Animal control sits on the back burner in Federal Way

The Federal Way City Council is once again mulling over ways to offer increased animal control services.

The council has periodically discussed the subject since 2004, when it adopted the city's first dangerous dog ordinance. With the exception of changes in 2006, the council has yet to take any action. Increasing services through a contract with King County Animal Care and Control could cost the city as much as $90,000 annually. As of now, the city council is unsure whether pursuing extended services is worth the money.

On May 12, a city council sub-committee met with Al Dams, regulatory services manager for King County Records and Licensing Services Division, to discuss expanded services from King County and the possibility of Federal Way providing its own animal control service.

Concerning statistics

Federal Way contracts with the county to provide animal control services. King County Animal Care and Control serves 32 cities in the county. It responds to vicious animals and bites, among other things. Pet licensing and other pet-associated fees pay for the service.

But there is no specific officer assigned to Federal Way, so when a call comes, it could take the responder five minutes to more than an hour to travel to the location and address the situation. In the meantime, police are often called to respond. If the dog becomes too threatening or poses a high risk of danger, it could be shot and killed.

Officers are rarely forced to kill dangerous dogs, but if the dogs pose a threat to the community and property and cannot be controlled, it is sometimes necessary, police spokeswoman Cathy Schrock said. Police's job is to provide a safe and secure community, she said.

"We are police officers, we're are not trained animal control officers," Schrock said. "Because we are not trained in the practices of animal control, we are going to treat a dog like any other threat."

King County Animal Care and Control estimates approximately 22,257 dogs reside within Federal Way city limits. So far this year, police have responded to four calls regarding dog bites, according to police documents. In 2008, 45 calls regarding dog bites were placed to the agency from Federal Way, Dams said.

In 2008, King County Animal Care and Control received 1,029 calls about vicious dogs in its service area, Dams said. Of those, 76 originated from the Federal Way area, he said. Federal Way police responded to 34 of those calls, according to documents provided by the police department. In 2007, 20 calls were placed from Federal Way to the agency regarding dangerous dogs, according to information provided by King County Animal Care and Control.

Auburn leads the way

The Parks, Recreation, Human Services and Public Safety (PRHSPS) sub-committee members Jeanne Burbidge and Mike Park showed an interest in learning more about contracting with animal control for extended services, similar to those provided to the city of Auburn. There, an animal control officer reports directly to city staff and is available five days a week, eight hours a day to respond to calls. The contract is not to exceed $92,800 annually, Dams said.

An animal control officer may be better equipped to handle a dangerous dog than police, Dams said. Police do not generally carry tools, such as catch poles and snares, that animal control officers carry, he said. Auburn officials have shown a high level of satisfaction with the service, and the number of dogs injured or perished during conflicts has decreased, Dams said.

"Police may not have the tools to handle a dog that is coming at them," he said. "I don't know how many police officers like to handle dogs. They are kind of in an unknown territory."

Exploring options

Federal Way has the option to begin its own contract for a full-time animal control officer, or choose to pursue a half-time position. If the city is interested in contracting for a half-time position, King County Animal Care and Control would want Federal Way to partner with another city looking for slightly more expanded services, Dams said. Either way, the cost is $46.75 per hour, plus the cost of a vehicle if the city is not able to provide one, he said.

Park suggested looking further into the city providing its own animal control. There are King County jurisdictions that operate this way, but little information was available about the cities and their successes or setbacks. Having extended services would certainly make the community safer and more secure, Schrock said.

"We would all like to have a more robust program, but it's just not financially feasible," she said.

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