Community Editorial: Replace Our 70-Year-Old Animal Shelter

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World Animal Day is celebrated each year on October 4. On this day, animal life in all its forms is celebrated and observed by animal lovers of all beliefs, nationalities and backgrounds through special events in locations all over the globe.

With this special day in mind, the subject of the county animal shelter is relevant.

The current county shelter, located at 561 The City Drive South in Orange, was initially built during World War II to serve a population of 200,000 people. As of 2010, the population of Anaheim alone was 336,265 and expected to reach 400,000 by 2014. Surprisingly, our present county shelter has contracted to serve the residents of Anaheim plus 17 other cities and all the unincorporated areas of Orange County. Wow!

The Orange County Board of Supervisors has advised the public that replacing the animal shelter is a priority. Perhaps we misunderstood the different ways of ranking priorities. During these last two decades, concerned citizens and the Orange County grand jury have repeatedly voiced the need for a new shelter.

In 2008 the South County Animal Shelter Coalition addressed the Board of Supervisors and stated that their research indicated multiple smaller shelters, like those of our surrounding counties, are more advisable because they are better able to provide care than one large shelter.

Neither has been accomplished to date.

Perhaps some residents may feel that spending money on a new shelter for nonhuman animals would conflict with the needs of human animals and that the needs of humans should supersede a new shelter.

I’m not suggesting that human animals and nonhuman animals are equal, but are we to wait until all those human needs are met or resolved? When is that likely to occur? Some residents may feel a new shelter is a “special agenda,” but don’t we all have special agendas?

Our Chapman University in Orange is also the home of the prestigious Albert Schweitzer Institute. Schweitzer was a theologian, musician, philosopher, physician and medical missionary in Africa.

The keynote of Schweitzer’s personal philosophy — which he considered to be his greatest contribution to mankind and the reason he won the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize — was the idea of reverence for life. He not only believed it, he lived it. He thought that Western civilization was decaying because it had abandoned affirmation of life as its ethical foundation.

In 1923, Albert Schweitzer predicted that “the time is coming … when people will be astonished that man-kind needed so long a time to regard thoughtless injury to life as incompatible with ethics.”

Dr. Schweitzer’s prediction has become reality.

In July 2012 at a conference in the United Kingdom, the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness was issued by a prominent group of international scientists, which included highly regarded Stephen Hawking.

In layman’s terms, the declaration stated that science has proven nonhuman animals “are indeed conscious and capable of experiencing human emotions.”

While that may sound like a “duh” kind of declaration to animal lovers, it’s actually a big deal for such a prominent group of scientists to openly acknowledge that they believe nonhuman animals possess conscious states similar to humans. Joseph Dial, conference organizer, goes on to say, “The way in which we have understood animal consciousness was very primitive and very backward.”

We as a society have now become enlightened, and animal sheltering is changing.

The county officials and officials of these 17 cities also need to evolve. Animals are sentient beings; they have the ability to feel and perceive. Studies indicate they require environmental enrichment, not just basic needs.

Shelter animals in particular need this to help them tolerate the shelter confinement and make them better candidates for adoption. A new shelter environment would also be more inviting to prospective adopters and increase adoptions, as I have heard countless people state their reservation to visiting the current county shelter.

I believe the current shelter manager, Ryan Drabek, and staff along with many dedicated volunteers accomplish as much as they are able with the resources made available to them to handle the average of 28,000 animals a year. But rusting dog kennel gates are further evidence of the continuing decay of the shelter. Imagine yourself as one of the many scared and confused animals who enter that shelter every day.

It is clear the residents of Orange County, as well as the animals, need and deserve a new shelter or shelters.

The public was informed several years ago that a property in Tustin had been chosen for a new shelter. Hopes rose, but due to purported government red tape, it is feeling once again like an empty promise.

At this point, to reassure residents of the county’s commitment to building a new shelter, we need to see a project plan.

I believe it is good practice to have a formally agreed upon and version-controlled project management plan approved in the early stages of a project and applied throughout the project. We need to see unencumbered property or properties for the shelter or shelters which are appropriate and convenient for the residents and would allow construction to begin immediately. Most of all, we need to see a firm delivery date.

I am sure with their kind hearts and bright minds and their ambition to model respect, integrity, caring, trust and excellence, the Orange County Board of Supervisors can find a way to build a new animal shelter — now.

Or perhaps a Fortune 500 corporation — we have several in Orange County — or animal lover with a great deal of resources will exercise their philanthropic intentions.

After all, animals are nonpartisan.

Rose Tingle is a longtime Orange County resident who has long been a voice for animals and is a member of the Voice of OC Community Editorial Board.

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