County officials will rebut harsh critique of its shelters

Lily Palido and her grandson, Zane Anderson, visited at the Kent Animal Shelter recently looking for a dog to adopt.

Lily Palido and her grandson, Zane Anderson, visited at the Kent Animal Shelter recently looking for a dog to adopt.

King County Executive Ron Sims plans to release a report next week to the County Council that will rebut many of the recent findings by consultant Nathan Winograd, over the county’s management of its two animal shelters.

“Our overall reaction is frustration that the consultant’s report didn’t take into account any of the work that we have done to date,” said Natasha Jones, communications manager for the county’s executive branch, in a phone interview. She was referring to the report Winograd gave to the Council that took the county to task for management of its shelters in Kent and Bellevue. Kent, the larger of the two, was the target of considerable criticism by Winograd.

Winograd, who runs the No Kill Advocacy Center in San Clemente, Calif., was hired by the council to evaluate the two shelters. He wrote in a 147-page report last month to the Council that the county has “failed for more than a decade to take the necessary measures to reform the shelter despite numerous reports, recommendations and credible complaints over the inhumane and inadequate condition of the shelter.”

In a March 17 meeting with the Council, Winograd said he had doubts the county can create a model no-kill program because even now it can’t properly feed the dogs and cats it houses.

Jones on Wednesday said the report paints a more dire picture than is actually the case.

“We’ve acknowledged problems and have taken steps to correct deficiencies,” Jones said. “It is not to the level of deficiencies the consultant tried to portray.”

Besides a rebuttal, Sims’ report — which is more than 160 pages long — also will propose a plan to improve conditions at the shelters.

“We think everyone is starting to realize that we agree things need to be fixed and it’s a matter of where we go from here,” Jones said. “We will have a plan of how to make conditions better for the animals, the steps we can take and the money it will take. It will be up to the Council whether it provides the resources to make it happen.”

Jones said the executive staff wanted to be sure to release the rebuttal and proposal before the council conducts a public hearing April 14 regarding the future of its animal-care services. That meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. April 14 at Highline Performing Arts Center, 401 S. 152nd St., Burien.

Jones said the county’s recent improvements to the Kent Shelter include covering a drain trench in the dog kennels and starting a new procedure to ensure animals are fed and exercised regularly, with a checklist to show when those services were provided, Jones said.

“We’re not perfect, but we continue to work on ways to improve the facility,” Jones said.

Kent resident Derek Yoshinaka, who served on the citizens’ advisory committee that investigated the shelter and issued a report last September calling its conditions “deplorable,” also criticized Winograd’s report.

“I was amazed how poorly things were documented for a consultant,” Yoshinaka said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I was surprised he cited very little evidence. It was more anecdotal and subjective opinions rather than facts.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by Sims’ office, especially in regard to the photos in Winograd’s report showing animals purportedly not being fed or cages cleaned.

“We’re frustrated at the inaccuracies in the report,” Jones said. “There was no time or date stamps on the photos to verify when they were taken. He said the animals were not fed for several days, but our officers said they were fed.”

Jones said the photos could have been taken in the early morning before employees had filled dishes or cleaned cages.

“The context was not given,” Jones said. “It was misleading. The report itself was written to arrive at a foregone conclusion that the county was not capable of running a shelter.”

Yoshinaka, who volunteers to walk dogs two evenings a week at the Kent Shelter, said he’s never observed animals not being fed.

“They’re usually being fed when I’m down there walking dogs,” Yoshinaka said.

Jones said a recommendation by Winograd that a private agency should take over the county’s animal services cannot be done without changing the county ordinance. The ordinance currently on the books does not allow animal services to be contracted out.

“By ordinance, we can’t do that,” Jones said.

King County provides animal-control and shelter services to unincorporated areas and 37 cities within the county, including Kent. The city of Seattle has its own animal-control officers and operates an animal shelter.

Contact Steve Hunter at 253-872-6600, ext. 5052 or