August 28, 2008 in City

Euthanasia policy challenged

Attorney threatens to sue Spokane
By The Spokesman-Review
 

An animal law attorney is targeting a new Spokane ordinance that allows unidentifiable cats to be euthanized upon entering the city’s animal shelter.

The Spokane City Council voted last month to end its policy requiring impounded cats be kept at least three days.

While the holding period was removed for unidentifiable cats, the city’s new rules extend the holding period to five days for tagged or microchipped cats, even if they’re unlicensed. Licensed cats are held at least 10 days.

Adam Karp, whose practice is based in Bellingham, said the new ordinance is unconstitutional. He plans to sue the city unless officials make changes.

The new law says SpokAnimal C.A.R.E., the agency that has the city’s animal control contract, doesn’t have to wait to euthanize “diseased, injured or wild” cats. Rules also say that the waiting period before healthy and domesticated cats with no identification can be killed should depend on shelter capacity, temperament and other factors.

“Suddenly it’s discretionary with the employees at SpokAnimal,” Karp said. “When you’re talking about seizing, killing and depriving somebody of their cat without any chance to even get in the car and drive there within hours of learning the cat has disappeared … you’re really inviting significant risk of making errors, fatal errors.”

A SpokAnimal official directed questions to the city. City Administrator Ted Danek said city attorneys are aware of Karp’s threatened lawsuit and are reviewing his arguments.

City Councilman Michael Allen said he believes the ordinance is “a good balance” because it provides extra protection for pets that can be identified and emphasizes keeping healthy and domesticated animals alive as long as there’s room for them.

Spokane County’s rules only require a holding period for licensed cats.

Nancy Hill, director of Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service, said that in practice, however, only feral cats are euthanized without a holding period.

“We don’t generally euthanize a cat that has been here less than three days,” Hill said.

The city plans to switch to SCRAPS in 2010. Hill said the city plans to adopt the county’s animal control code before the transfer.

Karp said he believes cats should held as long as dogs. City rules say dogs must be held at least three days before they are killed.

But Allen said numbers dictate that dogs and cats can’t get equal treatment.

“To say that you can handle both of these issues equally I think is just imprudent, and I’m a cat person,” Allen said.

Last year, SpokAnimal, SCRAPS and the Spokane Humane Society handled about 11,000 cats. Only 175 were returned to their owners; roughly 6,000 were euthanized. Shelters were more successful returning lost dogs to their owners. Of the 9,000 dogs handled by the three shelters, more than 2,000 were returned. Hill said owners must do a better job licensing, microchipping and spaying or neutering their pets. The practice of euthanizing healthy animals can end only if pet owners become more responsible.

“It’s a community problem, and it needs a community solution,” Hill said. “We’re a big part of that, but we can’t do it alone.”

Jonathan Brunt can be reached at jonathanb@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5442.


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