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Thursday, November 13, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
County's cost-cutting move may prove costly for strays
By Jennifer Sullivan
EVERETT By ending its animal-control agreement with the Progressive Animal Welfare Society, the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office hopes to save about $100,000 a year.
But the move could mean more stray animals will be euthanized.
Sheriff Rick Bart, responding to County Executive Bob Drewel's request that he cut the department's animal-control and shelters contracts, recently ended a decade-old agreement with the Lynnwood-based Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). Bart and Drewel have been battling in recent weeks over how to cut the county's law-enforcement budget as the county grapples with its budget.
"It leaves us with very few options," Bart said. "We've been backed into this position."
Animal control in unincorporated Snohomish County falls under the sheriff's jurisdiction.
Now, instead of taking stray animals to PAWS, which rarely euthanizes animals, the department will take them to the Everett Animal Shelter, which also has an animal-control agreement with the county. That change could result in more strays being euthanized.
The sheriff's office has paid PAWS and the Everett Animal Shelter $60 for every stray animal brought into the shelter from unincorporated county areas.
With only one shelter that will accept animals from unincorporated Snohomish County, Bart says the move is expected to save money because he believes fewer people will drive the distance to turn in stray animals. The increased likelihood that more animals could be euthanized also could decrease the number of strays brought in, he said.
"What we're trying to tell the (Snohomish County) Council is that this is a problem which isn't going to go away," Bart said. "But for the sake of balancing the budget we're doing what we are being told to do."
Kay Joubert, PAWS director of companion-animals services, said the organization euthanizes animals only if they are suffering from nontreatable illnesses or if they are aggressive. She said PAWS never euthanizes animals because of a lack of space at its Lynnwood shelter.
Drewel said his recommendation is a reflection of difficult budgetary times.
"PAWS is passionate about the work they do," Drewel said. "This has more to do with the economic application of it."
Drewel has recommended about $490,000 worth of cuts to the sheriff's budget, which includes seven layoffs. The Sheriff's Office makes up nearly 22 percent of the county's proposed $172 million budget.
At a committee meeting Monday, County Council members talked about ways to ensure that county residents still are taking animals to PAWS. Steps under consideration include requiring people who drop off strays to pay the $60 fee that each shelter has billed the Sheriff's Office per animal this year.
But Laico and Joubert shook their heads at that proposal.
"These are tough economic times for citizens all around," Laico said after leaving the committee meeting. "I think an awful lot of people are hard-pressed to come up with $60."
Laico said she fears the fee might mean people would dump stray animals rather than bring them to a shelter.
From Jan. 1 through Oct. 30, PAWS admitted 1,710 stray cats and dogs from county residents and animal-control deputies under the Sheriff's Office agreement. In comparison, DeWispelaere said the Everett Animal Shelter took in 3,191 dogs and cats last year from animal-control deputies and county residents.
In addition to cutting $100,000 in shelter contracts, Drewel has recommended that Bart cut one full-time animal-control officer, a position that costs $87,124, including benefits. Bart said cutting the position would mean he would have only three full-time animal-control officers.
That also would mean the remaining three officers no longer would pick up reported stray dogs and cats. Instead, they would focus their attention on responding to reports of mistreated or lost cattle, horses and other large animals. The officers still would respond to reports of vicious animals.
Jennifer Sullivan: 425-783-0604 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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