News

County will take a closer look at animal cruelty laws

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

In the wake of two very public animal cruelty cases, the King County Council voted unanimously that the county executive report back by next month on possibly reorganizing the county’s animal control office.

Late last month, Larry Phillips and Julia Patterson presented a motion asking County Executive Ron Sims to present a report with recommendations to improve the animal control organization, including greater emphasis on investigating animal cruelty cases, strengthening enforcement of the county’s animal cruelty laws and reorganizing the department.

In March, a pit-bull puppy was found with burns over most of its body and had to be euthanized. It was later determined the dog had been coated with concentrated ammonia.

There weren’t any witnesses to how the dog came in contact with the chemical and no arrests have been made.

However, the case generated intense — and critical — local and national interest.

Many people felt King County Animal Control and the Federal Way Police Department bungled the case from the start. Both agencies have disputed that claim.

A month later, a spaniel was rescued by two teenagers who saw another teen hang the dog from a tree. The suspect was caught and later pleaded guilty to first degree animal cruelty.

Phillips and Patterson said the cases pointed out gaps in the response from law enforcement agencies.

“We want to ensure that the procedures already in place to investigate these heinous crimes are sufficient, and examine whether changes need to be made to improve the investigation and prosecution of animal cruelty incidents,” Patterson said in a press release.

Philips brought his family’s golden retriever puppy, Chase, to the council’s Monday meeting.

The motion approved by the council asks Sims to:

•Â Report on how to improve investigations of animal cruelty and coordination of resources between police and King County Animal Control officers.

•Â Weigh alternative organizational models including having one or two officers dedicated to cruelty and abuse investigations.

• Improve policies and procedures for coordinating, tracking and following up on animal cruelty cases and accepting reports of alleged abuse from private humane organizations.

Sandeep Kaushik, a spokesman for Sims, said the county executive was not opposed to producing a report on the issues by the July 1 deadline, but noted King County Animal Control has pointed to statistics and argued the proposal doesn’t make sense.

Assigning two officers to investigate the 900 calls of animal cruelty would be inefficient, said Al Dams, spokesman for King County Animal Control.

The agency has 16 officers who are trained to respond to and investigate calls of animal cruelty. That includes two sergeants who each have more than 20 years experience.

Those officers cover specific areas of King County and respond to animal cruelty calls in their areas, Dams said. Leaving it to two officers would mean the officers would drive all over the county during the day to investigate calls.

And while the county animal control agency receives 900 calls of animal cruelty annually, between two and six percent of those actually warrant charges being filed.

“Those are the ‘Mooie’ cases,” Dams said, referring to the burned pit-bull puppy.

If the situation is less severe, but still a problem, the agency might notifying the owner that they are violating county laws. Dams said sometimes the owner just needs education about how to properly care for an animal - especially horses.

“The facts are the number of animal cruelty calls aren’t really animal cruelty calls,” Dams said.

What many people perceive as cruelty - Dams gave the example of a dog chained in a yard all day - aren’t necessarily violations of the law.

In the hypothetical case of the chained dog, Dams said if the dog has food, water, shelter and seems to be in good health, the law isn’t being broken.

Neighbors might not like it and the animal control officer might not like it, but that doesn’t make for a broken law, Dams said.

Other suggestions Phillips and Patterson made are worth considering, Dams said.

While King County Animal Control contends it properly handled the investigation of Mooie, Dams said the agency was meeting with area law enforcement agencies this month to talk about what improvements can be made for animal control officers and police to have a better partnership.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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