Volunteers divided over care at King County animal shelters
Conflict over conditions in local animal shelters hasn't just pitted a consultant against the shelters' manager, and the Metropolitan King...
Seattle Times staff reporter
To adopt or volunteerFor information on adopting animals, volunteering in shelters, fostering sick animals or donating supplies, go to www.kingcounty.gov/safety/animalservices/ or call 206-296-7387 for the Kent shelter or 206-296-3940 for the Bellevue shelter.
Your views soughtThe Metropolitan King County Council will hold a town-hall meeting on shelters and the animal-control program from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 14 at the Highline Performing Arts Center, 401 S. 152nd St., Burien.
Conflict over conditions in local animal shelters hasn't just pitted a consultant against the shelters' manager, and the Metropolitan King County Council against County Executive Ron Sims.
It also has polarized a group of unlikely foes: the dedicated shelter volunteers who clean kennels and fill water bowls, let dogs and cats out of cages for personal attention, take sick animals home for extra care, run adoption events, and photograph adoptable animals and post those photos on the Web.
Some volunteers have issued a series of broadsides at shelter management, urging a criminal investigation and asking Sims and the County Council to put shelters in the hands of a receiver.
Others, siding with animal-control officers and management, say shelter conditions are improving. They believe building a new facility and hiring more workers would solve many of the remaining problems.
That split among the roughly 300 volunteers has been widened by consultant Nathan Winograd's 147-page report last month to the County Council. He claimed the county has failed to care humanely for animals for so long that the shelters should be run by a private entity. Winograd's most provocative claim was that he saw sick cats in the Kent shelter go without food or water on two consecutive days.
The council will make a decision on the shelters' future sometime after an April 14 town-hall meeting in Burien.
"I think they're doing an incredible job," Jennifer French Knutson, a Kent shelter volunteer said of staffers she thinks are getting a bum rap. "It's very disappointing that in an effort to take care of animals and build a better facility we have to have this circus."
Her perspective is shared by Rita Bout, who volunteers in the shelter's adoption program and cares for sick animals in her home. During visits to pick up or drop off animals at the Bellevue and Kent shelters, she said, she has never seen a cat or dog go without food or water.
Bout and her husband visited the cat isolation room in Kent the morning of Presidents Day, the same morning Winograd said he first saw sick cats in dirty cages, without water or fresh food. Bout said she saw an animal-control officer cleaning cages and giving the animals food and water.
When she returned the afternoon of the next day, she said, she saw that the cats again had been fed, watered and given medication.
"I agree with a lot of his suggestions," Bout said of Winograd, "but when he starts accusing people of abuse or neglect, if I ever saw that I would definitely bring it to someone's attention. I would write Ron Sims if I had to. I've never seen it."
Sims is relying on the accounts of Bout and several shelter staffers to rebut Winograd's claims that cats weren't fed or watered Feb. 18 or the next morning. Bout initially told The Seattle Times she arrived at the shelter at 7:30 or 8 a.m. and saw Winograd before she entered the building. After being told that Winograd arrived around 11 a.m., she rechecked her schedule with others and said she had arrived at 10:15.
Other volunteers have found themselves at odds with management. After an outspoken volunteer at the Crossroads shelter was temporarily suspended in January, 23 volunteers wrote the County Council to say she was being punished for publicly questioning management policies.
Linda Riggins said she believes she was suspended for several weeks because she shared with Winograd and County Councilmember Julia Patterson her plea that the unborn puppies of a pregnant Rottweiler not be aborted.
Al Dams, acting animal-care and -control manager, said Riggins' suspension was "absolutely not" in retaliation for her campaign to save the puppies. She was told she violated county policy when she bought medication for ear mites and helped an animal-control officer administer it to an Afghan hound.
"It's very simple," Dams said. "There are things that the volunteers can do and things that we don't want them to do."
Riggins remains unrepentant about providing medical care to the dog. "I believe in going outside the box if that's what it takes to give these guys some decent treatment," she said.
Bout and Knutson are troubled by claims that animals are sometimes neglected — accusations they believe are unfounded. At a March 27 "appreciation dinner" at which Sims and shelter staff members honored volunteers, Knutson said, "My husband and I kind of looked at each other and said, 'Somebody needs to give these guys [shelter staff] a dinner. Why doesn't anybody recognize what these people do? It was humbling that they were appreciating us. Who's appreciating them?' "
Julie White, who over the past nine years has fostered animals, presided over Friends of King County Animal Control and chaired a citizens advisory committee that last fall issued a scathing report on animal care, said she has watched with growing distress as problems have gone unresolved.
She doesn't share some volunteers' faith that the county is capable of improving the shelters.
"I totally understand where these new volunteers are, because I did the same thing," White said. "I worked closely with them [management], thinking it's best to partner up and help them solve these issues. I'm not saying that's not the right way of doing it.
"But after all these years, I have to say, something that has to be happening is not happening."
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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