Oak Harbor animal shelter nears closing date in 2013

Donna Dunn plays with a cat while cleaning the cages crammed into Oak Harbor’s undersized animal control shelter Tuesday morning. She is the lead animal care technician. - Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
Donna Dunn plays with a cat while cleaning the cages crammed into Oak Harbor’s undersized animal control shelter Tuesday morning. She is the lead animal care technician.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

Oak Harbor officials have less than a year to figure out how to deal with stray dogs and cats because the ramshackle shack that currently houses the homeless pets is being shut down.

As a result, city officials are exploring ways of handling strays. They plan on issuing a request for proposals, or RFP, to find the right group or business to provide the service and possibly a facility.

The City Council discussed the issue and made some preliminary decisions about the shape of the RFP during last week’s meeting.

“I believe it’s a solvable issue but it’s going to take some adult conversation and it’s going to take some planning,” Councilman Jim Campbell said.

The shelter is currently located in a Navy-owned building on the Seaplane Base. The city contracts with the group Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation, or WAIF, to run the shelter.

In January, Capt. Jay Johnston, the commanding officer of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, sent a letter to the city notifying officials that the building was being closed by the end of the year.

At the meeting last week, interim City Administrator Larry Cort said Navy officials agreed to extend the move-out date by six months to the end of June 2013.

Under an expiring agreement, the city has provided the Navy with animal control services at base housing and the management of the animal shelter in exchange for the Navy allowing the city to use the building on the Seaplane base.

The building, however, is far from ideal. It’s too small, has inadequate ventilation and no sewage services. Its location on a Navy base has caused access problems for both members of the public and WAIF staff.

Cages of cats are currently stacked like cordwood in the shelter. A total of 60 cats are inside the building, plus many more are at the Coupeville shelter and WAIF’s two cat adoption centers. As many as 120 kitties have been at the Seaplane Base shelter at one time.

Kim Martin, spokesperson for the Navy base, said the Navy asked the city to vacate the building because of its “very poor condition.” She said the Navy is looking into alternatives for dealing with lost pets and other animal-related problems in the future.

“The Navy, through the public-private partner, Forest City, is working with the city to determine the best option for providing animal control services to Navy housing families,” she said. “These services will be obtained through the most effective and efficient method.”

A couple of members of the group Whidbey Animal Guild spoke at the meeting and urged council members to adopt progressive policies that are beneficial to the animals. Bob Baker, a member of the group, said the city should have its own, publicly owned animal shelter.

“Requiring shelter contractors to provide buildings is not always realistic, fair or conducive to a cohesive, accountable system,” he said.

Steve Paysee, executive director of WAIF, said the group is willing to continue working with the city. He explained that WAIF is in the process of building a new facility across the road from the Coupeville site. Dogs could be taken to the Coupeville shelter while the cat adoption center in Oak Harbor could be expanded to handle the felines.

Several council members also noted that a couple of individuals, including one who owns a kennel, have expressed interest in taking on the shelter contract.

Cort said the plan is to issue the RFP on or about Sept. 8.





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