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Animal Control Administration

This page provides information on animal control administration for local governments in Washington State, including relevant statutes, court decisions, and examples of local policies and contracts.

It is part of MRSC's series on Animal Control.


Animal control and animal sheltering services can help communities in a variety of ways, including rescuing animals in distress, reuniting lost pets and their owners, and responding to nuisance complaints. Animal control officers may work for, or with, police or sheriff departments, parks and recreation departments, and health departments.

Local governments in Washington State administer animal control in various ways, including directly, through an animal services department, through partnership with external agencies or another local government, or a combination of these. Several jurisdictions have found that partnerships allow them to streamline processes and provide more efficient, and in some cases, expanded animal control services for their communities.

Washington State Statutes

  • Title 16 RCW —  Covers regulations related to animals and livestock, including county dog licensing and dog control zones, stock-restricted areas, reporting of animal diseases, and dangerous wild animals.
  • WAC 246-203-121 —  Addresses the disposal of dead animals
  • Ch. 18.92 WAC — Addresses the establishment and regulation of veterinary medicine, surgery and dentistry, including animal care societies/ humane societies

Court Decisions

Clarke v. Tri-Cities Animal Care & Control Shelter, 144 Wn. App. 185 (2008) Three cities formed an animal control agency by interlocal agreement. That agency then contracted with a private business for animal control services. A citizen, citing the public records act, sought euthanasia records from the private business and from one of the cities. The business denied the request, indicating that it was not a public agency; the city denied the request, indicating that it did not possess the records sought. A lawsuit followed, and the trial court agreed with the business/city. On appeal, the court reversed by applying and balancing factors from a 4-part test:

  1. whether the entity performs a governmental function;
  2. the level of government funding;
  3. the extent of government involvement or regulation; and
  4. whether the entity was created by the government. 

Some of the employees of the business took oaths as animal control officers, and they performed police poser duties, such as euthanizing animals. The funding was primarily governmental, and the business had to follow some procedures set out by the interlocal member agencies. While the business was not established by government, balancing the four criteria led the court to conclude that the business/agency was covered by the public records act.

Administrative Organization and Procedures

Cities or counties can elect to independently offer animal control services (including a shelter) to the entire jurisdiction. The benefits to this approach are increased (dollar and staff) resources, faster response time for responding to complaints, community-wide visibility, and a clear structure and chain of command.

Examples of City- or County-Run Animal Control Programs

Contracts for Animal Control and Animal Shelters

One approach is for a municipality to contract for animal control services with another local government. While this arrangement can make sure all animal control needs are covered, the successful coordination between governments requires clear communication of roles and responsibilities.

A community may decide to partner with other local governments to create a regional animal control agency. The benefits of this arrangement include more resources and coverage of a larger area. While a regional agency may provide a more uniform and improved level of service, a plan is needed to address potential conflicts between all partners.

Some municipalities have decided to contract out animal control services to an independent agency, such as a local veterinarian’s office or a humane society. These shelters have many of the advantages of private operations, but they also have accountability to the public because of their contractual obligations.

Below are examples of interlocal contracts for animal control/services as grouped by approach, as well as a few sample Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for animal control services.

Contracts with Other Local Governments

 Regional Animal Control Agencies

Contracts with Private/Nonprofit Organizations

RFPs for Animal Control and Animal Shelter Services

Disaster Planning

For information on caring for pets and animals during an emergency (and planning to care for them), see the following resources:

Animal Abandonment

RCW 16.54.010 states that an animal is considered abandoned when:

it is placed in the custody of a veterinarian, boarding kennel owner, or any person for treatment, board, or care and:(1) Having been placed in such custody for an unspecified period of time the animal is not removed within fifteen days after notice to remove the animal has been given to [the owner]

An animal can be abandoned by its owner for a variety of reasons including death, foreclosure, and major life changes such as loss of job or sever and sudden decrease in income. An animal may also be abandoned when its behavior becomes disruptive or threatening. Most municipal shelters are legally required to take in all stray dogs regardless of their health, temperament or age (since rabies is commonly seen as the most pressing public health concern relating to companion animals), and many voluntarily expand their operations to accept surrendered pets, cats and other types of animals in need.

Below are examples of how some jurisdictions handle animal abandonment.

Complaint Handling

Police, whether state or local, are generally the principal law enforcement agency charged with investigating complaints of animal cruelty, animal fighting, or any other crime relating to animals. Nuisances, such as barking or off-leash dogs, can also be the source of complaints.

Below are some examples of how jurisdictions allow constituents to report animal-related complaints.

Recommended Resources

Last Modified: February 23, 2024