by Jack Mayne 
After a couple of months of calm, now suddenly aggrieved Burien animal lovers are again eyeing the warpath against the Community Animal Resource & Education Society – better known as CARES – because of what they say is poor public interaction and a lack of understanding of rules and standards of caring for lost, strayed and abandoned dogs and cats.
For weeks the charges and claims lay dormant as several of the opponents of CARES said it was no use criticizing the facility as long as a majority of the Burien City Council backed City Manager Mike Martin.
It was Martin who instigated the change from King County Animal Control to the fledgling non-profit run by The Mark restaurant manager Debra George. The change was made, he said, to save money and he told The B-Town Blog in an e-mail Wednesday that he remains confident in CARES’ work.
The latest barrage of comment came after a letter published on The B-Town Blog from longtime CARES critic Marianne Hudson (read the full letter here ):
“About two weeks ago I went to one of our foster homes to pick up kittens. … The foster mom was clearly upset. She had taken a very sick kitten from CARES the evening before for fostering. CARES told her it might die. Well, it did. I offered to take it to CARES … since the foster mom was upset and I was going that way.
“Once at CARES, I was informed coldly, that the foster mom knew it might die (correct). I am left wondering why a dying kitten was not euthanized or fostered by a CARES employee rather than being given to a brand new foster home. I then asked if CARES would follow up to see if there were other kittens or a feral mom cat to be trapped. The woman I spoke with immediately said that such work is not in their contract.”
City Manager Martin says he doesn’t know about this or other negative charges against CARES, or whether they are true, but “we deal with specific allegations as we receive them.” He also says he would not expect rudeness “from any contractor.”
Several people have charged that shelter staff is not responding to citizen requests. One such comment was posted on Craigslist this past week.
“Deceased female pit bull was found. … She was hit by a car Friday or Saturday, and animal control did not pick her up despite a call from neighbors.”
Another pit bull case came from an interview by The B-Town Blog with Shre’e Robinson and her friend Dan (who asked his last name not be used) saying they had “ongoing issues” with their next door neighbor.
“They have a beautiful pit bull that is … really a lovable dog,” Shre’e Robinson said. “I’ve seen him beating her with the metal end of a hose because she defecated on the patio.
“First I called the police,” she said, but was told by the dispatcher she had to call CARES.
“I called CARES and they pretty much blew me off. I have left reports and pretty much never heard anything.”
George said for her group “to effectively investigate, we will not comment on active cases of animal abuse.”
A few weeks later a woman walking a dog by the house appeared to have alerted the pit bull that was very protective of his owner’s children. The pit bull’s “owner suddenly ran out to their dog, picked it up and threw it down on the street,” said Dan.
“He throws her down and has got her pinned. His arm comes up and he is waling away at her. I didn’t see her (the dog) but I could see his action and it was like four or five punches. That night on the deck she was limping badly with her right rear foot being held up in the air.”
Robinson said they called CARES Saturday night and left a voice mail.
“CARES finally called me Tuesday,” said Robinson. “As far as I can tell, absolutely nothing was done. Quite frankly, we refer to them as CARE-less.”
‘Doesn’t cut it’
As Vicky Hurley noted in a comment published June 16 in the B-Town Blog:
“It is clear that immediate response is a vital element. Many people have commented on how they have called and called CARES and received no response. If you have to go to work and there is a large dog you have never seen before hanging around your door, growling when you try to leave your house, ‘Thank you for calling….’ doesn’t cut it.
Pamela Staeheli and Marianne Hudson both work predominantly with feral cats, cats once domesticated but now living in a wild state. But they come across friendly cats, too, on occasion.
They used to take the domesticated cats to King County’s Kent shelter when it was the animal control facility for Burien. They can’t do that anymore, both said in an interview.
“CARES doesn’t have the room to take it, nor will they take it, or at least they haven’t from the people I have specifically talked with,” says Staeheli.
She must find people living in areas under contract to King County to take her cats to the county shelter. The two women question CARES who continually say animals are in foster care.
