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Concerns voiced over county animal care

Carrying signs in support of public animal shelters are from the left: Vicki Hurley, Don Allen and Barbara Koski.  - Gary Kissel / Reporter Newspapers
Carrying signs in support of public animal shelters are from the left: Vicki Hurley, Don Allen and Barbara Koski.
— image credit: Gary Kissel / Reporter Newspapers

Nearly 700 people attended a town hall meeting Monday in Burien to discuss the embattled King County animal-shelter system, with dozens speaking their piece before the Metropolitan King County Council.

The Council organized the meeting as a means of getting feedback from area residents.

A total of 74 people spoke in regard to joint proposals released last week by County Executive Ron Sims and the Council. One of those proposals calls for the county spending an additional $965,000 for its Animal Services Care and Control division this year, while the other speaks to development of a long-term master plan for improvements to the shelter system.

Animal Services Care and Control oversees operation of the county’s two shelters: one in Bellevue and the other in Kent.

Funding for the improvements would include $570,000 from a county animal-benefit fund that has grown for more than 20 years from public donations. The rest of the money would come from the county’s capital improvement budget.

The Council is considering major changes in the county’s shelter system since receiving critical reports by consultant Nathan Winograd last month and by a citizens’ advisory committee in October. Winograd stated in his report that “the county has failed for more than a decade to take the necessary steps to reform the shelters.” The advisory committee called shelter conditions “deplorable” in its report.

“The short relief will not solve the long-term challenges,” Councilman Dow Constantine told the crowd prior to public testimony. “We want a model with the highest care where no animal with a chance to recover should be killed, period. That will be our standard.”

That statement drew applause from the audience, as did a puppy brought to the meeting by Bellevue-area Councilman Reagan Dunn, who said his family adopted it from a shelter in Yakima.

But not all the crowd’s reaction was positive.

Several volunteers from the county shelters spoke out against some of the funding proposals that Sims is outlining for this year.

One of those expenditures is to bring a consultant on board, to oversee improvements to the shelter system.

“You’re spending $85,000 for a consultant, that’s wrong,” said Doug Parker, a volunteer at the Crossroads shelter in Bellevue. Parker added more money should be spent on shelter medical programs to help animals, rather than on an official.

Shelby Russell-Diaz, a county animal-control officer, disagreed with the Council even hiring consultants.

“We’re lacking resources and training,” Russell said. “Don’t throw more money at consultants to tell you something we’ve been telling you for 20 years.”

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