The Seattle Animal Shelter is a model for animal rescue shelters everywhere. The shelter provides temporary homes for several thousand animals every year – rescued dogs, cats and critters. Only the handful that are incurably ill or overtly dangerous fail to find adopted homes.
But, admired as Seattle’s shelter has been, it has suffered through some difficult times during the recent recession. The City, facing a steep shortfall in revenue, had to give top priority to public safety and essential human services. Other less critical city services, including the shelter, suffered steep reductions.
During those tough times, the diminished staff at the animal shelter received some partial help from its many volunteers. The Shelter has some 600 volunteer helpers who walk the dogs and pet the cats and, in many cases, temporarily “foster” animals until they can go to good homes.
But, volunteers aside, there still remains an acute need for a trained staff, field workers who can respond to calls about off-leash dogs, supervisors who can deploy volunteers and staffers who receive stray or unwanted animals and facilitate adoption.
In the lean years, the shelter staff had to close to the public two days a week. Obviously, this was could continue if the Shelter was to retain its high standards.
The volunteers were the ones who alerted folks at City Hall that the needs at the shelter were great. They came down to City Hall and testified at public hearings and met with individual council members. Animals can’t speak for themselves, but the volunteers sure could. Hearing the volunteers’ pleas for help, my staff and I went on a tour of the shelter to see first-hand how the shelter was faring.
Although there has been a valiant attempt to keep up, there is no question that there is a need for added resources. Some of the facilities, the kitchen area in particular, has been burdened beyond capacity. It has been a constant labor to keep the space where food is prepared and shots are given clean and clutter-free.
That the staff manages to stay cheerful in the strained circumstances is amazing, perhaps made possible by comfort derived from their four-footed charges. What, after all, is more soothing than the contented purr of an oversized tabby or the warm hum of the one-eyed guinea pig or sloppy kisses from the eight-week old puppy, floppy ears softer than a summer breeze.
For all those reasons, it was a joy to propose in the 2014 budget that the City might be able to restore some of the cuts made during tougher times. Specifically, the Council is adding four workers to the shelter, at a cost of approximately $340,000 annually. This means the Shelter will be open to the public an extra day each week, telephone wait times and field officer response times will be reduced, and the adoption process will be quicker than ever.
The goal is to continue to have an animal shelter that other cities look to as a model and to maintain a safe and sanitary space for dogs, cats and critters while they wait for a forever home. The City’s 2014 budget takes a big step towards that goal.