Kirkland’s furry friends may find an unfamiliar face in town as the Kirkland Police Department welcomes a new member who’ll help lost pets reunite with their owners.
“A lot of times, as the animal control officer, I will be (people’s) first run-in with law enforcement,” said Jennifer Matison, who officially begins her work with the new year. “I want to make it as positive and friendly as possible.”
Kirkland launches the Animal Services program Monday, which will replace the current contract with the Regional Animal Services of King County. The RASKC served 26 other cities as of Jan. 1 2016, and the city decided not to renew the county contract in favor of starting its own program.
Matison, as the sole animal control officer, will oversee the program, which aims to improve upon the county’s services by providing city-focused pet licensing, community education, swift pet recovery and animal-related law enforcement.
“(Anyone) can contact me at any time if they need advice on animal-related issues,” she said, “via phone or email. I don’t want them to think I’m just the dog catcher and I want to be a resource for them.”
Matison has a love for animals that stems back to her early childhood. She said she was always the kid who brought home a stray.
“Looking back, I even brought home lizards from Florida in my carry-on. I was a big animal person,” she said.
Matison worked as a surgical assistant for a veterinary neurologist and orthopedic surgeon before joining KPD in September. She primarily handled emergency cases involving badly injured or ill animals.
She said the job reinforced her passion for helping animals and educating owners, which eventually led her to combine the experience with her criminal justice degree.
“I have giant soft spot for animals and I think education is huge when it comes to pet owners,” she said. “So me being that person who helps provide educational info to keep these animals safe and healthy…that was very appealing.”
The city, during its Nov. 1 2016 meeting, decided to end its contract with RASKC, which expires Sunday, in favor of providing a local service, funded by pet licensing fees. Council finally made the move after renewing the contract twice and extending it once. They reviewed the data each time and considered the costs versus the benefits.
“(It’s been) six years and we’ve been having this conversation the entire time,” said council member Penny Sweet at a meeting. “Every time we look at the data it’s more positively reinforced. I think this is a responsible move on our part for our citizens.”
The city-run program will improve on the county program primarily through Matison, who only has focus on one city. She aims to shorten response times, build a relationship with residents and provide education opportunities.
“I feel like with me being right here in the city, versus helping out nine other cities, it will get done a lot faster,” Matison said.
Matison has studied similar programs in Edmonds and Bothell and is currently ordering supplies, getting to know the community and taking over all the pet licensing data from the county.
There are nearly 10,000 pet license holders in Kirkland and any renewals will be processed through the city. Additionally, new licenses will be available at City Hall and at the Kirkland Justice Center.
The city does not plan to open its own animal shelter, intending to partner with the Everett Animal Shelter to take in strays or unlicensed pets.
Temporary kennels are installed at the KJC to house licensed or chipped animals while Matison contacts the owners. The city emphasized that the program will strive to swiftly recover lost pets and avoid sending licensed pets to the shelter.
Matison said that she’ll likely reunify most owners with their pets right away, as long as they’re chipped or licensed.
“I want to help people and I want to help animals,” she said. “If they feel overwhelmed or they just need somebody to take care of it, I will be that person. They can always call me and I can help.”