Opinion

A proposal for ensuring better care for animals in county shelters

The subject of shelter animal care is an emotional issue, and one that until just recently divided us in county government. Strong feelings expressed from people in our community and the great number of e-mails and calls demonstrate how much we all care about the animals in our shelters. It is emotional because those of us who have pets often consider them part of the family. It is especially painful to know that we aren’t giving the best care possible to the living, vulnerable and innocent creatures that are in our shelters because they were lost, unwanted or have been abused.

Last May, the King County Council directed the Animal Care and Control division to take the steps necessary to become a model animal-welfare program. We knew that the process could not be implemented immediately, but we articulated the following goals for our shelter to attain:

• Recruit the help of volunteers and rescue groups that can help us find homes for animals.

• Advertise available homeless pets.

• Improve medical care and ensure every shelter animal is up to date on vaccinations.

• Expand low-cost, high volume spay/neuter services.

• Model compassionate shelter leadership and management.

• Participate actively in a feral cat trap/neuter/release program.

During the last six months, we have received disturbing reports from our citizens advisory committee and two expert consultants indicating that our shelters are falling far short of the goals we set for them. Consequently, the council and executive recognized that we had to work together and outline immediate changes that must occur in order to provide the basic care and treatment that these animals need to live, thrive, and find a loving home.

On April 10, we announced a joint proposal that focuses on efforts to achieve these goals.

We are proposing immediate shelter and operational improvements, funded in part by donations from the caring individuals in our community who have donated to the animal benefit fund. The county will replace all of the cat cages and add dog runs in a separate area on the Kent shelter’s property or nearby. A shortage of space at the current facility has resulted in overcrowding, increased stress and increased risk of disease among shelter cats and dogs. Separate facilities for dogs and cats will greatly reduce stress on cats at the shelter. We’re also proposing new staff, including a veterinarian and veterinary technician, during peak animal population months and new training for staff.

Looking forward, we have outlined a four-month process to provide recommendations on whether or not the county should build a new shelter, reorganize the delivery of animal services among different agencies or reorganize animal services in partnership with other providers. The recent Town Hall hosted by the King County Council in Burien was the start of that conversation. Nearly 700 people attended.

A work group with members from the executive, County Council, Public Health, sheriff and prosecutor will develop a plan designed to achieve our goals. It is vital that we continue to hear from you as we develop a model animal welfare program in King County.

As we work to improve the shelter facilities, their operation and staffing, we ask you to consider adopting a cat or dog from our shelter, volunteer at the shelter or foster ill animals or animals too young for adoption. We need everyone’s help as we move forward.

Julia Patterson of SeaTac is the King County Council member representing Tukwila, Kent, Renton, Des Moines and SeaTac. Ron Sims is the King County executive.

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