founder of animal-welfare group Pasado’s Safe Haven of Sultan. “Train, train and train. Put money in the budget for cruelty investigations.”

Kathy Lang, who runs the Family Dog Training Center in Kent, testified in favor of replacing the Bellevue and Kent shelters.

“I’d love to see us build new shelters,” Lang said. “And we need better volunteer coordination.”

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