County exec rebuts animal shelter critic

King County Executive Ron Sims plans to release a report this week to the County Council rebutting many of the recent findings by a council-hired consultant over the county’s management of its two animal shelters.

King County Executive Ron Sims plans to release a report this week to the County Council rebutting many of the recent findings by a council-hired consultant over the county’s management of its two animal shelters.

“Our overall reaction is frustration that the consultant’s report didn’t take into account any of the work that we have done to date,” said Natasha Jones, a Sims spokeswoman. She was referring to the report consultant Nathan Winograd gave to the council that took the county to task for management of its shelters in Kent and Bellevue.

The Kent facility, the larger of the two, was the target of considerable criticism by Winograd.

Winograd, who runs the No Kill Advocacy Center in San Clemente, Calif., was hired by the council to evaluate the two shelters. He wrote in his 147-page report last month that the county has “failed for more than a decade to take the necessary measures to reform the shelter despite numerous reports, recommendations and credible complaints over the inhumane and inadequate condition of the shelter.”

In a March 17 meeting with the council, whose members have also criticized the shelters, Winograd said he doubts the county can create a model no-kill program because even now it can’t properly feed the dogs and cats it houses.

Jones last Wednesday said the report paints a more dire picture than is actually the case.

“We’ve acknowledged problems and have taken steps to correct deficiencies,” Jones said. “It is not to the level of deficiencies the consultant tried to portray.”

Besides a rebuttal, Sims’ report – which is more than 160 pages long – also will propose a plan to improve conditions at the shelters.

“We think everyone is starting to realize that we agree things need to be fixed and it’s a matter of where we go from here,” Jones said. “We will have a plan of how to make conditions better for the animals, the steps we can take and the money it will take. It will be up to the council whether it provides the resources to make it happen.”

Jones said Sims’ staff wanted to be sure to release the rebuttal and proposal before the council conducts a public hearing April 14 regarding the future of its animal-care services. That meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Highline Performing Arts Center, 401 S. 152nd St., Burien.

Jones said the county’s recent improvements to the Kent shelter, whose service area includes Covington and Maple Valley, include covering a drain trench in the dog kennels and starting a new procedure to ensure animals are fed and exercised regularly, with a checklist to show when those services were provided, Jones said.

“We’re not perfect, but we continue to work on ways to improve the facility,” Jones said.

Kent resident Derek Yoshinaka, who served on a citizens’ advisory committee that investigated the shelter and issued a report last September calling its conditions “deplorable,” also criticized Winograd’s report.

“I was amazed how poorly things were documented for a consultant,” Yoshinaka said last Wednesday. “I was surprised he cited very little evidence. It was more anecdotal and subjective opinions rather than facts.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by Sims’ office, especially in regard to the photos in Winograd’s report showing animals purportedly not being fed or cages cleaned.

“We’re frustrated at the inaccuracies in the report,” Jones said. “There was no time or date stamps on the photos to verify when they were taken. He said the animals were not fed for several days, but our officers said they were fed.”

Jones said the photos could have been taken in the early morning before employees filled dishes or cleaned cages.

“The context was not given,” Jones said. “It was misleading. The report itself was written to arrive at a foregone conclusion that the county wasn’t capable of running a shelter.”

Yoshinaka, who volunteers to walk dogs two evenings a week at the Kent shelter, said he’s never observed animals not being fed. “They’re usually being fed when I’m down there,” he said.

Jones said a recommendation by Winograd that a private agency should take over the county’s animal services can’t be done without changing a county ordinance that doesn’t allow animal services to be contracted out.

King County provides animal-control and shelter services to unincorporated areas and 37 cities within the county. The city of Seattle has its own animal-control officers and operates an animal shelter.