Citizens speak on controversial animal shelters

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 Council.

  • Monday, June 2, 2008 12:11pm
  • News
At a meeting Monday for discussion of proposed improvements of King County’s animal shelters

At a meeting Monday for discussion of proposed improvements of King County’s animal shelters

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 Council.

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

A total of 74 people spoke in regard to joint proposals released the previous week by County Executive Ron Sims and the council. One of those proposals calls for the county to spend 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 improving the agency’s two shelters.

One shelter, whose service area includes Covington and Maple Valley, is in Kent, and the other is 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.

No date has been set for when the council will vote on the proposals for additional funding and formation of a master-plan task force. If approved, the task force would be slated to have its report completed by this August.

The council is considering major changes in the shelter system since receiving critical reports by consultant Nathan Winograd in March and by a citizens’ advisory committee last October. Winograd reported 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.”

“The short relief will not solve the long-term challenges,” Councilman Dow Constantine told the crowd Monday. “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 in Maple Valley 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 hire a consultant 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 shelter in Bellevue. 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, said, “We’re lacking resources and training. Don’t throw more money at consultants to tell you something we’ve been telling you for 20 years.”

A few citizens told the council they’re concerned what would happen if the county got out of the shelter business, as the council has said is possible, and instead contracted with a private agency for animal services.

Derek Yoshinaka, a Kent resident and volunteer at the county’s shelter in that city, wanted to know what would happen to the 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. 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 said.

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 Family Dog Training Center in Kent, testified in favor of replacing the county’s shelters with new ones.

Several speakers debated whether animals have received humane treatment in the shelters. Many shelter volunteers praised the work of the shelter employees, while a couple other volunteers claimed animals had suffered because of a lack of proper medical treatment and argued it might be better for a private agency to run the facilities.

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