County officials hold shelter meeting; improvements planned

King County Council held a town hall meeting Monday in Burien to discuss major reforms to the county’s shelter program.

King County Council held a town hall meeting Monday in Burien to discuss major reforms to the county’s shelter program.

Leading up to Monday’s meeting, County Executive Ron Sims and County Council members Julia Patterson and Dow Constantine held a joint news conference Thursday to announce a proposal for nearly $1 million in new equipment and other improvements to the Animal Care and Control division, which oversees the county’s shelters.

County officials said they plan major improvements to the two shelters the county runs: one in Kent and the other in Bellevue.

“We plan to replace 100 percent of the cat cages,” said Carolyn Duncan, communications director for the executive branch, in a phone interview Thursday. “We want to expand the temporary dog runs on the property or find other property to separate the cats and the dogs.”

In addition to the proposal for the immediate improvements, county officials also were to announce the formation of a master plan, which they would complete within the next four months, to help determine the future of the county’s shelters.

“We want to look at a master plan on whether to continue to operate the shelters long term,” Duncan said. “It’s very clear we need a new facility to reduce crowding, the stress on the animals and to give staff a facility where they can get the job done.”

The proposal for the improvements would have to be approved by the County Council.

King County Animal Care and Control and the Seattle Humane Society hosted a pet-adoption fair before the meeting.

The Council and county staff selected three panelists for the meeting to address how to lower the euthanasia rate toward a no-kill policy at its large shelter in Kent and smaller shelter in Bellevue. They are: Jim Dugan, director of The Dugan Foundation, a Tacoma-based group that wants to help turn Pierce County into a no-kill community; Pat Geffe, a volunteer pet foster parent; and Brenda Barnette, chief executive officer of the Seattle Humane Society, a non-profit group that provides an animal shelter and other programs and services.

Besides its animal shelters in Kent and Bellevue, King County also provides animal-control services to unincorporated areas and 37 cities within the county. The City of Seattle has its own animal control officers and operates an animal shelter.

A recent report that was highly critical of the county’s shelter system helped precipitate the current question over whether the county should even be in the shelter business.

Consultant Nathan Winograd, who runs the No Kill Advocacy Center in San Clemente, Calif., was hired by the County Council to evaluate the county’s shelter system. In a 147-page report released last month to the Council Winograd stated Sims’ office has “failed for more than a decade to take the necessary measures to reform the shelter despite numerous reports, recommendations and credible complaints over the inhumane and inadequate condition of the shelter.”

Winograd reported he had doubts the county’s animal control division can create a model no-kill program because even now it can’t properly feed the dogs and cats housed at its shelters in Kent and Bellevue.

The County Council hired Winograd as a consultant based on research by Sims’ office last year, when the Council directed Sims’ office to to look into finding a consultant to evaluate the county shelter system, said Frank Abe, director of communications for the Council. The executive branch selected Winograd over one other applicant, but never awarded the contract. In December, the Council used that information to hire Winograd.

Winograd recently filed an invoice with the county for $10,141, which came under the amount budgeted, Abe said. The invoice included a $7,000 consulting fee and $3,141 in expenses, including airfare and a rental car.

The focus of Monday’s town hall meeting was to give residents a chance to speak their piece to the Council.

“We have heard from our consultant and from our citizens panel, but it is vital that we hear from the public before we make any final decision on the future of the shelters,” said Patterson, the Council chairwoman, in a prepared statement. Patterson represents District 5, which includes Kent, Des Moines, SeaTac, Tukwila and Renton.

The Council’s Committee of the Whole will host the town hall meeting. Constantine chairs the Committee of the Whole, which includes all nine Council members, but which operates as a committee, as opposed to the action-taking Council.

The Council is expected to take some kind of action regarding short-term improvements to the shelters during one of its regular weekly meetings in April or May. A specific date has not been established.

The long-term master plan, to be developed by staff from the executive branch, Council, public health, the sheriff’s office and prosecutor’s office, is slated to be completed by Aug. 15, Abe said. That’s when the Council would decide whether to reorganize Animal Care and Control, whether to build a new shelter or whether to even stay in the shelter business.

The Council passed an ordinance in 2007 to reduce the euthanasia rate of animals at the two shelters to 20 percent in 2008. The shelters had an euthanasia rate of 34 percent in 2007 compared to 40 percent in 2006.

Contact Steve Hunter at 253-872-6600, ext. 5052 or