Animal Control is Not Always a Public Hot Button

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by Jack Mayne

There is nothing better to stir up a local controversy than to discuss how animals are controlled and treated by governments because no matter what is done, some will say it is a foul deed to the animals by heartless bureaucrats and officials will rebuff the naysayers by saying charges are overblown and changes would cost a lot of money.

Debra George, Director of CARES.

Take Burien as one example. Two years ago, City Manager Mike Martin proposed to save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars by dumping animal control by King County and replacing it with a locally-created non-profit organization, called the Community Animal Resource and Education Society, or CARES for short. Local activist Debra George would run the group and the non-profit would get $110,000 per year for all animal control and care. The contract runs through April of 2014.

The reaction was fast and loud. The protestors said CARES did not have the training or the ability to handle animal control and care of those impounded. Some made personal allegations, others felt the county was the only agency that could do the job properly.

City Manager Martin said it made more sense to pay CARES $110,000 a year than the then latest offer from the county of over $300,000 a year.

The complaints went on and on, bringing Martin to say with exasperation that, “Never in my career, have I seen something going so right characterized as going so wrong.”

Des Moines Master Animal Control Officer Jan Magnuson, with Aspen.

What do others do?
About the same time Burien dropped King County, the city of Des Moines stopped using the county for kenneling services.

“We used to contract with King County Animal Control,” said Jan Magnuson, Des Moines Animal Control Officer for the past 24 years. “When they made the decision (that) ‘we are either all in or out’ and if we were going to contract with them any further then they would have to be doing our enforcement – basically take my job away.”

Des Moines now contracts with local kennels and vets. “That works great,” she says.

“Our program is very, very successful,” she says. “We have a high redemption rate. We are a small town, about 30,000 residents, and because I was born and raised in the area, I know a lot of people with pets (here) so, often times, when someone finds a pet (and) if its friendly and they are willing to hang onto it for a short time, often times, the owner calls us and tells us they have lost their pet and we can hook them up together to get their pet back and we never even have to impound it.

“That is one of the advantages also with our licensing program we do though our police department. We are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she says.

If an animal has a current Des Moines license on it, and was running scared from a thunderstorm, people can call the police department at any hour and the owner information can be accessed and the owner can be put in touch with the person who found the animal.

“We have a really high redemption rate,” Magnuson says, and in Des Moines, if the animal is licensed it almost always is reunited with its owner.

Normandy Park has its police department handle animal complaints.

Re-up with county
But SeaTac and Tukwila have joined 23 other suburban Seattle cities in keeping animal services with King County.

Costs for SeaTac for 2013 animal services will be $107,000 after a $124,000 subsidy to SeaTac as high county shelter user, a subsidy that will be provided for each of three years of the contract. The costs for 2014 and 2015 will be adjusted based on population growth and inflation, said SeaTac Police Captain Annette Louie who oversees animal control.

The county said its “preliminary discussions with Burien earlier this year had yielded an initial cost-sharing estimate (for Animal Control field operations, animal sheltering and licensing services) of about $324,000 annually,” said Gene Mueller, the new manager of regional animal services for the county, and manager of the shelter in Kent.

“We would continue to have discussions with Burien staff to refine the numbers based on updated information, i.e. number of field calls, shelter intakes, licenses sold, etc., if they have an interest in joining the Regional Animal Services system in the future.”

Mueller is a native of Illinois and is a veterinarian. He held several posts in Chicago, including as an epidemiologist, director of environmental health regulating restaurants in the city then as the executive director of the commission on animal control under former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.

He was drawn to Seattle by the “wonderful environment of the Northwest,” he said.

New county system
The new county system provides animal services based on calls from citizens and from police and for other city services like code enforcement related to animal calls.

“Vicious animals, animal cruelty in the act – those are calls that we respond to with the highest priority,” Mueller says. “At the other opposite of the spectrum are the sort of nuisance calls (like) ‘my neighbor occasionally lets his dog defecate on my lawn.’ We try and make sure we are able to address all of the priority calls and, then, as we have capacity, deal with some of the nuisance calls.”

He said all of the subscribed cities get the same service and that there will be three animal control districts in the new contract period beginning next Jan. 1. There are four such districts now.

Each district, says Mueller, will be serviced by an animal control officer, “almost like a police district, so it does not matter what city that is in but the officer is picking off the priority calls, and then going further down in the priority list of calls.”

Besides SeaTac and Tukwila, the county services unincorporated White Center and Vashon Island.

Priority calls, he said, are responded to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We actually have animal control officers north and south that are on call after hours for police requests for assistance. At 3 a.m., people who call 9-1-1 and saying there is a vicious animal that is biting somebody or is running loose or there are two head of cattle walking down the main street of a certain town, we actually respond to those.

“On weekends (and after hours), we actually have officers in the districts and they are taking the priority calls via the Sheriff’s office dispatch,” Mueller said.

What about chronic complainers?
He says officers try to identify whether it is a personal relationship problem between two neighbors or really a neighborhood issue. If it is a neighborhood problem, “then we address that through education, or a citation to appear before the board of appeals.”

