LONGVIEW — Cowlitz County and most of its local cities have three months to create their own animal control operations, as the local Humane Society will stop providing the services at the end of 2023.
For decades the Humane Society of Cowlitz County contracted with the county and all of its cities except Kalama to handle dangerous strays, animal welfare and roadkill, but officials recently reported the nonprofit is struggling with the cost of the program.
The plan for most of the jurisdictions is to manage their own animal control, with inter-county coordination to share some duties.
The new arrangement will disperse responders throughout the county and end up with more workers; Longview, Kelso and Cowlitz County aim to have a total of five animal control officers on their respective staffs next year.
The Humane Society had four animal control officers on staff last year, and received 3,000 complaints requesting animal control across Cowlitz County, leading to 730 animals being impounded and 89 cruelty cases.
Castle Rock Chief of Police Charlie Worley said the city is still determining how it will work with other agencies. Officials in Woodland did not respond to requests for comment about the city’s animal control plans.
Longview, county, Kelso
Longview is hiring for two animal control officers to work for the Longview Police Department. The new positions are classified as community service officers but Longview Police Chief Robert Huhta said he expects there to be enough animal calls for it to be the fulltime focus.
“We’re obviously on a very shortened timetable,” he said. “There could be other options for how to proceed, but this is probably the most realistic route for the city.”
Huhta is scheduled to give a more detailed presentation about animal control to the Longview City Council on Oct. 26. In addition to approving the overall approach, the council will need to decide whether the new arrangement will increase or decrease the impound fees, which start at $50 for a first offense.
The Cowlitz County Sheriffs Department received a verbal OK from the Cowlitz County Commissioners to hire two new, fulltime animal control officers. A sheriffs officer told the county commissioners animal control could be based out of the basement of the County Hall of Justice, where the 911 center was located.
Cowlitz County Sheriff Brad Thurman said the county and cities are discussing setting up a shared pool for after-hours calls. The proposal would split the night shift among the areas based on how many calls for service they’ve made in the past.
“We want to set the parameters for under what circumstances we would call someone out,” Thurman said. “It would be an in-progress threat to public safety, or an animal that is sick and injured and needs immediate care.”
Unlike the police and sheriff’s officers, animal control is not required to go through full academy training. The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission offers an 80-hour instructive course for animal control officers. Thurman said the county’s hires would likely get that certification if they don’t have it.
Thurman expects the cost for the two new employees to be around $220,000 a year, between wages and benefits, while this year Cowlitz County spent $363,000 on the contract with the Humane Society.
Kelso has been advertising to hire an animal control specialist since the beginning of October. Animal control in Kelso will be placed under the community development department instead of the police department because they will also handle code enforcement and nuisance complaints.
Community Development Director Michael Kardas said animal control would be the new employee’s priority, but in the likely event that didn’t take up 40 hours a week, the remaining time would go into code enforcement. Kardas said Kelso Police Chief Darr Kirk is taking the lead on finalizing the new position and coordinating with other locations.
The county and cities are still negotiating a new contract with the Humane Society to house the animals once they are impounded, with a fee in place for each animal brought in moving forward.
According to a Humane Society report outlining the current fee proposal, the nonprofit would charge $326 per animal in 2023 and increase to $372 per animal in 2026. The proposed fee only covers up to 10 days of housing the animal, after which the city or county would pay an additional $65 per day.
In 2022 there were 227 animals impounded in Cowlitz County, which would cost the county roughly $74,000 under the proposed fee structure. Longview, which had the most impounded animals in the county, would have paid roughly $114,000 in 2022.