Sunday, May 6, 2012

(Contra Costa County) Report: Antioch animal shelter controls costs better than county but lacks in services

By Paul Burgarino - Contra Costa Times -

Antioch has not kept up with the county when it comes to programs and services provided at local animal shelters and must find ways to add volunteers and provide lower spay and neuter fees, according to a recently released grand jury report.

Although Antioch appears to be doing better at controlling costs than its county counterpart, the Contra Costa grand jury last month said the city's shelter has substantially less space and services for each animal, and fewer people providing for their care.

The percentages of animals adopted, transferred out and euthanized in both shelters are similar, according to the report.

Antioch officials say the grand jury was correct in acknowledging the shelter's shortcomings but misses the mark as far as its criticisms.

"I would argue that we've done a great job with the resources that we have, and the report reinforces it. We are meeting the needs of the city," Antioch police Chief Allan Cantando said. "Our percentages are in the ballpark of the county at a third of the cost. We have relatively similar results for much cheaper."

Antioch voters decided in 1978 to create a separate animal shelter, with the intention of providing better services. Its shelter opened in 1991 and has not been upgraded, though the city's population has increased by 60 percent to almost 104,000.

Antioch's animal services ran on a budget of near $744,000 in the 2010-11 fiscal year, compared with the county's $11.6 million program.
The annual cost per animal was $250.30 in Antioch and $750.41 for the county.

Glenn Howell, the county's animal service director, said the report's calculations in showing the cost per animal is flawed because some cases are more expensive than others. He added that the county shelter strives for a high level of service and medical care.

According to the report, spay and neuter fees at the Antioch shelter are two to four times higher than the county rates, suggesting the city should seek quotes for low-cost services from other local vets. Antioch officials say they have done this, but veterinarians as business owners have balked at the prospects of losing money.

The county has tried to keep fees as low as possible to encourage owners to get the procedure and reduce pet overpopulation, Howell said.

According to the report, the Antioch shelter does not have enough volunteers to adequately care for the number of animals it processes. It has an animal-to-volunteer ratio of 23.6 to 1, while the county's ratio is 3.13 to 1.

The East Contra Costa city laid off its volunteer coordinator in 2010, leaving fewer resources to recruit, train and supervise volunteers, the report said. Antioch needs more volunteers so animals can get time out of kennels for socialization and playtime, which is part of their humane treatment, the report said.

Cantando said the shelter is working to build its volunteer corps back up, though limited funding makes it tough. He argues that Antioch should be entitled to the property tax its citizens pay to the county that winds up funding the county shelter, which would go a long way in helping address its staffing shortage.

About 40 percent of the county animal shelter's budget is funded by county general fund money, Howell said.
The Antioch shelter holds animals an average of 19 days, compared with the county's seven days, which the report suggests is due to its limited staff.

Antioch shelter supervisor Monika Helgemo, however, said the shelter holds the animals longer to give them a better chance of being adopted. The shelter has also tried to be more active through social media and adoption events to help animals find homes, she said.

The report says that both Antioch and the county create an advisory council of stakeholders to oversee costs related to animal care and to look for cheaper services.

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