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Animal care and control: Service will suffer in King County

King County Animal Care and Control will soon be taking a look at the services it can afford to offer county residents.

The agency could face a 25 percent funding cut as part of King County Executive Kurt Triplett's budget proposal. King County Animal Care and Control (KCACC) is largely self-funded, but the cut could impact the agency if it is unable to identify ways to replace the money it now receives from the county. The degree to which services will suffer is unknown. The county council will review the budget Sept. 27.

"It's a question of whether (KCACC) would be able to make up that 25 percent that would be cut," said Natasha Jones, King County Executive office spokeswoman.

In Federal Way, staff is working to identify ways the city can offer animal care and control if KCACC is no longer able to do so.

"We'd either have to start our own services or contract with someone else," city spokeswoman Linda Farmer said. "We're looking at all options."

The agency offers multiple services. It operates two animal shelters, one in Kent and another in Bellevue. Strays are taken in and adopted out from both locations. KCACC also investigates animal cruelty reports. The agency provides pet licensing and responds to calls concerning dangerous, vicious, lost or loose animals.

Funding equation

Seventy-five percent of KCACC revenue comes from pet licensing fees, spokeswoman Christine Lange said. The county's 25 percent contribution comes from its general fund. A pet license must be renewed annually. Prices range from $5 to $90. The agency, for the first time in four years, increased its licensing prices this year.

KCACC is now working to identify ways in which it can become completely self-sustained, Lange said. It is uncertain whether this process will include another jump in licensing fees, she said. It is unknown how much the agency's other services will be impacted, Lange said.

"There's so much up in the air right now," she said.

Valuable services

The animal shelters see about 10,000 pets a year, Lange said. Roughly 2,500 lost pets are reunited with their families with the help of KCACC, she said. Pet licensing is accompanied by a longer stay at one of the shelters if a lost pet is found — and free euthanasia at a veterinarian office if a pet is sick or severely injured.

KCACC contracts with 34 King County cities, including Federal Way, to provide animal control. Field sergeants are trained to deal with aggressive or vicious animals in a way that poses as little danger to the public and animal as possible. Field sergeants respond to calls as they receive them and can take up to an hour to arrive at a scene. Police officers are sometimes called during the waiting period.

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

In 2008, King County Care and Control received 76 calls from the Federal Way area concerning vicious dogs, according to the King County Records and Licensing Services Division. Federal Way police responded to 34 of those calls, according to documents provided by the police department. In 2007, a total of 20 calls were placed from Federal Way to the agency regarding dangerous dogs, according to information provided by KCACC.

Final decisions

The county and KCACC are expected to conduct more discussions in the upcoming weeks on which services the agency will continue providing and which will be reduced or eliminated if the county's funding cannot be replaced, Jones said. All the cities contracting for animal control services are aware of the budget proposal, Lange said.

KCACC is expected to announce where cuts will be made by the first week of October, Lange said. City staff and police are expected to present a report to the Parks, Recreation, Human Services and Public Safety council sub committee that month as well.

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