King County animal shelters dramatically reduced the number of dogs and cats put to death in the first two months of this year, the county's...

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King County animal shelters dramatically reduced the number of dogs and cats put to death in the first two months of this year, the county’s animal-control chief said Tuesday.

Al Dams, acting manager of animal care and control, said the euthanasia rate fell to an all-time low of just under 18 percent of sheltered animals in January and February, about half of the 34 percent rate in the first two months of 2007.

The sharp drop shows progress by the shelters in Kent and Bellevue toward complying with the Metropolitan King County Council’s directive last year that no more than 20 percent of animals be put down this year and no more than 15 percent next year.

Dams said the improvement resulted from a number of changes, including holding more pet-adoption events at pet stores, placing of more animals in foster homes, increasing animal “rescues” by nonprofit organizations, adding programs to neuter feral cats and adopt some out as “barn cats,” and increasing from four to six the number of days a veterinarian is at the Kent shelter each week.

Keeping the death rate low for the entire year may be difficult because the shelters typically become crowded during the summer, Dams said. January and February are not busy months.

“We have the mandate. We have the will to do it, and we are planning to do it,” Dams said. “Whether we can do it during the [busy] times of the year is a question. Do we have the resources to do it?”

The number of animals euthanized because they were considered unadoptable for health or temperament reasons dropped to 34 percent in 2007, from nearly 40 percent in 2006, Dams said.

The county shelters housed 11,801 animals in 2007 and euthanized 4,054.

County Councilmember Julia Patterson, prime sponsor of the “no-kill” policy, welcomed the lower death figures. “That’s the kind of news that we’ve been looking for, we’ve been asking for, for close to a year now,” she said.

But Patterson said she would seek confirmation that the new numbers are consistent with the County Council’s methodology.

She also cautioned that the shelters’ performance will be judged on the basis of a full year, not a two-month period.

The shelters have been under close scrutiny since the council passed the no-kill policy last May and a citizens advisory committee reported in September that conditions in the two shelters were “deplorable,” with too many animals being killed because of poor health and lack of an aggressive adoption effort.

The County Council will receive a report Monday from national no-kill-movement activist Nathan Winograd on whether the county is capable of creating a model animal-care program. The council has signaled it may shut down both animal shelters if it doesn’t believe they can be adequately improved.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or