Stories about animals are always going to lend themselves to cute metaphors. Today’s headline in the Seattle Times is certainly cute, and made to order for Easter.
But the headline is also misleading. The real cost to partner cities to house a rabbit, or any animal, at the Regional Animal Services of King County (RASKC) Pet Adoption Center is not $1,250. As the story says itself, buried way down, the true cost to partner cities to shelter a single animal is less than half of that, or about $500.
This is the same cost whether it’s a cat, a dog, or in this case, a rabbit.
In the bunny example, more than half of the cost is offset by the pet license fees that fund the animal services network, and by a credit from the county.
So please don’t be misled as to the true cost to shelter one rabbit. That’s not what Kirkland city officials were claiming either. As the story makes clear, they acknowledge that $1,250 is not their final cost.
That same $500 per animal intake also covers the other end of the spectrum the story fails to mention – the starving or abused horses that are found in the woods, the alligators and the snakes that owners can no longer keep and just let loose, or the cases of animal hoarding.
You will recall some of the more recent stories: 73 “camper cats” rescued in Auburn, 60 Chihuahuas saved in Issaquah, or the nearly 30 head of cattle that are currently in our care because they were found starving in a field near Enumclaw.
It takes a regional agency with an open-admissions policy to ensure public safety, and have the ability to take in dangerous or exotic animals, or the capacity to rescue large numbers of animals. It takes a regional agency to leverage economies of scale, with staff constantly on call ready to respond to major cases of animal abandonment or abuse – in a way a smaller agency cannot duplicate.
At its heart, what you read today is a story about negotiations between government agencies. Those talks are still in progress.
We’ve heard the concerns from cities about cost and we are working to arrive at a fair arrangement for the cities, for us, for the taxpayers, and most of all for pets and their owners. We are finding new ways and new formulas to bring down costs for cities.
We have two more months of talks ahead of us. Our existing arrangements with cities are in place until the end of the year.
We believe cities have a shared interest with us to have a single, holistic system to care for and shelter homeless animals. In addition, we all know the emotions that can erupt around a single case of animal abuse or neglect. The people of King County have made it clear that we as a community value the lives of animals, and that euthanizing adoptable animals is not in line with our community values. Remember the improvements we’ve made over the last two years:
- We have reduced euthanasia rates dramatically, down to 14.4%, one of the lowest in the nation. This is a remarkable achievement for a public shelter like the one operated by RASKC.
- We use private donations to fund heroic treatments of animals that are adoptable and have a considerable life expectancy remaining, rather than using limited public funds.
- While there is a public duty to provide basic care and alleviate suffering, heroic treatment is an added service that reflects the values of the communities we serve at no added cost to our city partners or the taxpayers of King County.
- Our city partners benefit immensely from the more than 500 volunteers who are dedicated to the Pet Adoption Center. These volunteers contribute more than 60,000 hours of support each year (equivalent to more than 30 full-time employees).
- A robust pet foster program that places nearly one-fourth of the animals we take in into a home environment. That’s 1,658 animals that benefited from foster care in 2010.
We’ve just appointed an experienced veterinarian and animal services manager, Gene Mueller, to lead RASKC. As he said, his goal will be to protect both people and animals in King County, while addressing the needs of our regional partners for professional animal services at a cost consistent with their budgets.
Gene will pursue partnerships between our public open-admission animal shelter and private, non-profit shelters, of the kind that have proven to be the best model across the country. He will pursue all avenues of funding, including private donations, to help Regional Animal Services keep providing the excellent, cost-effective, caring service that the people and animals of King County deserve.