City explores options for animal care, control

As the Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County switches gears and discontinues its animal care and control services, focusing instead on sheltering stray animals, city staffers have drafted a plan to cover an anticipated loss in services, according to discussion during the City Council study session Sept. 27.

According to the city’s government relations officer Randy Lewis, the plan calls for the city’s Tax and Licensing Division to handle the licensing of pets, and the Tacoma Police Department (TPD) to handle animal control. The city would issue permanent stainless-steel tags and create a telephone line for residents to contact licensing and animal control divisions. TPD would create positions for four limited commission officers and one supervisor to handle animal control issues.

“I believe we can provide the high level of service that people in Tacoma expect,” said Lewis.

Such services would cost the city $700,000 annually, and an additional start-up cost of under $300,000, according to the city’s Tax and Licensing Division Manager Jodie Trueblood. Currently, the city pays the Humane Society $471,432 annually to handle animal care and control. “This is not a revenue-making burden,” said Trueblood. Still, she added that the city would see some revenue from pet licensing.

“I believe the city can do a better job collecting licenses,” added Lewis. “Whether we can make all the costs up or not, I don’t know. But there is some revenue from licensing.”

Lewis added that the city explored many options for animal control, and even prepared a Request for Proposal in the hopes of contracting with an organization to provide the services. However, the city instead decided to handle the services in-house.

The plan also calls for the city to purchase two vehicles from the Humane Society, as well as begin posting job announcements for animal control officers.

“We are looking forward to this,” said TPD Capt. Mike Miller. “Because of the Humane Society’s limitations, service was not what we had hoped for. With some control now, I think the service might be better.”

In November 2004, the Human Society announced its desire to discontinue animal care and control contracts with local municipalities. Former City Manager Jim Walton asked city staffers to form a team to explore alternatives for providing services. Shortly thereafter, the Humane Society’s Board of Directors voted to discontinue all animal control contracts that enforce pet-related laws and sell pet licenses with local municipalities by Jan. 1, 2006.

Humane Society President Steve Pierce announced the plan in a June 14 letter. “[Our] mission is to protect animals from people,” said Pierce.  “However, over the past few decades we have spent more and more of our efforts protecting people from animals.  Whether it is investigating an aggressive dog, enforcing the leash-law, or intervening in a barking complaint, animal control absorbs energy and resources that would be better spent on animal welfare.”

According to Lewis, the city has contracted with the Humane Society since the 1950s, and will continue to contract for shelter services such as medical care, food, and adoption.

Other Pierce County municipalities are currently exploring their options for animal care by Jan. 1.