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WAIF may run Oak Harbor’s animal shelter

Homeless dogs and cats in Oak Harbor may have a brighter outlook in the new year.

The Whidbey Animal Improvement Foundation may begin running Oak Harbor’s animal shelter if a contract can be worked out between the non-profit group and the city.

WAIF, which runs a shelter for Island County near Coupeville, proposes to make major improvements in the way the city shelter is currently managed, including a volunteer program, foster care for pets and a minimal kill philosophy.

At the Tuesday City Council meeting, Police Chief Steve Almon asked council members for permission to work out a contract for management of the city’s animal shelter with WAIF officials. He said members of the ad hoc animal shelter review committee unanimously voted to award the contract to WAIF.

“I was gratified to see the kind of compassion all felt for the furry friends in our community,” Councilwoman Sheilah Crider said, referring to the three proposals the city received.

Nearly a year ago, City Council members first started discussing the need to improve the city dog and cat pound. The dilapidated building is located on the Navy’s Seaplane Base and many residents don’t even know it exists. The current shelter manager, Animal Control Officer Terry Sampson, routinely euthanizes dogs and cats because of crowding or to avoid a disease spreading through the cramped facility. There is no dog run, foster program or volunteer dog walkers.

City officials convened an ad hoc committee — with Almon, Mayor Patty Cohen, City Administrator Thom Myers and council members Crider and Sue Karahalios — to look at the issue. On Nov. 23, the city made a public request for proposals to those wishing to run the shelter, animal control or both.

The details of the RPF were based on improvements the committee wanted to see in the shelter. Their objectives were to minimize euthanasia, begin foster care program, bring in volunteers to help with the shelter, continue with a spay and neutering program, improve the facility and animal welfare, and assist in pet licensing.

The city received three proposals for shelter management from WAIF, Sampson and resident Sonja Lanphier. Only Sampson submitted a proposal for animal control.

WAIF proposed to run the shelter for $62,500 a year, which would be reduced to $40,000 over a four-year period. The budget includes two employees (one at full time and one at 80 percent), an aggressive program to increase adoptions, a spay-and-neuter program, a foster care program, community education, volunteer dog walkers and cat handlers, a feral cat spay and neuter program, a pet food bank, an aggressive licensing effort, crisis care and a Web site.

In her proposal, Lanphier emphasized her love for animal and the need for improvements at the shelter. She was pleased that the City Council was finally doing something about the facility and its management. “Perhaps now many drastic improvements which could have been and should have already been made will be implemented,” she wrote.

Sampson proposed to run the shelter for $118,000 a year with two full-time and two half-time employees.

One of the major differences between WAIF and Sampson’s proposals is the philosophy about killing pets. WAIF runs a “minimal kill” program in which “no animal is euthanized for space or time limits.”

Sampson, on the other hand, said he doesn’t want waiting lists and “euthanasia would always be a last resort if shelter is at capacity.”

Sampson’s plan did not include a volunteer program. He and Lanphier have a difference of opinion about whether a city contractor could run a volunteer program at the animal shelter. Sampson wrote that a person who’s not a city employee cannot manage volunteers for the city, under Labor and Industry Rules.

Lanphier wrote that a contract person can manage volunteers as long as their hours are reported. After all, the police chief and fire chief are both contract employees who manage volunteers for the city.

According to Chief Almon, the ad hoc committee interviewed the two most qualified candidates for shelter management Dec. 8. He said it was a consensus of the committee to pick WAIF.

The next step is for Almon and WAIF officials to work out a contract, which will be brought to City Council for consideration. Almon said he also wants to begin researching the feasibility of building or purchasing a new animal shelter.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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