Have A Way With Animals? The City Of Burien May Want To Talk With You

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by Ralph Nichols

If you provide a service for animals – especially domestic pets – in the Burien area, the city is interested in talking to you.

That’s because the Burien City Council voted 6-1 on April 26 against participating in a new King County regional animal control system.

City staff, acting at the direction of the council, will develop alternatives for providing animal control services in Burien.

Councilwoman Lucy Krakowiak, preferring to join the regional program, which other council members noted would cost the city more money for less service, cast the dissenting vote.

“I feel that this is the right thing to do,” observed City Manager Mike Martin, who proposed the action, following the council’s decision.

Martin will send out this week requests for proposals for private individuals to provide animal control services. After receiving responses, city staff will discuss with them the specific kind of services each can provide.

King County’s proposal had Burien sharing one animal control officer five days a week, eight hours a day, in a district including SeaTac, Tukwila, Kent, White Center, Skyway and Vashon, city management analyst Jenn Ramirez Robson told council members.

The county would have continued sheltering approximately 460 animals from Burien annually at an average cost of $350 an animal. And the county would have continued to receive about $119,000 collected by the city from local residents for pet license fees.

But Burien would also have had to use general fund revenue in addition to license fees to pay for city participation in the county plan, Ramirez Robson said.

That would have cost Burien an estimated $64,383 from July 1 to Dec. 31 this year, $128,767 in 2011, and $140,542 in 2012.

The total cost of the county program for Burien by 2012, including the $119,000 in license fees, would have been $259,542.

Krakowiak said she thought the city could realize “cost savings with working with King County,” while avoiding legal and health issues and other risks.

But, countered Councilman Gordon Shaw, “I don’t understand [her] math … it appears to me that under the services we would get from King County, that is just far too much money. From what I’ve heard there are alternatives available.”

Councilwoman Kathy Keene expressed “real concern about one [animal control officer] in this vast area. I, too, think this is something we can do as a city.”

Cautioning her fellow council members that paying to participate in the regional program would likely result in the loss of funding for a police officer, Councilwoman Rose Clark said she is “not in favor of going with the county.”

Mayor Joan McGilton, also speaking in support of a city run animal control program, said she thought county program participation would come closer to costing Burien two police officers.

While another option would be to deplete the city’s human services budget of some $160,000, McGilton added, “I don’t want to have to choose between kids and animals.

“My personal recommendation is to explore whatever options there may be” without partnering with the county for these services. “There is a risk, but I just can’t see no support in our community.”

King County has provided animal services since the mid-1980s. Photo courtesy King County.

Councilman Jack Block Jr. questioned the county’s commitment. “Earlier this year, the county was going to get out of animal control. Now the county wants to get back in. That doesn’t inspire confidence.”

King County has provided animal control, sheltering and licensing services for cities, in exchange for keeping all pet licensing revenue, since the mid-1980s. But the county will no longer provide these services after June 30 due to cost and ongoing budget problems.

During public comment to the council, Bernice Bellamy of Bellevue, speaking for the King County animal control plan, said “the more [cities] that participate in the partnership with the county, the lower the cost is for everyone.”

It’s “not a perfect model,” she said, but the county has “better ability on a regional basis” to handle animal control. Private owners of kennels, for example, “just aren’t qualified” to provide these services.

But, Martin reminded council members, “animal control services are discretionary.” A city is required by law only to remove dangerous animals from the streets.

So the question facing them became, “how much do you want to pay for something that, in the main, is a discretionary service?”

He recommended “that we sever the relationship with the county and look for alternatives … we’re not jumping off the cliff. This is a reasonable risk to take.”

Ramirez Robson said city staff had already identified about 15 local providers of animal care who have indicated an interest, from kennel operators to individuals who could transport animals, and veterinary clinics to feral cat services.

Martin thinks the city may be able to pay for its own animal control program by cutting the cost of pet licenses in half and, in turn, seeing the licensing compliance rate among pet owners increase from around 20 percent to at least 60 percent. In addition, other special funds could be used to help pay for this service.

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10 Responses to “Have A Way With Animals? The City Of Burien May Want To Talk With You”
  1. Jim Branson says:

    As an animal lover, and as someone who has volunteered for the Missing Pet Partnership for a couple of years, helping find lost dogs, I think I’d make a decent dog catcher. I also know there’s not a chance in hell the City of Burien would hire me. I have been critical of their policies and practices in the past, and I’m sure I will disagree with them in the future since they seem uninterested in change.

    For example, I would suggest that a common-sense approach to animal control would be to make the people who generate the need for this service pay for the bulk of animal control costs through fines and fees. Most citizens of Burien don’t need an animal control officer. Many people don’t even have pets. The majority of pet owners are fairly responsible–licensing and vaccinating, spaying and neutering, leashing and scooping. It is a small minority of Burien residents that create the need for animal control services. As several Council Members said during Monday’s meeting, they have never (or rarely) seen an animal control officer in the city limits. If we had a local ACO actually writing tickets, this would reduce the need for an ACO and also help fund animal control. It would also help keep animals safe. At $250 for an off-leash violation, a couple of tickets a day would go a long way toward covering the ACO’s salary and equipment. Besides, it is the function of local government to enforce local laws. What’s the point in having laws if they are never enforced?

    Not only am I sure Burien would never hire me, but I’m fairly certain they would do the opposite of anything I might suggest. They didn’t listen to me for two years on the Shoreline Advisory Committee. They’ve been ignoring me for years about graffiti. They seem uninterested in Earth Hour. Whatever I think about Animal Control, I might be better off if I just keep it to myself.

