County getting out of the animal-services business?

You may have heard about this one over the weekend: This morning, the King County Council will talk about a proposal to get the county out of the animal-services business, after a long-running controversy over the quality of what it’s been providing. White Center’s King County Councilmember, Dow Constantine, was one of three council members who spoke with the media yesterday about the proposal. The council is going to want to hear what you have to say about this, since some of the alternatives raise questions — for example, suggesting that sheriff’s deputies handle some animal-cruelty cases and animal attacks might be controversial in a time when the county is facing budget cuts that threaten its basic powers to fight and prosecute crime. You can watch today’s meeting at 9:30, live online or on cable channel 22; here’s the official news release:

Councilmembers call for King County to
get out of the business of operating animal shelters
Partnership with community agency is one option proposed by interbranch panel

The culture of King County’s animal services system is so far beyond repair that the County should get out of that line of business, according to three Metropolitan King County Councilmembers who today announced their support for the idea of partnering with a community agency to provide shelter services.

The organizational model backed by Council Chair Julia Patterson and Vice Chairs Dow Constantine and Reagan Dunn is one of three options presented in the final report of the King County Animal Services Interbranch Work Group released today.

“The current model isn’t working, and frankly hasn’t worked for years,” said Councilmember Patterson.

“It makes no sense to try to prop up a system that has proven over time to be incapable of the dramatic change needed,” said Councilmember Dow Constantine. “If King County is holding itself out as providing shelter, it has an absolute obligation to provide the animals with humane care, medical treatment, and the best chance to be adopted into a loving home. Nothing less is acceptable.”

“We need to find a better solution for sheltering animals in King County,” said Councilmember Dunn. “The citizens of King County can be assured I will closely monitor how a model program would affect our rural areas and make sure that what is developed is fiscally sound.”

The Council’s Committee of the Whole will be briefed Monday morning at 9:30 a.m. on the “King County Animal Services Strategic Plan and Operational Master Plan 2009-2011” developed over the past four months by an Interbranch Work Group with representatives from the County Executive, County Council, Public Health, Sheriff and Prosecuting Attorney. A Community Stakeholder Group provided comments on the final report.

Under the Work Group option backed by Patterson, Constantine and Dunn, the County Council would examine moving King County from a county-based model to a community-based services model for operating animal shelters:

· King County would seek a community partner, under a structure to be determined, who could deliver a model program for the animals within King County.

· King County would retain many of the county’s current responsibilities and seek to divide them among the branches of county government with the appropriate skills and level of authority in those areas:

· For example, the King County Sheriff’s Office could investigate animal cruelty cases and animal attacks.

· Public Health – Seattle & King County could take over inspection and licensing of pet shops and kennels in the unincorporated areas and contract cities, a service it already provides inside the city of Seattle. Public Health would retain responsibility for control of communicable disease and oversight of rabies quarantine.

· The Records and Licensing Services Division could take over pet licensing.

The cost for creating such a community partnership would be determined through negotiation.

“There are many details to be worked out, including the effect that moving to a community-based system will have on our valued county employees,” said Constantine. “Our employees and their representatives will certainly be part of our discussions as part of a transition plan to a new organizational model.”

King County as a local government to the unincorporated areas does not have a statutory requirement to provide animal control or animal sheltering services. Under state law the county’s four mandates are:

· Confiscation of dangerous dogs,
· Pickup of animals abandoned in veterinarian offices and kennels,
· Rabies control, and
· Zoonotic disease investigation and quarantine.

King County currently provides animal services to 34 cities by contract. Under any transition framework, the county would negotiate on behalf of cities interested in a collective agreement with a community partner agency. Cities are also free to provide their own animal services.

Four independent outside entities have previously issued critical reports or statements about King County Animal Care and Control:

· The King County Animal Care and Control Citizens Advisory Committee was unanimous in what it called the “deplorable state of King County shelters.”

· The consultant report commissioned by the Council from Nathan Winograd of No-Kill Solutions said, “The same problems that plagued the shelter ten years ago plague the shelter today.”

· The shelter evaluation commissioned by Animal Care and Control from the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program said, “It was evident that the capacity of both staff and facility was exceeded in almost every area of animal housing and care.”

· Veterinarians who volunteered at the shelter this summer but later quit said they “did not want to act as enablers to the proven failed procedures.”


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