Cats, dogs costlier this year

Officials at a nonprofit group has found that running Oak Harbor’s animal shelter is more expensive than they thought.

Whidbey Animal Improvement Foundation, also known as WAIF, took over operation of the city’s undersized, ramshackle animal shelter on the Navy Seaplane base last year after council members expressed concern about the conditions of the facility and treatment of animals.

Police Chief Steve Almon told the City Council Tuesday night that WAIF’s revenues from adoption fees haven’t met projections, plus employee costs are greater than anticipated and WAIF is starting a microchipping program.

As a result, he said WAIF requested a increase in the new contract with the city to $85,000 a year. Council members approved the contract with the $22,500 increase to the general fund balance.

Only Councilman Eric Gerber was hesitant about the decision. He said he felt uncomfortable voting on the cost increase without looking at the larger budget impact.

“The increase of the total cost of animal control has doubled,” he said.

In the original contract with WAIF — which expired months ago — the city paid the nonprofit group $62,000 a year. The city also has an $37,000 per year animal control officer on staff.

Prior to WAIF taking over more than a year ago, the city paid $58,000 for both animal control and operation of the animal shelter.

Other council members said they were in favor of the new contract.

“We do have a legal obligation for animal control,” Councilwoman Sue Karahalios said.

Councilman Larry Eaton pointed out the big improvements that WAIF made at the shelter and in the care of pets, including an end to euthanasia to relieve crowding.

“I would agree with Ms. Karahalios that we have a legal obligation,” he said, “but I would carry that forward to say we have a moral obligation.”

WAIF’s budget for the shelter 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.

An ad hoc committee of council members and city staff is also researching the possibility of building a new animal shelter, possibly on city land off Goldie Road.

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