An Exit Interview With Dr. Leslie Kasper, Ex-Director Of Burien Animal Control
Dr. Leslie Kasper served as the first Director of the new Burien Animal Care & Control (BACC), which was created in 2010 after the city declined to renew its $250,000 contract with King County’s Animal Control program.
Instead, Burien developed its own program, which involved contracting out animal field and sheltering services and bringing licensing services in-house at a cost of $120,000 a year. Kasper, a local veterinarian, was hired as Director. Her original contract was set to expire Wednesday, July 27, 2011, but she abruptly “resigned” on Jan. 27, 2011 (download a PDF of her resignation letter here).
Many of our Readers have questioned why an experienced Vet would suddenly “resign” from an important new job some six months after it started. Kasper told us that she not only had problems “getting things done” with the city, but that she was restricted by a budget that couldn’t meet the growing demands of the new program.
“There were many promises that were told to me which never happened,” Kasper told us. “I was told from day one they would be there to support me and this program … annual numbers were exceeded in just a couple months blowing our ‘budget’ out of the water. The program was upside down for nearly six months to the point where I did not take any income.”
Kasper also claims that she was told she’d “save a lot of money if I just euthanized animals after three days as the City would not pay for services after that.”
“As a veterinarian, it was against my ethics to kill animals for convenience and (I) explained that was not an option,” she added. “I was told that was my problem.”
Currently, the city’s animal control is managed by the non-profit Burien CARES group, which is paid $10,000 per month and is managed by Debra George. This group has struggled a bit out of the gate, and, far as we know, does not yet have a shelter for found animals.
As we’ve previously reported:
When King County pulled out of animal control services last year, Burien opted out of a new regional cooperative program.
Participation in the county’s regional cooperative would have cost the city almost $250,000 this year – while sharing a single animal control officer eight hours a day, five days a week, with several other cities and unincorporated areas.
Instead, Burien developed its own program, which involved contracting out animal field and sheltering services and bringing licensing services in-house at a cost of $120,000 a year.
Kasper, who at that time owned Companion Animal Medical Center in Normandy Park, became director of Burien Animal Care and Control on July 1, 2010.
However, the economic downturn combined with delays in rebuilding 1st Ave. S. through Normandy Park combined to force the closure of her veterinary clinic later last year.
Primary services for Burien Animal Care and Control are expected to remain the same: round-the-clock emergency response for vicious animals, animals with life-threatening injuries, and cases of hardship or law enforcement assistance, and maintenance of an animal shelter with 24/7 emergency access.
Here’s our full interview with Dr. Kasper:
Q: Please tell us how your experience was as Director of Burien’s first Animal Control Program.
A: I really enjoyed developing and directing the BACC program. Overall the experience was very positive from the community. Being a veterinarian I of course am constantly striving to better the lives of our pet population and this position allowed me to help hundreds more animals then I ever would have in a clinic situation.
Q: Was it easy?
A: Oh this was not easy! Developing a new program – discovering all the in’s and out’s and ironing wrinkles often after the fact came with the territory. There are many people in the community who were opposed to the City going its own way versus paying the County. There were several people in City Hall who refused to provide any services other than the bare minimum by state law. But, the majority of the community embraced what we were trying to do, and were very happy to see our program. That made the hard work worth it most days!
Q: Why did you resign? What happened?
A: There were many promises that were told to me which never happened. I was told from day one they would be there to support me and this program. I was told they would develop a non-profit auxiliary to assist us in pursuing funding and programs which were not allowed due to my “independent contractor” status. We based the program and its funding on the information provided to us by the County reports from previous years. It turns out once we had a local program, those annual numbers were exceeded in just a couple months blowing our “budget” out of the water. The program was upside down for nearly six months to the point where I did not take any income from the budget. When it was available, I took the scraps, usually less then $1,500 a month for the duties of full time shelter operator, 24-7 on-call animal control officer, and adoption programs!
