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.
- 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
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:
- whether the entity performs a governmental function;
- the level of government funding;
- the extent of government involvement or regulation; and
- 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.
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
- Clark County Code Ch. 8.01 — Animals, General Provisions
- Animal and Pets — Webpage for county residents
- Mount Vernon Municipal Code Ch. 6.04 — Animal Control and Protection
- Animal Services — Webpage for city residents
- Walla Walla Municipal Code Ch. 20.130 — Animals
- Animal Control — Webpage for city residents
- Yelm Municipal Code Ch. 6.08 — Animal Regulations
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
- Clark County Animals and Pets — County provides animal control services to Vancouver as well as unincorporated county
- Everett Animal Services — Provides shelter for strays from more than 15 neighboring jurisdictions
- Sumner Metro Animal Control Services — Operated by Sumner; provides animal control services to several nearby cities
Regional Animal Control Agencies
- King County Regional Animal Services of King County — Provides services to many cities and unincorporated areas within King County
- Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service (SCRAPS) — Serves Spokane County and many cities located within the county
- Thurston County Joint Animal Services — Provides services to Thurston County, Lacey, Olympia, and Tumwater
- Tri-Cities Animal Shelter — Provides services to Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland
- Interlocal Agreement (2016) — Daily operations managed by Pasco and overseen by joint management committee; includes cost-sharing provisions. Supersedes prior agreements.
Contracts with Private/Nonprofit Organizations
- Grand Coulee Veterinary Clinic — Provides services, including housing strays and euthanasia services, to the city of Grand Coulee
- Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County — Provides services to Pierce County
- Contract for Animal Shelter Services (2019) — Allows for sheltering of companion animals (beyond just cats and dogs), mandates blood draws and testing for animal cruelty cases, outlines reporting requirements, and allows the Humane Society to retain all fees and has the County pay a per animal intake rate with an end-of-year reconciliation to adjust for actual usage and fees. Does not include animal control, only sheltering.
- Pierce County Animal Shelter Cost Analysis (2018) — Audit of Pierce County’s private contract with the Humane Society of Tacoma and Pierce County to analyze associated costs as part of contract negotiations carried out in 2018.
- Humane Society for Southwest Washington — Provides services to the City of Vancouver
- Contract for Animal Control Shelter Services, included in November 2016 staff report
- Palouse Contract with Whitman County Humane Society (2018)
- West Richland Sample Animal Control Services Agreement (2012)
- Yakima Humane Society — Provides services to Union Gap
RFPs for Animal Control and Animal Shelter Services
- Burien Request for Proposals for Animal Control Services (2011)
- Ellensburg Request for Proposals for Animal Shelter Services (2022)
- Oak Harbor Request for Proposals for Animal Shelter Management and Operations (2012)
- Spokane Valley Request for Proposals for Animal Control Services (2012)
For information on caring for pets and animals during an emergency (and planning to care for them), see the following resources:
- American Veterinary Medical Association: Disaster Preparedness
- Clark County Regional Emergency Services Agency (CRESA): Animal Care Emergency Plan (2008)
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.
- Everett Rehoming Your Pet — The webpage notes several additional jurisdictions near Everett that the shelter accepts surrendered pets from
- King County Pet Assistance Program
- Seattle Surrender Your Pet
- Sumner Metro Animal Services - Surrendering a Pet
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.
- King County Animal Control Response — Provides links to complaint form and other helpful resources
- Snohomish County
- Spokane County (SCRAPS) Online Complaint Form — The form is the same regardless of the type of complaint
- International City/County Management Association (ICMA): Animal Control Management: A Guide for Local Governments — For-purchase publication covers all the animal control issues that local governments face and explains how to establish or update a successful, publicly supported animal care and control program.
- The Humane Society of the United States: HumanePro — Resources for professionals including training opportunities, grant opportunities for municipal agencies and nonprofit organizations, community outreach information, resources by species, email updates, and more
- ASPCA Pro — A professional association for animal welfare professionals and veterinary personnel. Also provides tools and resources to volunteers in animal welfare and animal rescue organizations.