“Foster homes are extremely difficult to come by,” she said. “Maryann and I have been in the business for almost 20 years and I can count on one hand five fosters.
“I can’t imagine CARES having any more than I have got,” Staeheli said. “They haven’t said how many fosters they have. All the other big shelters do – they disclose anything concerning foster care.”
George counters that CARES has “over 15 active foster families that handle our ‘special needs’ animals – animals that need medications (because they) are overly stressed or need one-on-one care.”
Doesn’t trust CARES
Before Burien ended its contract with King County, both Staeheli and Hudson said they worked well with the county shelter in Kent. They could take feral cats there and get other services no longer available to them.
“I’m scared to use CARES, frankly, because I don’t trust them,” Hudson said. “They are flying by the seat of their pants. There is a bunch of people down there with no experience. They don’t know what they are doing. For our most vulnerable, a government agency taking care of them need to be professionals.”
When asked what they would do about the contract between CARES and the City of Burien, Hudson said she believes the contract has been violated many times already and could be terminated under provisions in the document.
“I blame Debra George for not becoming more knowledgeable,” said Staeheli. “She has had a year to learn things.
The two were critical of the CARES process of taking each incoming animal to a private veterinarian. They and others suggest the organization’s staff can be easily trained to do vaccines, de-worming and taking blood from kittens.
“You can get combo tests for $15 tops – you know how much it costs to take (animals) into a veterinarian? Up to $50 for a combo test.”
Or, they could bring in a vet periodically once or so a week rather than take staff time to take each animal to a doctor one at a time, she and others said.
“We do use local vets to check all our animals,” George said. “We do have a mobile vet that comes to the shelter twice a month to offer low cost vaccinations to the residents of Burien and our shelter.”
Many citizens suggest the shelter was not built to specifications that give the animals room to move, cats to play and also protect animals from catching diseases.
The cat condos are the right size and one expert said they were well designed because they have multiple decks so cats can jump and also hide. But the pressed wood is criticized even though coated with plastic to be waterproof, because cats scratch surfaces, which can be breeding places for communicable diseases.
Most experts, such as the University of California at Davis’s Veterinary Medicine Koret Shelter Medicine Program, suggest stainless steel cages like those used by King County, but those are expensive. (see http://www.sheltermedicine.com/ )
But CARES’ George says the cats “love” the Burien shelter’s condos.
“Our cat condos were approved by the King County Health Department and are kept in very clean and orderly shape.”
Staeheli and Hudson en believe the contract with CARES has been violated many times.
“They are not following it at all,” Hudson said pointing to a copy of the contract document.
“They could cancel the contract if (City Manager) Mike Martin wanted to, but he won’t,” said Staeheli. “We are stuck until a new election.”
George said CARES gives “every animal an opportunity for life: we do not euthanize just because an animal may not live” and that they “keep all animals until they are adopted out.”
When the agency has to euthanize, George said it was only for serious medical reasons or if the animal is overly aggressive and is done only when a veterinarian, the animal control officer and George all agree that it is necessary.
The contract says, as most such documents do, that it can be cancelled because of “failure to comply with conditions” provided the contract holder has time to fix any deficiencies.
Even after citizen complaints, Martin says he remains confident in CARES and would not recommend returning to King County at the expiration of its contract.
“The current contract with CARES is $120,000 (per) year. The most recent proposal from King County is $341,725 (per) year for a lower level of service – so it’s $220,000 (per) year more expensive. Paying a government agency more than a non-profit, community based agency for a lower level of service doesn’t make sense.”
The contract also states that the city can cancel “for public convenience. The City may terminate this contract in whole or in part whenever the City determines in its sole discretion that such termination is in the interests of the City.”
The contract also requires “the city and the contractor shall review service levels and terms of this contract … periodically … .”
Martin says that is going to happen. Denise McVicker, deputy executive director for Human Society for Tacoma and Pierce County, will do the review during February 2013.