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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane City Council tightens rules on euthanization in response to SCRAPS concerns

Nick Hobbs Doyle, shelter operations manager for the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Services, addresses accusations of shelter misconduct and unnecessary euthanizations during a May interview.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Less than a week after 14 dogs were put down in a single day by the Spokane Regional Animal Protection Service, the Spokane City Council has adopted an ordinance to limit the discretion of the director of SCRAPS to sign off on euthanizing animals.

The vote was 6-0. Councilman Jonathan Bingle abstained, as his business has previously helped fundraise for SCRAPS.

The ordinance changes city code to specify that shelters contracted with the city cannot euthanize animals because they lack the capacity to hold them if they were impounded from within city limits.

The cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley contract with the county-run SCRAPS for animal control services. Previously, the city had no rules specifying shelter euthanization, meaning the contract with the county defaulted to the county’s rules, which do allow euthanization on the basis of capacity.

SCRAPS animal welfare advocates and former SCRAPS volunteers and staffers have alleged that animals are being euthanized due to “lenient director discretion and capacity issues,” according to a Wednesday statement by the City Council.

County spokesman Patrick Bell said in an interview last week that animals are only being euthanized as a last resort when they pose a public safety risk, suffer from untreatable medical conditions or are otherwise not adoptable.

“We are dedicated to providing the highest level of care at SCRAPS,” Bell said. “We do not euthanize due to capacity issues.”

Bell said Thursday that a number of dogs euthanized the day before had histories of biting or other behaviors that made them unable to be adopted, and shared a photo of one staffer who suffered a severe bite to the arm in March that resulted in hospitalization. The county has released behavioral risk assessments for 16 dogs the shelter has euthanized.

More than a dozen people, many of whom were former SCRAPS employees or volunteers, testified before the City Council Monday night and rejected SCRAPS’ characterization that a number of the animals euthanized in recent months were unable to be rehabilitated. Several went on to criticize the overall management of the animal shelter.

Freddie Bommer, a certified dog trainer who runs his own business with a specialization in dogs with “fear-based behaviors,” said he had been working with seven of the 14 dogs euthanized last week and believed they didn’t need to die.

“These dogs were absolutely adoptable and have been grossly misdiagnosed, which cost them their lives,” Bommer said.

Ryker Morgan, an 11-year-old, testified that he had dealt with many of the 14 dogs.

“I used to give them treats and talk to them,” Morgan said, his voice cracking with emotion. “I didn’t want them to die.”

Councilman Michael Cathcart, who cosponsored the ordinance with Councilwoman Karen Stratton, said Monday that leadership at SCRAPS had repeatedly failed to attend, or otherwise canceled at the last minute, meetings to discuss practices at the shelter earlier this year.

“The lack of communication, the lack of exchange, has been incredibly infuriating to me,” Cathcart said.

Bell noted that SCRAPS had offered to give council members a tour of the facility, and only Bingle had accepted. Councilwoman Karen Stratton, who has worked with Cathcart to demand transparency from SCRAPS, brushed off this assertion Monday.

“I did not go because I know if I went, I would have a car full of animals,” Stratton said. “I believe the staff and others who have gone.”