Letter: Audit shows Burien CARES is inadequate

Based on the Burien CARES Program Evaluation in the Council Work Session packet for tonight, CARES is not head and shoulders better than the King County Animal Control Program-see pages 25-36 of the online packet.

For the last year and a half, the Burien City Manager/Mike Martin has been standing up before the public and declaring that CARES (provider of Animal Care and Animal Control for Burien) is head and shoulders better than the King County Animal Control program. He has repeatedly made this statement at public meetings, at annexation meetings and to the media. Denise McVicker, the Deputy Director of the Humane Society for Tacoma & Pierce County, has just completed an evaluation of CARES and here are some of her findings in the completed report that I believe will be glossed over tonight at the work session of the Council.

1. The staff is inadequately trained.
2. There is no coordinated mechanism for the pick up and reporting or description of dead animals in Burien so that the citizens looking for their animals can be apprised of information.
3. Requests for services as well as what animals have been picked up or surrendered is not being logged into a database for responsible, accurate and effective service to citizens and animals. It appears the staff hasn’t taken the time to learn all aspects or be trained in the data program (Pet Point) they are using. This is perhaps why CARES was missing 285 animals last year per Council member Edgar’s concern.
4. Should something happen to the current animal control officer (Ray Helms), or if he is away there is no backup staff with full training to cover for him.
5. Animal enclosures, runs, floors, the animal control vehicle, litter boxes, feeding dishes and the quarantine area have not been being wiped down and rinsed correctly. These areas and items used around the animals haven’t been disinfected.
6. Chemicals for cleaning have been improperly handled and mixed by the staff and volunteers which poses a danger to the humans as well as the animals.
7. Ventilation and disease control procedures for some of the areas does not seem to meet the standards of the SOC document which was published by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians and is the gold standard for shelter animal care.
8. The cat enclosures are not built of ideal, sustainable materials for long term disinfection.
9. The quarantine room is not adequate to handle multiple animals, aggressive animals. It lacks security.
10. There are no written protocols for the handling of dangerous and potentially dangerous animals.
11. CARES doesn’t regularly accept stray cats and appears not to have a policy of how cats will be cared for. It was promised to Council members that cats would be taken in at CARES and it is not happening.
12. None of the dogs or cats are vaccinated upon intake. The practice of vaccinating upon intake and maintaining a clean environment are paramount for animal health and human protection.
13. There is currently no standard set for entering of animals into the data base.
14. Animals entering the shelter are not being identified with any kind of tag or collar for identification while there.
15. Currently animals that have bitten or acted aggressively to humans and domestic animals are being adopted to the public. This creates a huge liability on the placement agency and the contracting city for lawsuits.
16. An evaluation assessment program is not in place to determine how re-homing of animals should be handled.
17. Volunteers do not have adequate training and are too young for conditions at CARES.
18. Notification and recording of donations and gifts is lacking.
19. There is a need for documentation on the level of training the volunteers have received.
20. The Animal Control Officer needs to be professionally dressed.
21. Communication with citizens and donors needs to improve.
22. There appears to be no yearly performance evaluations of staff.
23. There is not a process to evaluate and improve the contact.
24. Data on the operation of the shelter is not readily available or transparent to the public.
25. The “Infection Control Policy” should be updated to comply with national shelter guidelines.
26. There are no standards set for the standards of care in the shelter in the contract between Burien and CARES.

From my own personal experience, the accounting and financial records that CARES submits to the city are confused, disorganized and difficult to follow regarding fees collected or dismissed, donations, revenues taken in and expenses and fees paid out.

Citizens were correct when they complained on media sources that all was not well with CARES. The City Manager and the Council elected to ignore citizens for over one year. From this evaluation report, it appears that the contract on CARES will have to be re-negotiated and will require a commitment of considerable financial resources from Burien taxpayers to remedy many of the problems identified by this evaluation.
I suspect from the contents of the Work Session packet, that Mike Martin/City Manager will try to downplay the findings of this report to protect his friend Debra George and his idea for cheap animal control. However, should the contract for CARES be re-opened, then I believe that Burien citizens should have the right to see a presentation from King County Animal Control as one of the options for animal care and control in Burien.

Citizens should be allowed to compare the continuing costs of upgrading CARES to minimum standards with King County’s superior services/facilities. Mike Martin has not been honest and transparent on this issue of animal care and animal control in the city.

Contract your City Council members at 206-248-5508 or City Council Burien to voice your concerns.

Debi Wagner
Burien