Oklahoma City’s animal welfare division is a lot like many of the stray dogs in its shelter — unwanted and in need of a good home. City council members questioned Tuesday what to do with animal welfare as a planned reorganization dissolves the neighborhood services department, which currently runs it. The department’s functions are being parceled off to other areas where city officials think they can be done more efficiently. But City Manager Jim Couch acknowledged there is no logical home for animal welfare, which has been a part of several different departments over the years. Couch has proposed including animal welfare in a new development services department. But council members were skeptical about lumping it with functions like business licensing and zoning.
New duty for zoo?Several council members suggested the zoo should take over animal welfare, which runs the animal shelter at 2811 SE 29 and sends officers to respond to stray and vicious animal complaints. The zoo is run separately from other city functions by a public trust. City officials said zoo leaders are worried about retaining veterinarians and other professionals who want to work with zoo animals, not euthanizing stray dogs and cats. "At the end of the day, the zoo doesn’t want it,” Mayor Mick Cornett said. "Do you really want to force upon another department, in this case another trust, responsibilities that they just don’t want to assume?” Ward 4 Councilman Pete White said he doesn’t understand why the city would abandon the idea of putting the zoo in charge of animal welfare because zoo staff members don’t want the responsibility. White said no one likes the idea of euthanizing 20,000 animals a year. "We ought to poll all the vets at the shelter and see how many of them like running a doggie Dachau,” White said, referring to the Nazi concentration camp. "I suspect very few of them do. It’s just a hard job that somebody’s got to do, and it seems to me it just fits more with animals and the zoo.” A zoo spokeswoman said Executive Director Dwight Scott was out of the state and could not be reached for comment. Assistant City Attorney Diane Lewis said there could also be legal hurdles to the idea. The zoo trust was formed with the specific purpose of operating a zoo, not animal welfare. "We’d be happy with having some discussions with the zoo,” Couch said.