New pet control model could fix off-leash problems in Issaquah parks

More than just a change in governance, City of Issaquah staff believe the new model could bring real and positive changes to the animal control environment locally, particularly the reoccurring problem of dogs off-leash in public parks.

Issaquah and Sammamish are among the 27 cities who have signed up for a new regional animal control service run by King County.

King County Council Executive Dow Constantine’s proposal for a new model for animal control services comes after the county announced last year it could not afford to continue to fund such services under the current model, and was losing about $2 million a year despite the collection of license fees.

Under the previous agreement, King County provided animal control, sheltering and licensing functions on behalf of 35 cities, in exchange for keeping all pet licensing revenue.

Under the new model, cities would share the estimated annual cost of $5.6 million, based on population and usage factors, and pet licensing revenues of about $3.2 million a year would be credited to jurisdictions based on the residence of the person buying the license.

According to Constantine’s office, this represents a reduction of about $800,000 in costs from what cities would have faced in 2010, under the old model.

More than just a change in governance, City of Issaquah staff believe the new model could bring real and positive changes to the animal control environment locally, particularly the reoccurring problem of dogs off-leash in public parks.

In the summer of 2009, the city received dozens of complaints about dogs being let loose by their owners in Timberlake Park, leading to a decision to ban pets from the park.

The city explored options for better enforcement of off-leash laws, but was hampered by a lack of funds to engage commissioned enforcement officers.

Parks and Recreation Director Anne McGill told The Reporter this week that under the new model, King County would provide an enforcement officer to patrol parks to educate people about off-leash laws and, as a last resort, issue fines. McGill said a number of city staff would meet with King County officials in coming weeks to discuss problem areas.

“We would like to begin with a soft education approach, and a program of community outreach,” she said. “It is important that we educate folks on why it is important to keep their pets on a leash.”

McGill said Tradition Plateau was another area where owners were not keeping their dogs under control. Tradition Plateau is a natural resource conservation area, and having dogs off-leash and wandering through the forest compromises protected ecosystems.

Constantine has said that a key to the success of the new animal control model is the participation of as many as cities as possible. The economies of scale of providing animal services mean the more cities that participate, the lower the costs for everyone.

“This is a plan to increase revenues for all our partners, reduce costs, and make continual improvements in animal care, disease prevention, shelter overpopulation, systems management, and animal cruelty investigation,” he said.

Conversely, the county said if there was not a solid geographic distribution of cities participating in the regional system, the service delivery would become more challenging and inefficient. It would raise the possibility that the County would not be willing or able to effectively provide service, leaving each municipality to pay for its own system, a burden Issaquah and Sammamish would not be able to carry alone.

Under the new proposal, pet owners will have to license their pets, and they will pay penalties if they do not. Central to this emphasis on securing all available revenue, basic service improvements would include making it easier to license a pet closer to home, or via the internet with a credit or debit card.

Federal Way, Renton, and Burien have not signed up to the Constantine plan. Bothell has indicated it would like to participate for six months, and Newcastle, which had previously contracted only for sheltering and control, has indicated interest in contracting for licensing as well.