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Whistleblower Accuses Oakland Animal Shelter of Systemic Abuse By MATTHEW ARTZ

Tuesday February 08, 2005

A former employee at the Oakland Animal Shelter has detailed what she says are systemic abuses by shelter management. The list of wrongdoings include euthanizing dogs that were cleared for adoption, euthanizing dogs without sedatives and in one case mistakenly leaving a live dog in a freezer in a barrel with dead dogs. 

“I just couldn’t be part of that anymore,” said Lori Barnabe, a veterinary technician and animal control officer with Oakland from 1999 through 2004. Barnabe, who now works for an animal hospital in Alameda, detailed her concerns about shelter management to Oakland officials last month in a five-page letter obtained by the Daily Planet. 

“We’re taking these charges very seriously,” said Oakland Deputy City Administrator Niccolo De Luca. He said Oakland Police, which run the shelter, were investigating Barnabe’s accusations and that the city administrator’s office would now take an active role in selecting the shelter’s next director. Last June, former Director Glenn Howell resigned to become Director of Animal Control Services for Contra Costa County. 

In response to the allegations, and the ongoing search for a permanent replacement to Howell, Oakland councilmembers Jane Brunner and Ignacio De La Fuente have called a town-hall meeting Thursday, Feb. 17. 

“We don’t have answers yet, but from what we have seen already in my opinion seems serious and needs serious investigation,” Brunner said. 

Oakland Police and shelter officials did not return phone calls for this story, but are expected to attend the meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. at Oakland City Hall. 

In addition to questioning the shelter’s euthanasia practices, Barnabe accused shelter brass of altering critical computer records to hide illegal euthanasias, holding dogs in kennels for cruel lengths of time, violating the rights of residents to retrieve their dogs, releasing stray dogs back to owners unneutered, failing to provide shelter workers with safety gloves, and overall neglect often resulting in unintended animal cruelty. 

“These practices need to be investigated before the hiring process for the shelter top position is complete,” Barnabe concluded in her letter.  

She accused Acting Director and longtime shelter official ReShan McClarty of violating state law governing euthanasia. Last Sept. 26, she wrote, McClarty ordered that 26 dogs be put to sleep even though the shelter had run out of a sedative. Barnabe also charged that the acting director ordered the euthanasia of a dog whose owner had said she would reclaim it.  

Moreover, she wrote, he erased information from computer memos that indicated that a rescue group wanted a particular dog and altered temperament information about the dog, making it seem more violent, after it was euthanized. 

On numerous occasions, she wrote, the shelter supervisor refused to speak to owners of impounded dogs, sometimes resulting in unnecessary boarding frees for owners. In one instance, according to Barnabe, the owner of an aggressive dog impounded by animal control was never given a hearing as required by shelter rules. It was held for over seven months and eventually euthanized, she added. 

A lack of proper procedures endangered both employees and animals at the shelter, Barnabe wrote. Instead of providing shelter workers with disposable rubber gloves when handling animals with communicable diseases like ringworm, scabies and mange, the shelter provided one pair of gloves to be shared by employees. 

Employees, she added, were never reprimanded for mistakes that unintentionally led to animal suffering. In one case, Barnabe wrote that kittens left to the shelter in the night drop box were not retrieved the following day, causing one of them to die from overheating. 

Pam Smith, a volunteer with the group Fix Our Ferals, said shelter management barred her from the shelter last year after she complained about abuses. 

“They’re very worried about their public face,” she said. “Anyone critical of them gets banned.” 

Police traditionally run city animal shelters. Berkeley, which transferred control of its shelter from the BPD to a civilian shelter administrator remains a rare exception.