Oakland Councilmember Jane Brunner has called for a city manager’s report to study transferring control of the much criticized Oakland Animal Shelter from police to civilian hands.
“I was struck by the fact that Berkeley’s kill rate [for shelter animals] is around 10 percent and ours is 54 percent,” she said. “We have to ask what are the policies they put in place there.”
Brunner’s request came after about 200 animal lovers packed City Council Chambers Thursday to decry what they said was poor leadership and systematic abuse of shelter animals.
“I’ve seen a lot,” said Kate Beck, who as a rescue worker at the Oakland shelter two years ago recalled employees violating euthanasia procedures by carting several dogs at a time to the euthanasia room and not properly sedating them. “One day I saw five dogs piled up on the trailer, and the dog on top which should have been sedated was alert and wagging its tail,” she said.
Oakland police opened an investigation of the shelter last month following detailed accounts of mismanagement and abuse from former shelter employee Lori Barnabe.
Recently appointed Police Chief Wayne Tucker said of the shelter: “We’ve got minor problems, some major, and we want to work on eliminating them quickly.” Last week, in light of new allegations of mismanagement, Tucker placed Acting Shelter Director RaeShon McClarty on administrative leave. McClarty is still a candidate to become the permanent shelter director.
Brunner and Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente called Thursday’s town hall meeting to address complaints about the shelter and seek citizen input as the city prepares to name a new shelter director. The position has been vacant since longtime director Glenn Howell left last June to take over animal control services in Contra Costa County.
“We need to find someone who is committed to the ethical treatment of animals and who makes sure no healthy animal is euthanized,” said Cathy Marks at Thursday’s meeting.
According to Barnabe, among a long list of violations, the shelter euthanized dogs that were cleared for adoption, and euthanized dogs without sedatives. In one case it mistakenly left a live dog in a freezer in a barrel with dead dogs.
Although the city closed the application process last week with 14 applicants, Brunner said Oakland officials were considering upgrading the shelter manager’s classification and salary to draw more applicants.
Currently the job pays $65,000—far below the salary offered by other large cities, said San Francisco Director of Animal Care and Control Carl Friedman in a Friday interview. “With the money they’re offering it would be hard to attract people with good knowledge and a proven history in field,” said Friedman, who earns approximately $130,000.
Four years ago Berkeley joined San Francisco as one of the few U.S. cities to completely separate its police department from its animal shelter. Many of those in attendance Thursday wanted Oakland to follow suit.
“We don’t need police officers there,” said Jacquee Castain, who echoed the sentiments of those who argued that police control hindered shelters from teaming up with civilians to find homes for sheltered animals. “We need to put police officers back in the police department.”
“It’s very difficult for an animal shelter to be under the police,” said Friedman. “If you’re under another agency it just quadruples the bureaucracy and makes it harder to have the authority to hire and fire people.”
Still nearly every municipal animal shelter in California is operated by local police departments, and Deputy City Manager Niccolo De Luca didn’t foresee Oakland going to civilian control.
“It’s basically a public safety responsibility,” he said. “I don’t see where else it could go.”
One prominent animal rescue worker, who declined to give her name, said that for now Oakland animal control officers could face physical danger if they weren’t affiliated with the police department. “The relationship protects the animal control officers when they have to confiscate an animal,” she said. “If they didn’t have that badge, people would lash out at them.”
Berkeley, which switched to civilian oversight in 2001, has seen the kill rate for sheltered cats and dogs sink from approximately 66 percent in 1997, when the shelter admitted 2,904 dogs and cats to about 7 percent last year, when 1,651 were admitted.
In San Francisco, 21 percent of the 11,877 animals taken to the shelter last year were euthanized, nearly all of which were classified as “unadoptable” due to illness, Friedman said. Nine years earlier, he said, the shelter took in 18,064 animals and killed 6,720 of them, about 40 percent.
Officials at both shelters credited the reduced intake and kill rates on aggressive spay and neuter policies and strengthened ties with rescue organizations that take many of the animals that don’t get adopted.
By contrast, at the Oakland Shelter, roughly 48 percent (2,227) of the 4,623 animals impounded last year were euthanized, according to a shelter report. Of the 2,455 dogs impounded, 1,338 (54 percent) were euthanized.
OPD Sergeant Dave Cronin, the shelter’s interim director, acknowledged the statistics were troubling, but said at least when it came to dogs, Oakland is at a disadvantage. “Other shelters usually receive a more adoptable type of dog,” he said. “Sadly Oakland ends up with a lot of pit bulls and pit bull mixes that society is less willing to adopt.”