Friday, July 28, 2017
[San Mateo] County animal control called into question
Following allegations of animals not being well taken care of at a local shelter, the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury is recommending officials look beyond contracting with the Peninsula Humane Society.
The volunteer citizens group also noted stakeholders in the county’s $20 million effort to build a new shelter have raised concerns as to whether the current renovation plans are adequate.
The grand jury released a report Monday focused on the county’s long-awaited plan to reconstruct its 65-year-old shelter, which it pays the nonprofit PHS nearly $6.3 million a year to operate and provide animal control services.
The grand jury investigated animal control services and the shelter following a dispute that began last year between PHS executives and union workers, which led to allegations of abuse and mismanagement.
Officials with the county’s Health System noted an inspection was completed following those allegations and no evidence of abuse or neglect was found. Still, it’s working with a doctor specializing in veterinary forensic science to follow up and make recommendations, according to the Health System.
“Over the next 90 days, we expect to evaluate fully the grand jury’s recommendations, as well as those of our independent contractor, to ensure that San Mateo County is providing appropriate resources for the welfare of the animals in our care,” Cassius Lockett, county director of Public Health, said in an email.
But the grand jury suggests now is the time for the county to consider opening the doors to other offers for animal control services as PHS’ contract is slated to expire in 2020. It also recommends the county redefine a new agreement ensuring proper facility maintenance, conduct performance audits, provide more oversight and consider including adoptions at the new facility.
Pet adoptions are currently offered at PHS’ Tom Lantos Center for Compassion, a massive Burlingame facility it opened in 2011 after raising millions of dollars in donations.
The county’s relationship with PHS dates back to 1952 when the nonprofit began operating the existing facility at 12 Airport Blvd. Unlike other counties which conduct their own animal-related services, San Mateo County hires the nonprofit PHS. Its contract includes sheltering strays, enforcing animal control laws, removing dead wildlife, providing veterinary treatment to animals in their care, issuing pet licenses, euthanizing sick or injured animals and investigating complaints, according to the report.
The relationship has been strained at times, with some even calling for a split. But the partnership has continued and the county and PHS are collaborating on plans for a new $21 million shelter that aims to provide healthier living conditions for animals in the county’s care. But now, the grand jury suggests the county consider expanding the scope with what agencies it might contract instead of defaulting to PHS.
The report also suggests the county’s Health System and Department of Public Works did not adequately inspect the facility or adequately audit its contractor until allegations were made about poor living conditions and concerns for animal safety.
“It has been clear to both PHS/SPCA and [Public Works] for a number of years that the existing shelter in the city of San Mateo is outdated and suffers from a level of deterioration that restricts necessary repairs and upgrades, and does not adequately meet the desired standards for animal care,” the grand jury wrote in its report.
The report does credit the Health System for promptly responding to media reports in late 2016, including the independent veterinarian who investigated the facility.
PHS representatives have argued allegations of abuse were inaccurate and sparked by a labor dispute. Instead, officials note PHS has been a tireless advocate for improvements at the shelter.
“One of the most important points missing from the grand jury’s report is that it was PHS/SPCA who has been incessantly lobbying San Mateo County and the 20 incorporated cities since 2003 to build an improved and updated facility at Coyote Point,” PHS Communications Manager Buffy Martin-Tarbox said in an email.
Regardless of whether the PHS remains its chosen contractor, the county has an obligation to provide an appropriate facility and the nonprofit has provided its expertise and free consultation in working on the design of the new facility, she said.
The aged facility suffers from insufficient ventilation, flooding in the parking lot, needed roof repairs and other issues. Other unfavorable conditions such as cats being stressed while overly exposed to dog barking, are also problematic, according to the report. In 2014, the county officially agreed to reconstruct a new shelter after agreements were made with the various local cities that pay for and receive services.
But now, some stakeholders have apparently raised flags about whether the new plans will be adequate. Even with a $20 million budget, the 25,000-square-foot shelter will be just 60 percent the size of the current outdated facility. The report notes the smaller size doesn’t provide space to accommodate adoptions, which could prove problematic if the county decides to part ways with PHS in the future. The grand jury also concluded budget constraints delayed construction on the new animal shelter and the county’s oversight of its animal control services agreement has been insufficient, according to the report.
The county’s relationship with the PHS hasn’t always been smooth sailing, and the report suggests the county open itself up to other offers for animal control services when its contract expires. That would include a request for proposals process whereby other agencies could compete for the county’s contract.
The county Board of Supervisors is required to respond to the grand jury’s recommendations, but is not mandated to follow through.
Martin-Tarbox said the PHS has long been a proponent of better animal care in the county by reducing euthanasia rates, creating charitable programs and services, and is supportive of expanding adoption options.
“Since our founding in 1952, we have strove to improve the lives and health of the animals in San Mateo County,” Martin-Tarbox said. “We have never suggested that the county should omit adoptions from the Coyote Point facility. In fact, by choosing to bear the financial burden of providing adoptions and other services, we have saved the county money and thus made it possible for the county to proceed within its limited budget.”
July 18, 2017
San Mateo Daily Journal
By Samantha Weigel