Animals, real and figurative, were a recent concern in Kenai. The city will install a series of animal sculptures in its municipal park and continue a debate over outdoor drop-off kennels in its animal shelter.
The first Kenai city council meeting of 2015 began with public comments from Tim Colbath of Nikiski, animal activist and operator of the non-profit Extended Life Animal Sanctuary of Nikiski, who spoke on the recent closure of the Kenai animal shelter’s outdoor drop-off kennels. The kennels, intended to receive unwanted domestic animals brought to the city-run shelter after its hours of operation, were closed at the end of December. Animal control officers said they left animals exposed to hazardous overnight temperatures, and that the drop-off did not allow the shelter to collect information, such as an animal’s age, temperament, and health, to ease its adoption.
Colbath, who had spoken on the same subject to the Kenai Peninsula borough assembly the previous evening, told the council that while drop-off kennels were not the best solution to the problem of animal collection, their closure created problems of its own. He claimed that the closure had been partially motivated by pragmatic concerns about the shelter’s numbers.
“This has less to do with the improvement of the humane treatment of animals, and more about the reduction of animals that the shelter handles, as well as restricting of intake to animals only in your jurisdiction… that is highly problematic here on the Kenai Peninsula,” Colbath said.
Because the borough has no animal control, the Kenai shelter takes in a number of animals from outside the city. According to City Manager Rick Kock, 360 of the 1072 animals that entered the shelter in 2014 were known to have come from outside of Kenai. Many of the 255 animals left anonymously in the drop-off kennel in 2014 may also be from outside Kenai, although the shelter had no way to collect this information. Colbath alleged that the city had closed the drop-offs in part to avoid spending its resources on non-Kenai animals. The practical effect of the closure, he said, was to make the shelter’s services inaccessible.
“By having the hours of 11-5:30, you greatly reduce the time that the shelter is available to the general public,” said Colbath. “People that work can’t access the shelter, It’s either not open when they go to work, or closed by the time they get off of work. This closure of the drop-off boxes effectively eliminates a good samaritan being able to bring in a stray animal.”
Colbath asked the city to consider extending the shelter’s hours of operation to compensate for the loss of the drop-offs. He also encouraged the city to keep the drop-off kennels open, saying that even though anonymous drop-offs created problems for animal control workers and the city, they allowed the receipt of animals that otherwise would not have been taken in.
After Colbath gave his scheduled remarks, 6 unscheduled speakers made comments to the council in support of Colbath’s statements. Several of them had come to speak after seeing Colbath’s announcement of the meeting on the Kenai Pet Owner’s Facebook page. Following the public comments, the city council members decided to schedule an examination of the issue at their next meeting on December 28.
The council’s second discussion, regarding a set of carved wooden animals to be installed in the Kenai municipal playground, was a continuation of the previous council meeting in December. At that meeting the council had voted to upgrade and renovate the playground. Although the wooden animals were also considered as part of the playground upgrade, they were not voted on at that meeting in part because of the absence of Kenai Mayor Pat Porter. Porter had initiated the proposed sculptures independently of the council, recruiting local sculptor Derek Stanton to design and create the pieces pending the council’s approval, and raising $30,000 in donations for playground renovation under an “Enchanted Forest” theme. The five proposed sculptures were estimated to cost $7,000.
Issues raised with regard to the carved animals included their playability and the fact that they had been sourced from a single artist without a search for alternatives.
The council’s student representative Allie Ostrander, a Kenai Central Senior, said that although the carvings were appropriate to the park’s theme, she would not support them.
“The park is really more for the kids than the adults, and I don’t think it’s very important to the kids what the theme of the park is, as long as it’s fun to play there,” Ostrander said.
Council member Navarre spoke in favor of the sculptures, saying that they would accomplish the council’s goal of “trying to make the park a destination.”
“It’s all encompassing. You advertise it, you promote it, you let people know where it’s at. It’s appealing for a lot of things,” Navarre said. “I think one thing you’ll get, in today’s technology with selfies and photographs, that people will take pictures at our municipal park, around our welcome sign, if that’s what the moose or the bear is holding.”
Council member Brian Gabriel recounted a personal experience in support of the carvings.
“It kind of brought back a memory I had of when we were moving to Alaska, and I was six years old,” Gabriel said. “We were driving through Canada, I think it was the Yukon, and we stopped for lunch or to camp or whatever, and there was a park there. One of the things I specifically remember is had these carved wooden totem poles that drew you to the park right away. So I think they can be interactive. A lot of parks have these peripheral items that aren’t necessarily play apparatuses.”
After council member Terry Bookey spoke against the carvings in agreement with Ostrander’s statement that they added little playability, Porter gave a rebuttal.
“To me it’s a very important part of that park to carry through with a little bit of fun in it,” Porter said. “The fun doesn’t just have to be equipment. The fun can be places that a photo-op can take place, too. I guarantee you that photos will be taken in front of that moose (sculpture) that’s there.”
Although the price of the sculptures did not make them subject to the competitive bidding required for all city purchases above $15,000, Council member Ryan Marquis said he was reluctant to commission them from Stanton without examining alternatives.
“It bothers me that we would award something like this just by going to and talking to one person,” Marquis said. “I don’t know if $7,000 is a reasonable price for this, and I don’t know how this one person is lucky enough to get the exclusive business of the city.”
Marquis was also concerned about the insurability of the sculptures.
“I know a little about liability and the standards that are involved in playground equipment, and I think it’s in the city’s interest that when purchasing equipment that children will actually be playing on, to meet the standards required,” Marquis said. “I think it would be important for the city to talk to possibly our insurance company, to be sure that installing non-playground designed, non-standard equipment in there for children to play on would be something they’d cover if there was an issue.”
In response to Marquis’ first concern, the mayor said that she would not have a problem if other artists were allowed to compete for the creation of the carvings. In response to Marquis’ second concern, Gabriel said it was inaccurate to consider the sculptures as play equipment requiring insurance.
“I envision these as not necessarily being play equipment, but more as interactive pieces… nothing like a slide or merry-go-round or anything like that. I think it’s just a way to attract (people) to the park,” Gabriel said.
The council subsequently voted 3-4 in favor of commissioning the animal carvings from Stanton. The meeting concluded with a closed executive session, at which the council gave city clerk Sandra Modigh a contract of employment for the next two years.
Reach Ben Boettger at firstname.lastname@example.org