Proposed code focuses on animal welfare

Island County commissioners had their first look at a rewritten animal welfare ordinance.

Island County commissioners had their first look at a rewritten animal welfare ordinance that is meant to provide better protection for critters.

The biggest changes, according to County Administrator Michael Jones, are new rules regarding both commercial and private kennels, the latter of which adds oversight to anyone who has 10 or more dogs and/or cats.

Community members demanded improvements to the county’s animal control operations after two starved horses were found dead at a North Whidbey house at Christmas time. Investigators found a large number of horses, cats, dogs and other animals in various stages of neglect. The county seized the animals and the owner, Kristi Finch, was charged with animal cruelty, according to court documents.

Whidbey resident Kristi Lovelady, a member of the new animal activist group, conducted extensive research into animal ordinances in other counties and provided the information to the county. Her aim, she said, was to create a code that would prevent another such tragedy in the future. She is pleased with the proposed ordinance.

“It’s encouraging to see the thoughtful consideration by the board of commissioners,” she said.

Jones said he worked with Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks and Sheriff Rick Felici to refine a new ordinance and ended up rewriting it entirely, even renaming it the “animal welfare” ordinance. He said it represents a “pretty fundamental shift” in how the county code approaches animal matters. The current code is concerned about how animals affect neighboring properties, but the proposed code focuses on animal well-being.

Under the proposed code, a commercial kennel is defined as a place “where, for compensation, five or more adult dogs and/or cats over six months of age, irrespective of duration, are boarded, bred, bought, sold, exhibited or trained.”

A private kennel, on the other hand, includes homes and other places not normally considered to be a kennel. It is defined as “any location where more than 10 adult dogs, 10 adult cats, or a combination thereof, are kept for personal, non-commercial purposes where the owner(s) does not receive compensation.”

The proposed code requires kennel licenses, set standards designed to protect pets and adds enforcement requirements.

Commissioner Jill Johnson questioned whether the number of dogs or cats triggering the private kennel rule should be lower. Commissioner Melanie Bacon, however, said she thought of a family member who owns many, well-cared-for cats when she proposed a higher number, which is a the higher end of thresholds referenced in animal codes in other counties.

“We have lots of retired cat ladies here on this island,” she said.

The commissioners discussed the due process provision of the kennel rules at length. Under the proposal, a person can appeal a decision made by the county’s animal control officer to the hearing examiner, but commissioners questioned whether it was appropriate to have a land-use expert decide such issues.

In the end, the commissioners decided to bring the proposal back for more discussion in a month or so before presenting it to the public for feedback.