Vancouver City Councilor Jeanne Harris criticized county commissioners this week for not operating a municipal animal shelter.

Oh, how I would have loved it if Commissioner Tom Mielke could have been there to respond. The meeting could have been interrupted for an impromptu debate: Harris vs. Mielke, One Night Only.

First, some background: The county has never operated an animal shelter. Instead, the county and city contract with the Humane Society of Southwest Washington to care for animals picked up by county animal control officers. (The city contracts with the county for animal control services.)

Before you think, “Oh, big deal. What is it, 100 dogs a year?” check this out: In 2011, the Humane Society took in 2,142 animals on behalf of the city and disposed of 168 animals that were DOA. Of the animals brought into the shelter, only 452 were claimed by their owners.

On Monday, before the city council approved a new two-year contract with the Humane Society, Harris questioned the substantial increase in fees. (This was before the Humane Society announced layoffs and the fact it will be closed to the public on Mondays.) If the county, like some other counties, operated its own shelter, Harris said, it would take pressure off the Humane Society, a private, nonprofit organization.

About 60 percent of the animals that end up at the Humane Society are strays brought in by Clark County Animal Control or members of the public, and the rest are owner-surrendered. Usually, the owner has had to move to a residence that doesn’t accept animals or the owner can no longer afford to care for the animal.

Councilor Jack Burkman said he doesn’t feel comfortable asking county commissioners to take on an added expense, with no new revenue, at the same time the county, like the city, has been cutting its budget.

Harris said she doesn’t care about the county’s budget.

Here’s where I would have loved for Mielke to come in.

I’ve been hearing Mielke grump for a few years about how the city doesn’t help pick up the cost of running the county’s public health department. Public health is a regional service that’s supposed to be provided by the county, but Mielke’s argument is, hey, most of the people who use it are city residents.

Those are health services for humans who live in the city, mind you. I can’t imagine Mielke would be willing to pay for city stray pets.

Councilor Jeanne Stewart asked if the county did operate a shelter, wouldn’t the city still have to pay the county?

No, Harris said.

In Multnomah County, for example, Portland doesn’t have to contribute to the cost of operating the county shelter.

In the end, even Harris voted to approve the new contract with the Humane Society, which the county earlier approved. The per-animal fee, which was $69.79 in 2011, increased to $120 this year, and will increase to $132.50 in 2013 and $145 in 2014. The fee for disposing of dead animals, which has not been increased since 2003, will go up from $5 to $15.

In 2013, based on an estimate of 2,500 animals (alive and dead), the city will pay $335,769. The money was included in the city’s 2013-14 budget.

City Manager Eric Holmes told Harris he will add “animal shelter” to the list of subjects he needs to discuss with Clark County Administrator Bill Barron.

No offense to Barron, but it’s not his response I’m interested in.

Stephanie Rice

Stephanie Rice

I cover Vancouver city government. Reach me at or 360-735-4508.

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