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Originally published October 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 7, 2008 at 12:23 AM

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King County considers possible partnership with Humane Society for animal control

Four members of the Metropolitan King County Council said Monday the county needs to bow out of the animal-control business and let another agency take over.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Should King County be in the animal-shelter business or not?

Four members of the Metropolitan King County Council said Monday the county needs to bow out and let another agency take over.

The reaction — from Council Chair Julia Patterson, Vice Chairs Dow Constantine and Reagan Dunn and Councilmember Larry Phillips — follows the release of a long-awaited strategic plan on the future of King County Animal Care and Control.

The council was briefed Monday on the plan, which outlined three choices: whether the county should keep operating as is, discontinue providing animal-shelter services or partner with another agency.

"The current model isn't working, and frankly hasn't worked for years," Patterson said in a news release.

At the end of the meeting, Constantine directed county staff to examine option three — the partner model. This means, essentially, that the county would step out of the animal-control business and transfer responsibilities to another entity, according to the report.

"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," Constantine said. "Our employees and their representatives will certainly be part of our discussions as part of a transition plan to a new organizational model."

Animal control has come under fire in the past year for running understaffed, overcapacity shelters in Bellevue and Kent, with high euthanasia rates.

Two reports, one from a citizens committee in 2007 and a follow-up from a group of veterinarians at the University of California, Davis, called conditions at the Kent shelter deplorable. The reports pointed to poor sanitation, outbreaks of canine parvovirus and feline upper-respiratory infections, failure to vaccinate some animals and no place to isolate sick dogs.

County Executive Ron Sims said the county is in discussions with leaders of the Seattle Humane Society over a possible partnership where animal care would be split between the county and the nonprofit organization, which operates a shelter in Bellevue.

Sims said he thinks the county should pick up strays and "hold animals" that may be returned to their owners or that are quarantined because of disease.

A nonprofit partner, he said, would spearhead adoption efforts and would care for animals released from quarantine and cleared for adoption. Sims said he envisions the county and the nonprofit "co-locating" their shelters.

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The county "has met every goal" set by the County Council for its shelters, Sims said. While he acknowledged that major facilities must be improved, he said the county can't simply do away with its shelter system.

"In the end," Sims said, "we have 1,000 animals a month. The issues were 'Where do you take 1,000 animals?' It is clear nonprofit agencies can't absorb 1,000 animals."

This stance drew the ire of animal-shelter-reform advocates who staged a protest at noon Monday in front of Seattle City Hall. The protest was organized by King County Animal Care and Control (KCACC) Exposed, which say the county must wash its hands of the animal-sheltering business.

A group of about 40 people held signs and chanted "Ron Sims, enough is enough!" Some brought their dogs wearing messages printed with the words "Ron Sims, animals first, politics last."

Wendy Keller, acting manager for animal control, attended the protest. She pointed to the strides made this year at the shelters, such as expanding the foster-home program, improving sanitation procedures and reducing the euthanasia rate to 20 percent.

"We respect [the protesters'] viewpoint," she said. "But they aren't looking at what's happened in the past year ... people are walking around with a lot of misinformation."

In Snohomish County, animal-sheltering services are contracted out to the city of Everett animal shelter and to the private nonprofit Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in Lynnwood. The county has not been in the animal-shelter business for more than a quarter-century.

Everett Animal Services director Bud Wessman notes that Snohomish County's policy differs from King and Pierce counties, and Thurston County.

"Because there is no state mandate, it's really up to each agency to determine what they want to provide," Wessman said.

In Pierce County, the private nonprofit Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County, which is not a municipal agency, handles animal-shelter services countywide.

The county, as well as cities in Pierce County, pays the nonprofit for sheltering services. But the Humane Society does not handle animal-control duties or licensing for the county or the cities within Pierce County, said Denise McVicker, deputy director for The Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County.

Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or skrishnan@seattletimes.com.

Staff reporter Keith Ervin and Charles E. Brown contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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