Oak Harbor’s animal shelter, located on the Navy Seaplane Base, is now a better place to visit for both animals and people.

Since the non-profit group Whidbey Animal Improvement Foundation took over last week, nobody has to worry anymore about unwanted pets being killed at the shelter unless the animal is absolutely unadoptable. And there are other big changes to the ramshackle facility, from an outdoor kennel to soft classical music to keep the pups calm.

Meanwhile, city officials have hired a familiar face to handle animal complaints in the community and enforce non-animal-related nuisance complaints. Terry Sampson, who’s contracted with the city as animal control officer and shelter manager for years, takes over the newly-created city staff position May 1.

Lesley Mills, director of WAIF, said a work party of employees and volunteers have been working hard to fix up the Oak Harbor animal shelter and care for the creatures. They cleaned, painted, fixed the dog kennels, fixed the plumbing, and put in an outdoor kennel for the first time.

The biggest change the animals probably noticed were beds. Mills said the cats were especially impressed.

“It was so funny,” she said. “They all jumped on the beds and started kneading. It was instant quiet and all you could hear was purring.”

WAIF took over management of the city animal shelter from Sampson. Last year, city council members concerned about the number of pets which were euthanized decided to change the way the shelter is run.

WAIF has a minimal-kill philosophy, which means dogs and cats are only euthanized if they are dangerous or have fatal health problems.

Under the contract, the city will pay WAIF $62,500 a year to run the shelter, plus one-time costs of $40,000 to fix up the facility and fund other improvements.

WAIF officials have plans for other improvements, including more painting and putting in an outdoor play yard behind the building. Mills said it will be a place where people can spend time with a dog before choosing to adopt.

Mills said WAIF staff worked quickly to vaccinate, worm and test the pets after taking over. All of the cats had upper respiratory illnesses, which is a disease that likely would have meant euthanasia before WAIF took over. The felines were treated and are doing fine.

Now, WAIF is in the process of getting all the animals spayed and neutered.

“We’re a work in progress,” said Sheri Bibich, shelter manager, “but we’re happy to do it.”

While the building — located next to the Navy marina — is rather small and rundown-looking, Mills said WAIF can make it work as an acceptable shelter for now. The biggest hurdle, she said, is its location.

Many city residents aren’t aware that there is a shelter. Others are intimidated by the fact that it’s on Navy property.

Mills, however, said that getting to the shelter is a breeze. People just need to show their license, car registration and proof of insurance to the guard at the Maui gate at the end of Pioneer Way.

“We invite everybody to come out and visit us,” she said.

In addition to pet adopters, WAIF also needs volunteers and donations. Volunteers can help at the shelter, take in foster pets (usually kittens and puppies), play with cats or walk dogs.

Mills said WAIF obtained Navy permission for a beautiful stroll along the beach for dog walkers.

WAIF also has a Web site, which photos and biographies of pets up for adoption, as

Police Chief Steve Almon said he and Capt. Rick Wallace recently made the decision to hire Sampson as the animal control officer. Almon recommended to the city council that the animal control officer become a staff position so that the city has more control over it.

He said the city received 30 applicants for the position. Two different panels narrowed down the applications to three people, who Almon and Wallace interviewed March 31.

Almon said Sampson, who has years and years of experience in the city, was the most qualified for the job. He will make about $37,000 a year.

In addition to handling animal complaints, Sampson will also deal with nuisance calls, such as trash, hulk vehicles and weeds. He will work half-time for the city’s new code enforcement officer.

“The job description is very wide ranging,” Almon said.

Almon said his next project will be to research the possibility of the city building or leasing a new facility — larger and outside Navy property — for unwanted pets.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at or 675-6611.

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