Committee wraps up review of city’s animal control code

A city committee intended to sunset in December got an extension to finish its work. That work should be completed today at 5:15 p.m. in the City Hall conference room when the Sustainable Animal Control Review Committee, or SACRC, meets one last time. On its agenda is reviewing draft recommendations to submit to the Homer City Council.

Former council member Francie Roberts introduced the resolution creating the committee in August before her term expired. According to that resolution, the SACRC has these purposes:

• To review the Animal Control fine and fee schedule; 

• To review animal boarding policy;

• To review energy use at shelter; and

• To review opportunities for collaboration with Homer Animal Friends.

Roberts chairs the SACRC. Also on the committee are Homer Police Lt. William Hutt, Animal Shelter Director Sherry Bess, Homer Animal Friends representative Casey Moss, and Dr. Dorothy Sherwood, veterinarian and owner of the Homer Veterinary Clinic.

The city owns the animal shelter, a new facility built in 2005. Bess has managed the shelter for more than 20 years under several contracts. Through her business, Coastal Animal Care, Bess receives $130,000 annually to operate the shelter as an independent contractor of the city. Her contract expires on Jan. 1, 2017, but can be extended another two years by mutual consent. Coastal Animal Care was the successful bidder in 2013 for the 3-year contract.

Some citizens have used committee meetings to air grievances about how the animal shelter is run. In comments made at the meetings or submitted with the SACRC packet, people have spoken about the lack of oversight by the city, particularly by health professionals. Others spoke about how the shelter could better work with volunteers or rescue organizations. On social media, people have criticized things like the shelter’s cat adoption policy that does not allow cats to go to homes if they will live outdoors. 

People also have spoken or written in support of the shelter, noting how the shelter puts placement over euthanisizing animals. Bess said other Alaska shelters have sought her advice on housing cats and keeping them healthy and happy.

Roberts said many criticisms have been outside the SACRC’s mandate to improve the economics of the shelter.

“We’re not looking at the politics that people keep talking about,” Roberts said. “We’re looking at things to protect the city financially so the liability wouldn’t be as great.”

Bess said she understands that it’s the nature of shelter care that some people will disagree, perhaps because they’ve been denied an adoption or their animal was impounded. She said she’s noted the complaints.

“I am listening and I am hearing. I am understanding what you are saying,” Bess wrote in an email. “I am understanding what you are saying; I am taking your complaints and suggestions to heart.”

The meetings have resulted in some good, Bess wrote. For example, she said the shelter and Dr. Sherwood have revisited the idea of monthly visits at the shelter by veterinarians to be done pro bono, as a professional contribution at no charge. Bess also said she would like to create an advisory committee to the contractor. Hutt and another city official, deputy city clerk Melisa Jacobson, have volunteered to be on the advisory committee. Bess said she is seeking a representative from Homer Animal Friends, a nonprofit that supports the shelter and animal welfare. Other members would be a veterinarian and a shelter volunteer.

“What’s come out of the suggestions is a good thing,” Roberts said. “People who are about animals are going to try to work together.”

The SACRC has already finished its review of the Animal Control fine and fee schedule. Those recommendations were incorporated into the 2016 city budget and passed by the council as part of an ordinance making other changes to the city fee schedule. Changes included increasing the license fee for neutered and spayed dogs from $15 to $25 for 2 years and from $75 to $100 for nonneutered and spayed dogs to $100 for 2 years. It also raised the adoption fee from $15 to $75.

Under city code, all dogs living in the city must be licensed, with licenses good for two years. The Animal Shelter sells licenses and registers dog.

In its draft report, the SACRC has made recommendations about city liability and safety, improved maintenance of the shelter, and creating a volunteer release form.

Roberts said some unfinished business includes revisions to the city code regarding animals. For example, Roberts said several people suggested the code could be revised to require restraining dogs in the back of pickup trucks so they don’t get thrown from trucks or dragged by leashes. Some suggested the committee continue as a general Animal Shelter Committee, she said.

“Many people have said they wish this committee could continue forever,” Roberts said. “The council’s will seems to be the opposite.”

Roberts referred to the expense of running city committees, mostly for the cost of having a city clerk take notes and advise committees. Because of tight budgets, the council has been reducing committee meetings.

A council member or group of members still could make suggested changes to the city code, Roberts said.

“I don’t worry that just because our committee is dissolving the code won’t be looked at,” she said.

The public can speak on any matters on the agenda at the start of today’s meeting. It also can comment on any other matter at the close of the meeting. The packet and agenda is available at City Hall and at the city’s website at

Michael Armstrong can be reached at

Sustainable Animal Shelter Review Committee


Meets: 5:15 p.m. today

City Hall Conference Room


Members: Francie Roberts, William Hutt, Sherry Bess, Casey Moss, Dr. Dorothy Sherwood


Purpose: To review animal control fine and fee schedule, review animal boarding policy, review energy use at shelter and review opportunities for collaboration with Homer Animal Friends