The writing has been on the wall for years. First came the September 2007 citizens committee report calling shelter conditions in King County “deplorable”. If you’ve followed the KCACC oversight committee education work being done at kcaccexposed.org, you know that the staff that works at Animal Care and Control and at the shelters are doing everything they can within a broken system. Many critics of the way KCACC has been run claim that the $1 million dollar one time allocation to fix the system wasn’t enough because of tragically bad management and failed oversight at KCACC. Now I’m reading the announcement on the Metropolitan King County Council web site dated September 24, 2009 that is titled Council member commends Executive for implementing their call to get King County out of the shelter business. What does this mean exactly? Well, as with all governmental issues, it means several things. (click on the image above to see video of the KOMO Problem Solvers’ story on this issue).
For one, it means that because the county is facing a $56 million budget short fall, it’s going to look for a private organization to fulfill the county’s public safety function of Animal Care and Control. “Last year, we stated publicly that the King County Animal Shelter system was so broken that it could not be fixed and asked the Executive to consider a new system. I commend him for taking decisive action to implement our request,” said Council Chair Constantine. “King County has been failing in its obligation to provide humane care for the animals in our custody. This solution will shift sheltering services to a proven community provider.” The problem is that our interim Executive is not implementing a solution. He’s simply shutting down the shelters, without an alternative solution in place, and he’s doing it soon.
When this happens (and the Kent shelter is scheduled to be shut down on November 1st), the Seattle Animal Shelter, the Seattle/King County Humane Society, and every private rescue group in King County is going to be literally over run with homeless animals and all of these organizations are inundated already. The county has been talking to the Humane Society for years about taking over these responsibilities for the county, but how is the Humane Society supposed to pay for the services the county wants them to provide? If a $1 million infusion couldn’t solve the problem, how is a non-profit organization supposed to step up and solve the problem over night, with no additional funding?
Some county employees, volunteers, and animal advocates argue that the animals of King County would be better served by turning over Animal Care and Control and sheltering services to a private organization. I’m not disagreeing with this position. Across the country, we’ve seen privatization of the Animal Care and Control function handled well and we’ve seen it handled poorly. Really, no matter who takes over this responsibility, isn’t about having a plan in place before any decision is made? Isn’t it about transparency in the system? After all, we’re making decisions about a population that doesn’t have a voice, the animals.
If you think that this problem is only about treating stray animals humanely, that’s only part of the story. This is a public safety issue. If you want to see what happens when a county agency is stretched too thin and given too many mandates, read the Seattle Times article Dog attack victims wait days or weeks for response. Too often, when a county or city’s Animal Care and Control responsibilities are handled poorly, we see elected officials respond with harmful, unfair, and expensive Breed Specific Legislation which we believe is the absolutely worst response to the problem.
If you’ve read this far, you may be wondering what you can do about this situation. I’d like to make a few suggestions:
Our King County Executive is only serving in an interim capacity. Get involved and make the candidates for this open seat state their position on Animal Care and Control. Do either of these candidates have a plan? Contact Susan Hutchison and Dow Constantine and find out before your cast your vote.
You can donate money locally to the organizations who will be handling the problem that King County is throwing over the wall to them. Donating your money to the Seattle Animal Shelter or your local Humane Society means that the money will be used locally.
Lastly, if you can’t donate money, you can volunteer as a foster home. Both the Seattle Animal Shelter foster program and the Seattle Humane Society foster program need your help. Space is critical when it comes to saving the lives of homeless animals until they can be placed in their forever homes.
Please let us know your thoughts about King County Animal Care and Control being eliminated as a county government funded function. If you contact our candidates for County Executive, let us know what their responses were. Do you live in a community where this function was privatized? What was the experience like in your community?