The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Wolfgang Kurtz
LOG Editor 

City adopts animal shelter


Wolfgang Kurtz | The Seward Phoenix LOG

A Jan. 22 change in management at the city's Alice Picket Memorial Animal Shelter has hastened the arrival of a regulation animal control vehicle, new furniture, uniforms and new policies. As the management role has migrated to the City of Seward payroll, Animal Control Supervisor Shelli McDowell has remained the woman in charge with over four years of operations experience. The community continues to work toward funding construction of a new facility.

New police uniforms and a shiny, fully decked out sport utility vehicle go with the territory as former animal control contractor Shelli McDowell marks out a new year as a sworn officer of the paw. With her Jan. 22 hire onto the City of Seward payroll, the Alice Picket Animal Shelter and staff are now directly subordinate to the Seward Police Department under her management. It all came about because of IRS regulations and insurance requirements, and now the past separation of perch and state is no longer, with the city in the catbird seat.

Under the old arrangement, McDowell headed up a nonprofit organization that kept a contract with the city to maintain and operate the animal shelter. She used her own vehicle to patrol the city and vicinity, and welcomed the support of local businesses and an enthusiastic pack of volunteers. Donations from businesses and friends along with cutting corners and coupons kept the operation running on a shoestring budget. Now, the downtown animal house is going through some changes and improvements.

Along with her part-time animal control assistant, Megan O'Leary, McDowell now keeps extended hours as the faciity is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The facility itself is undergoing a minor renaissance, as the cracked concrete floors of the kennel areas are due to be coated with a polymer material which will improve sanitation and reduce disease. Furniture is being replaced and will be in around the same time McDowell finally gets her uniform's trousers hemmed.

The city-issued animal control vehicle, a SPD SUV, has police lights and the rear of the vehicle is sectioned off into an animal detention center. McDowell says that she's just getting comfortable with driving it as she was initially leery of getting it dirty, preferring to use her faithful old beater. However, the changes are not merely cosmetic as McDowell can now directly enforce the law and issue tickets. McDowell stresses the benefits of educating the public rather than ticketing them. Although she says that sometimes the one leads to the other.

According to McDowell, one down side to the new job is a fairly short leash that ties her down within city limits. Where she used to travel around the area on her own time to take care of outlying situations, now McDowell is formally required to stay in the yard. She sees a need to continue working for a practical solution for animal control between Cooper Landing, Moose Pass and Bear Creek. Notwithstanding her new limitations, McDowell says that animals in need of her special attentions have been trafficked into city limits in the past and she doesn't know what could reform that immigration.

Another hurdle is newly articulated objections by the city's insurers against having any volunteers involved in the operations of the facility. McDowell says that during summer months, surrogate owners arrive expecting to have a deserving pet waiting for them while they vacation or work seasonally in the area. She doesn't know if those volunteer pet sitters and pet walkers are going to be disappointed this year. Year-round residents, including the elderly and disabled, have also benefitted from the brief companionship of a shelter resident. Research into workarounds is being conducted.

Despite a new raft of rules and regulations, McDowell is confident that volunteers will continue to have a big role to play in the success of the local animal control program. She says that they keep positive momentum behind fundraising for a new shelter and pressure on the city to keep the shelter a humane destination for wayward domestic pets and the occasional black bear. Although McDowell says that she can't see how the transition to direct city management could have happened better, she says that's due to the character of her SPD higher-ups.

McDowell is concerned that with inevitable changes in management at SPD, the euthanizing of animals may gain greater acceptance. She says the only way to permanently stay the execution of pets is to set relevant animal control policy in the city code. She says that many in the community would like to see Seward be home to the first formally designated no-kill animal shelter in the state.

The Seward Animal Shelter Fur Ball, AKA A Cause for Paws, is the upcoming fundraiser for a new Seward Animal Shelter. The event takes place all day March 29 beginning at 11 a.m. with a pet walk from Chinooks to the Branson Pavilion where there will be hot drinks, hot dogs and treats for the pets. Suggested minimum donations for the walk are $10 per family, $5 per individual. At 6 p.m. the Fur Ball begins upstairs at Chinooks Waterfront Restaurant with Blackwater Railroad Company playing during the silent auction and appetizer/wine tasting. The Rebel Blues starts playing at 9 p.m. Tickets are available at Chinooks for $35 per person before March 22, $45 after.


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