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Originally published April 11, 2010 at 4:00 PM | Page modified April 11, 2010 at 6:01 PM

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A regional view of animal control and sheltering

King County's new plan for animal control and sheltering offers a smart, regional strategy for spreading the cost and responsibilities among suburban cities.

KING County has a new regional strategy for animal control and sheltering that overcomes initial skepticism about whether the county should be in the business of animal welfare.

Last fall, this page criticized the county for deplorable conditions at animal shelters, excessively long response times to dog attacks and budget constraints that stymied improvements.

What a difference new leadership and a fresh approach make.

County Executive Dow Constantine came into office in November with an agenda to maintain the county's role as an efficient regional provider of core services such as public health and safety and animal control.

The solution is a new partnership in which cities pay the costs of animal control and welfare for their residents. Built into the new agreement are incentives to buy pet licenses and send fewer animals to shelters. More licenses means a city would see more revenue from pet-licensing fees. Fewer strays picked up and sent to shelters means a city sees a smaller bill from the county.

Equity is one benefit of the new structure. Another is getting away from the $2 million hit to the county's general fund in order to subsidize animal welfare.

Cost savings are dependent on most of the county's cities opting in and sharing the cost.

Seattle provides its own animal-welfare services and other cities, including Renton, also do not use county services. The rest of the region should strongly consider a county-led partnership as a more efficient and affordable way of maintaining a necessary service.

A lot of elements missing from past efforts are present in this plan, including better coordination and division of field staff, improved training of animal employees and an agreement to soften the financial blow to cities by temporarily continuing a county subsidy.

Animal control is about more than keeping track of stray dogs and cats. Resources are challenged by the problem of dog and cockfighting rings in some parts of the county.

On separate days recently, animal-welfare officers took care of a downed horse in Redmond and a ritualized pig slaughter in Kirkland. These are not everyday problems but are best met with a county-coordinated response.

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