Penalties can run from $50 to $500, which would be for a vicious dog attack. All of the fines are appealable before the King County Board of Appeals, Mueller said.

Cost per city
The contract costs for each city’s participation in the county’s animal services used to be figured 50-50 on population and on the number of service calls. That was why the Burien cost was over $300,000 per year two years ago.

Now, Mueller said, the contract cost is based on a weighted formula, with 80 percent of the price of the estimated service – how many animal calls are made in the individual cities – and the cost of servicing those calls.

“You can have two cities with the same population but because of past experience with the number of calls for service in an area or the number of animals that have come in from an area their costs will be much different. Moving forward, 80 percent of that cost will be estimated based on past use of field service and the (King County) shelter (in the west valley of Kent) and 20 percent based on population. So it is much more heavily based on actual service numbers,” Mueller said.

There is a “late-comers provision,” he said, and if a city wants to join the system after the Jan. 1, 2013 start date, all costs for all cities are re-figured to reflect the payments of the newcomer.

The new contract will also have a provision for a city to get special services, perhaps have parks patrolled because of special events or large number of animals running loose that could make people feel unsafe.

“We can provide the service if we have the staff to do it,” Mueller said, unlike when the county refused sheltering services to Des Moines.

King County Executive Dow Constantine.

County thanks supporters
King County Executive Dow Constantine recently thanked leaders of 25 cities in the county for renewing for three years contracts with King County Animal Control. SeaTac and Tukwila signed for renewed county animal service. Burien, Normandy Park and Des Moines handle animal control locally.

The Metropolitan King County Council has given its support to the continuation of the collaborative regional animal services program that spreads the cost of animal control, sheltering and licensing between the county for unincorporated areas and 25 suburban cities. The council unanimously adopted an ordinance authorizing the executive to enter into an interlocal agreement that provides field officers, shelter services and licensing services.

“This model partnership between the county and municipalities will bring consistent, cost-effective and compassionate solutions to our animal control challenges,” said Council Vice Chair Jane Hague, the prime sponsor of the ordinance.

The cities not participating within the Regional Animal Services system are Seattle, Burien, Des Moines, Normandy Park, Federal Way, Algona, Auburn (as of 2013), Renton, Bothell, Medina, Hunts Point, Pacific, Skykomish, and Milton.

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17 Responses to “Animal Control is Not Always a Public Hot Button”
  1. Wheels says:

    At the beginning of the year, the B-town Blog promised to do a series on CARES from many perspectives. I had hoped to hear from the former board members of CARES who left, and from Dr. Kasper, who did the job before. So far, this blog is only reporting the viewpoints of George and Martin. When will we hear those other perspectives?

    • Skeptical says:

      From a January 9th post:

      “EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in an ongoing series on animal control in Burien. Upcoming articles will tell how King County operates their shelter and control system and another will be on the views of animal lovers who disagree with the CARES model. Editor and reporter Jack Mayne can be reached at 206.274.6069 or at [email protected].”

      It’s August, and the B-town Blog has only voiced one side of the story, so far.

    • Joe Wills says:

      The reason the blog never interviewed the former members of CARES, is that they don’t want anyone to know the REAL truth about CARES and what Debra George has done and continues to do. How’s that for journalism ??

  2. Jack Mayne says:

    This story was not about Martin or George, but about how King County and Des Moines does animal control.

    A while back e sought to write about the opponents of CARES but we insisted on the journalism approach (I am a former editor of several large daily newspapers). That means facts not slander, and quoting people who have names, not hiding behind psuedonyms. No one would talk with us on that basis. We will talk with people who have verifiable stories of their real problems with CARES or the city, not inuendo or unverifiable invective, or slanderous insults.

    Let us know when we can talk. Is there anyone this time??

  3. Furry Faces Foundation says:

    Furry Faces Foundation recently had the opportunity to meet Gene Mueller, the new manager of Regional Animal Services. Gene is not only brilliant and experienced; he is humble, positive, insightful, approachable and very knowledgeable of cutting edge programs which will:

    • Reduce animal intake
    • Reduce animal cruelty
    • Increase adoptions
    • Improve the ‘shelter stay’ time for the animals (i.e., reduce the # of days it takes for adoption)
    • Provide greater community/volunteer involvement opportunities
    • Enrich and empower his staff
    • And, we could go on and on.

    We are very pleased and excited that Executive Constantine appointed Gene and are looking forward to continuing our relationship with Regional Animal Services of King County.

  4. Skeptical says:

    Leslie Kasper, Sherry Myers, and Pamela Stahaeli have all commented on this blog using their own names. Why not interview them? The journalism approach means getting both sides of the story.

  5. Skeptical says:

    For that matter, since you are a journalist, you could do your own investigation. Why does CARES claim to be a 501c3 when it is not? How much money have they raised in donations and how was that money spent? Ask to see the paperwork that explains the discrepancy of hundreds of dogs on their report to the council. Investigate for yourself any of the dozens of claims of misconduct mentioned on this blog. Interview Sally Nelson and see what she thinks of CARES.

