Major reforms to King County’s animal shelter program – and the public’s opinions about whether the county should even have a shelter program – were the expected topics when the County Council conducted a town hall meeting Monday.
Leading up to the meeting in Bellevue, County Executive Ron Sims and council members Julia Patterson and Dow Constantine held a joint news conference last Thursday to announce a proposal for nearly $1 million in new equipment and other improvements for the animal care and control division, which oversees the county’s shelters – one in Kent, whose service area includes Covington and Maple Valley, and the other in Bellevue.
“We plan to replace 100 percent of the cat cages,” said Carolyn Duncan, a spokeswoman for Sims. “We want to expand the temporary dog runs on the property or find other property to separate the cats and the dogs.”
In addition to the proposal for the immediate improvements, county officials also were to formally announce Monday a master plan, which they would complete within the next four months, to help determine the future of the shelters.
“We want to look at whether to continue to operate the shelters long-term,” Duncan said. “It’s very clear we need a new facility to reduce crowding, the stress on the animals and to give staff a facility where they can get the job done.”
The proposal for the improvements would have to be approved by the council. The long-term master plan, to developed by representatives of Sims, the council, the Seattle-King County Public Health Department, the Sheriff Department and the prosecuting attorney, is slated to be completed by Aug. 15. That’s when the Council would decide whether the county should reorganize animal control, build a new shelter or even stay in the shelter business.
Besides its shelters, King County also provides animal-control services to unincorporated areas and 37 cities. Seattle has its own animal control officers and shelter.
A recent report that was highly critical of the county’s shelter system helped precipitate the current question over whether the county should even be in the shelter business.
Consultant Nathan Winograd, who runs the No Kill Advocacy Center in San Clemente, Calif., was hired by the council to evaluate the county’s shelter system. In a 147-page report last month to the council, Winograd stated Sims’ office 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.”
Winograd reported he had doubts the county’s animal control division can create a model no-kill program because even now it can’t properly feed the dogs and cats housed at its shelters in Kent and Bellevue.
In his report to be released Thursday, Sims would be rebutting many of Winograd’s findings, said Natasha Jones, another spokeswoman for the county executive.
The council hired Winograd as a consultant based on research by Sims’ office last year, when the council directed Sims’ office to to look into finding a consultant to evaluate the county shelter system, said Frank Abe, a council spokesman. The executive branch selected Winograd over one other applicant, but never awarded the contract. In December, the council used that information to hire Winograd.
Winograd recently filed an invoice with the county for $10,141, which came under the amount budgeted, Abe said. The invoice included a $7,000 consulting fee and $3,141 in expenses, including airfare and a rental car.
The focus of Monday’s meeting will be to give citizens a chance to speak their piece “before we make any final decision on the future of the shelters,” said Patterson.
The council is expected to take action regarding short-term improvements to the shelters in April or May.
The Kent Reporter contributed to this report.