When I brought these concerns to the City, I was told we would review at six months as contracted. I was told I could save a lot of money if I just euthanized animals after three days as the City would not pay for services after that. As a veterinarian, it was against my ethics to kill animals for convenience and explained that was not an option. I was told that was my problem. So I waited for my review. Nearly three weeks after my contracted review deadline I was contacted by a City official who told me there would be no negotiations or changes in the budget. I explained that it would be impossible to continue this program at the current budget and if they wouldn’t hold up to their end of the bargain then what were my options? I had none. I was told if I gave them three months for a transition that would be good. I started the process to find new employment and encouraged the City to move quickly as the State Animal Control Officer Academy was arriving quickly and a perfect training opportunity. Two weeks later, I was informed the transition would be six months as contracted and a letter of resignation was required, making the whole experience drag out that much longer. I hoped the letter would encourage the City to re-evaluate the budget, but it seems it was easier for them to find a new contractor instead.
Q: You actually closed your Vet Clinic at one point – why?
A: Oh, I wish I could have continued that to this day. That was a separate issue from BACC. Despite our continued growth and financial obligations, Bank of America, who held my business loan, decided they were “no longer interested in our continued relationship” and sold the practice out from under me! They refused to negotiate any terms or allowing another company to refinance the loan. So much for supporting Small Businesses! It was an extremely sad situation.
Q: Do you think a city like Burien can manage its own animal control?
A: Yes! Across the state and country small municipal programs flourish. I think the biggest problem with the program as it currently sits is that the budget does not allow for a shelter and ACO salary. The City will always aim for the minimum costs and so the “3-day and out” program. The community needs to decide if that is what they want. If they want a shelter and adoption program then they need to rally for it. If all we want is a simple pick-up person then that’s all Burien will ever have.
Q: Did you ever have problems working with the city?
A: Yes. There are too many examples to list. I touched on several above, but the City was good at promising, but most were not in writing so they never felt the need to follow through. There were several occasions where it was alluded by our City Manager that I was taking up too much of his time and even told once to “stop being a child and grow up.”
Q: Do you have any thoughts on ‘CARES,’ the new Animal Control group?
A: As a citizen of this community, like so many others, am very concerned as to the reality of the situation compared to the statements made for their intentions. Where is the shelter? Where are the animals? As the former “single woman show” I reached out to several of the local and state rescue groups and was told they were too full to assist in placing animal from us. A few of my former volunteers have told me they have tried to contact CARES about animals simply to be told there weren’t any. That is shocking to me as we always had animals coming in or on stray-hold. I realize they are not contractually obligated to have an adoption program, but I would like to see their monthly reports on where all the animals are going.
Q: Do you have any advice for the City of Burien about Animal Control?
A: I hope this program works. The community deserves it. The animals deserve it. I do think the community is better served locally then through the County as we can focus our resources. I am concerned with the continued talks of annexation when it comes to animal control though. We currently have the same budget for animal services as Des Moines – a community only 2/3 our size with a full time accredited ACO/police officer. Not only do we have 15,000 more citizens but we have twice the number of animal impounds annually. Now they are discussing adding even more to that obligation!
Q: What are you doing now?
A: I have returned to private veterinary practice. I am leasing a new practice in Mountlake Terrace – Whiskers & Wags Veterinary Hospital. Starting over is never easy but I know the hard work is worth it. It’s a bit of a drive, but I encourage any of my previous veterinary or adoption clients to come and visit any time!
Q: Tell us some of the more interesting anecdotes about animal control in Burien – any unusual stories?
A: Well my favorite was Donatello! I received a call from a frantic driver about a giant turtle in the road. She was worried sick that it would be run over. I rushed right out to help only to find a huge 60lb tortoise on a walk-about! He had wandered out of his back yard in search of adventure when his owners were out to the store! Luckily they came home and helped me lure him back in with strawberries!
Then there was Olive. She was a very sweet cat someone had dropped off as a stray to the shelter in July 2010. Although she was a great cat, she was a simple tabby and nothing fancy. She stayed with us for over seven months finally being adopted earlier this year! I had the pleasure of seeing her recently when her owner went out of town. He was so appreciative of our patience with her stay at the shelter since he felt she was the most perfect addition to their family!
And finally, Roscoe, a rat terrier who was reunited with his family from Oklahoma nearly a year after he was lost when they saw him listed on PetFinder.com with us for adoption. He was a special little dog who somehow knew his owners were coming for him even before they did!??
Q: Anything else you’d like to share with our Readers?
A: Thank you Burien citizens for allowing me to provide a much needed service to our community. I enjoyed my time with you.