Victory

King County increasing inspection fees to animal shelters by 205% - Many Fear More Abuse and Closure

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Animal shelters receive no financial support from King County. King County inspects shelters annually. 

King County Public Health categorizes “non-profit” animal rescue organizations in the same manner as they categorize “for-profit” businesses that handle food, septic, solid waste, water recreation, and agriculture and domestic pet sellers. In 2010, King County created the Pet Related Business Program and they’ve used that program to rip off animal shelters ever since.

Pet Business code (Title 8, Zoonotic Disease Prevention, Chapter 8.03 Pet Business Regulations) defines types of pet businesses subject to the code “... a facility used to house or contain and offer or distribute for adoption as pets any stray, homeless, abandoned or unwanted animals other than livestock and that is owned, operated or maintained by a public body, an established humane society, animal welfare society, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals or other nonprofit organization, or by a person or persons devoted to the welfare, protection and humane treatment of animals... "

Animal rescue organizations are not-for-profit entities and we provide services to the public without compensation from government agencies. Unlike King County Animal Control, nearly all services we provide are funded from grassroots efforts and the occasional grant. Rescue organizations do not need an annual inspection considering there is no follow-up, support or public demand for that service. The inspection is billed at $185 per hour (with a 3-hour minimum netting the county $555) is useless to all parties and the officer’s presence does nothing to improve the efforts of the shelter or enhance the habitat for the animals.

The very presence of animal rescue organizations reduces KCAC’s costs and the need for complaint investigation, veterinary consultation, and animal care and housing by King County Animal Control. In fact, animal rescue organizations provide three times more animal services, animal care and public education than KCAC. Collectively we rescue, rehabilitate and place more animals than KCAC and the bulk of our money is used for direct service not salary support and a bloated administration.

In the past, Whisker City has accepted transfers from KCAC and born the costs associated with those transfers. KCAC didn’t give us one dime. I’m sure many other animal rescue organizations have assisted KCAC as well. Rescue groups have been filling the gap for KCAC for years. It’s known that officers are unavailable for investigations and rescues and KCAC does not provide long-term care and euthanizes for space and pets deemed un-adoptable. Private charitable shelters operate very differently than KCAC with fewer resources, yet we are expected to pay more for services that are not defined and services we don’t need or want? This “request for feedback from stakeholders” is ingenuous and nothing more than a money grab from the defenseless and intimidated.

While many King County Animal Control Officers are kindred spirits, some are known to abuse their power and the system and deliberately work against the efforts of area shelters. Field Officers and Superiors are allowed to levy charges at an officer’s discretion and collect fines without conducting fair investigations. KCAC officers are closely connected to public health officers making it impossible to hold officers accountable for misconduct. Officers can accuse pet owners, shelter workers and volunteers of a myriad of infractions without evidence. Fair play is non-existent.

Even more egregious, KCAC’s shelter facility does not meet standards set by King County or the requirements set by King County Health Department yet they want us to pay more for heavy handed enforcement? Charitable shelters are already over-paying for these current substandard services. Why should we pay triple for service we find of no value whatsoever!

The annual inspection opens shelters up to unprofessional conduct and inaccurate and biased reporting, fines and the possibility of closure. There are many stories of abuse that fuel fear and concern for all rescue shelters. Are you aware of the thousands of citizens who have appealed animal related charges and of the number of cases actually won by the accused on appeal? It’s shocking how little oversight there is over KCAC and the KC Citizens Review Board. We know we can’t trust either to govern honestly and without prejudice.

King County deliberately lumped animal rescue organizations in with animal retailers – for profit businesses – as a revenue generating maneuver and has charged rescue shelters three times what is charged to animal sellers for years. Fearing persecution and harassment, animal rescue groups offered no resistance. Even today, animal rescue groups “go along just to get along” with King County officials. This newest move to take advantage of volunteers and charities is more proof that both agencies need to be back under public scrutiny.

Area shelters are the Cash Cow for King County. In 2014, pet licenses purchased by adopters generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for King County. The Environmental Health Services (EHS) Animal Shelter Permit Fees brochure issued on September 1, 2015 reveals that current licensed rescue shelters adopted out more than 16,000 cats and dogs in King County in 2014. In comparison KCAC adopted out only 1927 with an operating budget greater than ten times per intake of nearly all rescue shelters. Using King County’s own stats, if only 50% of those cats and dogs were licensed and based on the average fee of $27.00 per license, at the very least shelter adoptions generated $216,000 in licensing fees for King County and possibly as much as $432,000 last year alone. This does not include the thousands of dollars in fines King County collected – with some of those fines having been illegally obtained by officer misconduct.

Consider that King County’s own records show KCAC handled more than 5000 animals during 2014 and adopted out only 1927, one can assume we can use the same ratio for animal rescue organizations. Although private shelters do not euthanize, transfer or return pets to owners at the same rate as KCAC, we keep thousands of household pets out of the government’s system. Most private non-profit rescue groups offer long term or lifelong housing – KCAC does not. We are burdened with daily health and housing issues for tens of thousands of animals. I estimate that18 rescue groups received 64,000 pets last year and collectively house 1600 pets daily -without the assistance of King County Animal Control or taxpayer funds. We are providing this care while undermanned and under scrutiny and often in financial jeopardy.

Most shelters report a cost of about $115 per animal intake. This means that charitable animal rescue organizations saved King County $7,360,000 in real money.

Animal rescue organizations have no recourse when subjected to decisions by KCAC and KCPH yet you want us to give those agencies more money and expose ourselves to more unprofessional conduct and the very real possibility of fines? Both agencies allow personnel to charge and fine individuals within an organization at the officer’s discretion without oversight. Even superior officers are not held accountable or properly supervised. Animal rescue groups are at their mercy. This current move to further penalize animal rescue groups is unconscionable. King County has wrongfully bilked and intimidated animal rescue groups for years.

We are charities not retail business and should be reclassified and exempt from any fees whatsoever. Charitable shelters should receive an operational grant from taxpayers of $75 per intake to offset the cost of sheltering abandoned pets. KCAC has proven to be unable to provide quality care, housing and enforce the current law without prejudice. The fact that the Health Department monitors charitable animal care only adds to the problem.

 



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