Monday, July 14, 2014
(Mendocino County) Another Voice: Shelter volunteer answers grand jury
Ukiah Daily Journal
Having been a volunteer at the Mendocino County Animal Care Services Shelter in Ukiah for the past 8 years, I feel an obligation to correct several misstatements and add a few points, in regards to the Mendocino County Grand Jury's report on, and a Ukiah Daily Journal opinion piece about, the shelter.
While I appreciate the time, energy and concern the grand jury afforded the ongoing operation of the shelter, and recognize that most institutions, etc, can always be improved, I feel several facts from the report were unfair, untrue, and inflammatory.
The report states that the shelter is overcrowded, and this comment is, unfortunately, correct. The shelter was designed and built with 46 double-sided dog kennels in 2003; a better time, perhaps, in our county's care and concern of pets. According to the report, "The Shelter attempts to house 100 to 150 dogs and 70 to 80 cats per day. The grand jury observed there is insufficient housing for this number of animals. Overflow animals are housed in various animal crates."
At times when the shelter is crowded, several kennels are doubled up; but with only 46 kennels, dogs would need to be tripled up in every kennel to allow for 150 guests, which is simply not the case. (As I write this, Sunday, July 6, there were 55 dogs at the shelter.) There are various stand-alone crates in several staff rooms, used to house small and timid dogs who need special attention and care.
The report continues: "Overcrowding is so severe that the facility cannot do its core job (finding homes or disposing of animals) with respect to animals placed in its care." This statement is particularly vexing, because in reality, whatever the faults at the shelter, the adoption rate is pretty astounding -- with the average being 40-45 dogs a month; that number has gotten as high as 65. (This figure does not include dogs transferred to rescues, foster care homes, or found by their owners and returned home. If that number of adoptions doesn't impress, try thinking of it as two to three adoptions a day.
While I cannot speak for all the staff and volunteers at the shelter, I believe most of them would disagree with the report's finding that the overcrowding has a "very serious effect on staff morale and is severely detrimental to the well-being of the animals." Instead, the overcrowding usually has the effect of making an already admirable, hard-working, dedicated staff work harder; calls are made to rescues and foster homes, advertising in print and social media is increased.
The Daily Journal's opinion piece stated throwing money at a problem is not a solution, and though I can agree at times with that statement , in the case of the shelter, I think increased funding would be the start of a solution. Yes, the shelter is run down, has a rat "problem," and apparently has a headache-inducing computer software issue with Animal Control. But these are not new problems or a result of current management as much as administrative short-sightedness. And though I cannot speak to the assertions that Animal Care and Animal Control have an acrimonious relationship, I can say that in eight years I have not witnessed people being turned away when attempting to surrender a dog, as the grand jury reports.
As I mentioned, the shelter contains 46 kennels, a small number when seen in light of the county and city's growth. Current financial strain has forced countless individuals to surrender their pets. And for every dog adopted, you can bet two or three enter the shelter system. It's a continuous, daunting, tough environment to be in, and that makes the staff and volunteer's dedication more impressive. For those of us who have watched the shelter change from a place where animals were sold for medical experiments, then held and euthanized in several days, to the current setup, going back in time would be heartbreaking. While not perfect, the current shelter is a place that attracts people from near and far because of the variety of the dogs and the concern and assistance of the staff. (Again, as I write this, yesterday three adoptions were made to folks from Walnut Creek, Oakland, and Oregon.)
So, what is the answer? Right now there's a good amount of finger-pointing but not much in the way of solutions. Can the shelter improve? Of course: in the past half a year, the rat problem has been addressed; much-needed and often-requested updates and weatherization to the kennel areas have been installed, which will keep the dogs warmer during the winter. (Volunteers dream of air conditioners or fans for the outside kennel areas.)
We wish people would recognize their obligations towards their animal friends, neuter their pets, and make sure they are safe. But unfortunately, man's best friend is treated as so much disposable entertainment. Until people become responsible, pet overpopulation resulting in over-burdened shelters will continue to be an issue and problem. Our shelter is just one of thousands across the country, but with all it's shortcomings, we do a pretty amazing job.
I've watched the shelter go through several organizational changes over the past eight years, and as such, I don't believe a transfer to another county department is the answer. The concept may sound good on paper, but I would like to know the consequences and repercussions of such an action.
In the meantime, volunteers are always needed at the shelter, and folks are invited to attend a one-hour orientation every first Wednesday of the month. If you are unable to observe the shelter first hand, please keep in mind that every day, dedicated staff and faithful volunteers are trying their best to aid and comfort our pets. Please spay or neuter yours, get your dog microchipped and make sure the information is up to date. Keep your pets safe, but if for some reason your dog or cat is lost, visit or contact the shelter immediately.
– Kathy Shearn, and Rod Coots, Mariah Mountanos, Nancy Commons, Shanna L. Phillips are all from Ukiah