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Without money for shelter, animal control’s in tight spot

City’s contract with SpokAnimal expires soon; voters nixed bond that would have generated cash

Spokane’s inability to pay for an expanded dog and cat shelter has put the future of animal control in question four months before the city is scheduled to join a regional system.

The Spokane City Council voted more than a year ago to contract with the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service starting in 2010, a decision that leaders said ended the long and often contentious debate about how the city should handle animal control.

But without a shelter, the issue of how to handle animal control is back.

“At this point all options are open for pursuing a comprehensive solution to animal control in the most economical way possible,” said Spokane’s Chief Financial Officer Gavin Cooley.

Since 1984, the city has contracted with SpokAnimal C.A.R.E. to perform the service, but the nonprofit agency informed the city more than three years ago that it no longer wanted the role as the city’s dogcatcher and pet licensor.

Without a new shelter ready, it’s unclear who will handle the city’s animal control after Dec. 31, when SpokAnimal’s contract ends.

Gail Mackie, executive director of SpokAnimal, said the group still plans to stop animal control at the end of the year to focus on neutering and spaying programs and animal adoption.

“No one from the city has contacted us” to request an extension, Mackie said.

As part of the agreement with the county, the city was required to pay to enlarge the county’s animal shelter on Flora Road.

At the time, that was expected to cost $3.9 million.

Earlier this year city voters rejected a bond to pay for public safety items, including $4.2 million for the shelter expansion.

County Commissioner Todd Mielke said county estimates indicate that expansion would cost closer to $7 million or $8 million, while a brand-new shelter would cost $11 million or $12 million.

County and city leaders say that regionalization will be delayed but that they’re still hopeful a partnership will be created.

Mayor Mary Verner continues to support a regional system, said city spokeswoman Marlene Feist, who added that Verner “recognizes the urgency of the situation and is working with the county to find a solution.”

Mielke said adding to the county shelter on Flora Road may not be the best option, in part because of cost and because it’s not centrally located.

One option would be to put a bond measure before voters for a countywide shelter to replace the structure built in 1975, Mielke said. The city has suggested locating a new shelter near the Waste-to-Energy Plant, Spokane’s trash incinerator, to hook up to the energy created in at the plant and cut SCRAPS’ electricity costs, Mielke said.

“For the greater good and the long-term benefit to the community and its animals, a countywide shelter is a good idea,” said Nancy Hill, director of SCRAPS.

If regionalizing animal control is determined to be the best solution, “what that means is to make that transition, we have to figure out how to bring it into a single facility,” Mielke said.

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Then and Now: Comstock Park

new  James M. Comstock, born in 1838 in Wisconsin, arrived in Spokane in time to witness the great fire of 1889 and start Spokane Dry Goods with Robert Paterson. It became the Crescent, Spokane’s premier department store for a century. He also worked in real estate and owned other businesses. He served a term as Spokane mayor, starting in 1899. James Comstock died in 1918.