    • Flashdog says:

      I agree with Skeptical. Here is something even easier to research:
      This article speaks highly of Des Moines Animal Control Officer Jan Magnuson — and it should. Ms. Magnuson is the reason Des Moines has good animal control. A little research will quickly reveal that before she became the animal control officer for Des Moines, she was an accomplished horse woman, she raised American bulldogs, she operated a pet supply store for awhile, she has trained and competed with numerous dogs in a variety of dog sports, and she had experience with rescue groups. Since then, she has had extensive animal control officer training and she has pursused her work with such care and diligence that she is widely respected in the rescue and animal control communities. She has served as the vice president of the Washington Animal Control Association (WACA). In contrast, perhaps you could research Debra George’s qualifications as an animal control officer. Has she owned or trained any type of animals? Has she done rescue work in the past? What sort of experience has she had that would contribute to her performance as an animal control officer? What sort of training has she had? Does she have a degree in anything that would make her a better animal control officer? What does the rescue/animal control community at large think of her and her agency?

  6. Eaton B. Verz says:

    Just the tone of Mr. Maynes respnse should tell you where this is going. I laughed at “verifiable”. I’ve called CARES and stopped by during business hours without any response or no one home. How do I verify that Jack? There are a ton of reported incidents similar to mine. I guess you just take Ms. Georges word that they never happened. Your response does help me understand why you are not still an editor of several large daily newspapers. Regards, Eaton

    • Jack Mayne says:

      How? I challenge you. Give me your name, telephone number and email address and I will interview you. But, folks, not liking the person who runs care is not a reason and all of the comments about mistreatment have turned out to be overstatements or demonstatably not true. I will tell your stories, but I will not engage in a hate mongering diatribe. FYI, Debra George says she has been savaged and mistreated in the blog and that she does not read it. Mike Martin told this writer that he was a journalist and that the Blog is not worthy of the word “Journalism.” But in over 40 years in this business, I have learned that if the reader LIKES what is written, you are hero. If that reader DISLIKES what you write, you are a biased and hated. Cest la vie.

      • elizabeth2 says:

        So if Ms. George does not read the blog (your statement) how can she complain that she is “savaged” and “mistreated” (your statement)?

  7. Eaton B. Verz says:

    Jack, This isn’t about Debra George or Mike Martin. This is about the services that the citizens of Burien receive for the price we pay! I could give a flying **** about Debra George personally. I do not know her or care about her other than the fact she told us that she would give us better service than King county for less money. So far I have yet to see it. She is the person who said she would do it so that is why people hold her responsible! Same with Mike Martin. He is the guy responsible for the city. When things go wrong, he’s the one to take the heat. I encourage you as a journalist to look at CARES from all sides, not just the poor George & poor Martin and King county is too expensive angle. Maybe look into why no independent oversight or audits. It,s funny, you want verifiable facts. well all we got from the other side are unverifiable facts. That’s ok for Mr. Martin though. Your journalistic instincts should tell you that where there is that much smoke there must be a fire and not just Debra George bashing. Might have to work a little harder at it…. Regards,Eaton

  8. Skeptical says:

    So, Mayne is not interested in writing a balanced story on CARES. He accepts everything Martin and George say as fact, without verification, while considering other points of view runs the risk of becoming a “hate mongering diatribe.” Even though the B-town Blog is apparently “Not worthy of the word Journalism,” perhaps another reporter at the Blog could investigate the claims CARES has made, and interview knowledgeable people with perspectives different from George and Martin.

    By the way, the slightest bit of verification would reveal that the contract with CARES is for $120,000, not $110,000 as Journalist Mayne reported.

    • Jack Mayne says:

      You are right about the number and I am wrong. You make good points. You are your supporters are urged ti talk with me next week. I will report your views based on the outline you have submitted above. I will not be available for the week end, but will be after 9 a.m. on Monday. [email protected] Phone will be given via email to individuals because the late time I gave a number in general (not on on this subject) I was deluged with calls that treatened.

      • Eaton B. Verz says:

        Jack, that is great! I left my # with Scott earlier. May I suggest that you put the call out on the blog. Tell the people that you need to hear their experiences and put a name to them. I think you might be surprised at the response you get. I feel most people are frustrated at the level of service they receive for what we pay. Hard to see value when you have nothing to show. The bad thing is it’s the animals that suffer. Those are just my thoughts but I guess we will see, huh! Eaton

  9. Joe Wills says:

    So Debra is “savaged” and “mistreated” What about our animals??What about their treatment? past and present? Where is the information about the independent investigation that was to take place, seems Mike Martin swept that one under the rug!! Too shay!! On the citizens of Burien.

    • Jack Mayne says:

      I have the number of only one person to talk with who is critical of CARES. This IS on the blog Eaton and where is the stampede. You have my phone and my personal email and still only sniping and crabbing. With exception of one person I will be talking with today, silence.

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