    As ineffective and expensive as King County Animal Control has been, I predict that Burien will find a way to less effective and more expensive.

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  2. T Elliott says:

    In response to the Council of Burien’s issue on Animal Control

    Thank you for taking a step to make this a Burien issue in lieu of King County Issue.

    I would recommend having the volunteers of the Citizen Patrol look for and assist with stray animals or injured animals. I also think volunteers with vehicles that could be used for picking up injured animals be on a list and rotate those volunteers daily throughout the month so there is a short term committment.

    I agree that reducing license fees would allow more citizens to license their animals, including those that are indoor only animals. Offering multiple animal discounts is another idea.

    Making a list available for all citizens in Burien of animal hospitals, and caregivers in Burien willing to handle stray or injured animals would certainly help in policing this problem.

    I don’t think we need to hire someone specific for this position, but volunteers can go a long way.

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  3. Jill Seward says:

    Off leash dogs are absolutely a problem in the newly annexed Boulevard Park area, due to either owner ignorance or insecure fencing.

    I have a dog reactive dog, which I walk, politely on leash in our neighborhood. I cannot tell you how many times we have encountered off leash dogs – I have stopped counting. This is SO very frustrating. I am following the law, and my dog is highly trained, but if she injures another dog because another dog suddenly gets up in her business – then I am at fault. I don’t know the solution to enforcing the leash laws, or the economics – but if you empower the citizens to take action, count me in!

    Also – why not be proactive to solve this issue and educate people through general information sessions from a certified trainer (how to properly fence your dog, why it is bad to let your dog roam around off leash, why you should exercise your dogs on leash so they don’t try and break out of the fence, why you should not chain your dog in your yard, etc.). Every ticket should come with an educational pamphlet maybe, or you are required to attend the ‘dog management’ lesson. It could help keep the dogs in their homes and happy behind the fences, reducing the need for shelters or capturing in the first place.

    If you take away the punishment for off leash dogs – please do plan on doing some type of free or low cost education for our neighbors. Reducing license fees is a great idea as well, but that also goes nowhere if people don’t know about it or if it is not enforced.

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  4. Coverofnight says:

    I like the volunteer ideas of T. Elliott. Volunteers would be effective in looking out for the best interests of the animal. Unfortunately, Jim Branson’s solution of hefty fines would, I believe, have the officer on the lookout for ticketing opportunities just to ensure job security. Jill, I think licensing of indoor only animals puts an unfair burden on people with fixed incomes; I’d recommend not going that route if the animal causes no impact on the community. But whatever direction the City takes, PLEASE don’t make any deals with unions!

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  5. Rob says:

    I keep my dog leashed. I don’t understand why others can’t.
    I like Jim Branson’s Idea of ticketing. Makes more sense for the city to put some teeth in their leash law

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  6. George says:

    The article noted that the county solution was more expensive but no actual, reasonable local solution has been proposed. The regional solution was summarily rejected in favor of (what?)

    While it certainly makes sense to examine local and volunteer alternatives, there should be some real plan for which one can figure out costs to compare with an existing (and very expensive) regional plan.

    Of course, City Manager Martin’s concept of simply destroying (I presume that is how he plans to remove dangerous animals from the streets) those animals that are dangerous and letting every thing else run free satisfies the mandated legal requirements of the city and is probably the least expensive plan.

    Of course the council would have a responsibility to figure out a definition of a dangerous versus merely and intimidating dog, but the lawsuits regarding misapplication of that definition may not be so expensive.

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  7. Teri says:

    City Manager Martin and the Council are inexperienced and unknowledgeable regarding what it takes to run a humane animal shelter and animal control program. Having been in the (volunteer) rescue world for 30+ years, I can confirm–1) humane rescuing of animals is expensive and emotional exhausting; 2) you have to know what you are doing when assisting injured, scared or dangerous animals. Otherwise, you run the risk of further injury to the animal and/or yourself; 3) short cuts and -sightedness will always come back and bite you in the gluts.

    Now that being said…if the citizens of Burien are not concerned about humane treatment of animals and only want them removed from the streets to be killed, then maybe Manager Martin and Council are supporting their voters/taxpayers’ wishes…which saddens me. If Burien contracts with Tacoma Humane Society for sheltering of lost or abandoned animals, how does that serve the animals and the people that care about the animals? Tacoma Humane Society’s Kill Rate is higher than KCACC and there is a history of ugly issues at their facility. Local Veterinarians are not going to agree to kill healthy and/or treatable/manageable animals. Humane feral cat programs are life saving and effective in reducing the number of kittens entering our shelters—if the group/person is leading the effort has high standards and consistently follows National protocols.

    KCACC has greatly improved; is implementing new, life saving programs and procedures; has new, forward thinking management at all levels; and most of all, has a new County Executive, Dow Constantine, that is committed to reform and improvement. Together, we can all help KCACC become a model Municipal Shelter.

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  8. Rainycity says:

    Yeah, they could put an animal control in the new town square beings how nobody else wanst anything to do with it.

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  9. Jill Seward says:

    Hi – I just want to say that – on my way home today I almost ran over an unleashed dog in my neighborhood (again!), it was a dog that was casually let out a front door as I drove by – there was a leashed dog across the way – who it was attracted to – it ran right for the other dog, in front of my car. At least the owners were present and were able to retrieve the dog. Yes this is a problem, and the more I think about it, owner education is the right solution rather than taking pets from their homes, or penalizing owners who probably can’t pay the bill anyway – but how the heck do you fund that? Maybe the cost of prevention and educating the public is way less than running a shelter – I would like to see the numbers run on that. Could paid off leash tickets fund a part time animal control officer and/or education classes?

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