Orange County Animal Shelter’s Kill Rate Has Advocates Sounding Alarms

Dogs that have been euthanized at the OC Animal Care shelter. (Photos courtesy of Sharon Logan)

Dogs that have been euthanized at the OC Animal Care shelter. (Photos courtesy of Sharon Logan)

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Orange County’s main animal shelter is putting down more than a third of the animals that come through its doors, a death rate that has animal advocates sounding alarms.

Of the 2,050 animals entering the county government’s sole shelter in October, 725 were euthanized, according to data from shelter officials. That makes for a euthanasia rate of 35 percent, compared with 22 percent in San Jose or as low as 3 to 5 percent in so-called “no-kill” communities like Austin and Kansas City.

“My heart literally sank when I saw those numbers,” said Sharon Logan, a Huntington Beach resident who runs an animal rescue. She obtained the monthly data as part of a settlement with the county in a lawsuit she filed, which alleged that county officials are too quick to euthanize dogs and cats.

Logan and her attorney, Howard Finkelstein, have put together a team to review monthly euthanasia datasets and follow up with getting documents from shelter officials detailing why specific animals were killed.

In particular, Logan says she’s concerned about the number of dogs that are immediately euthanized after being delivered by their owners.

Meanwhile, county officials say they are only euthanizing animals for reasons allowable under state law, and that the shelter’s euthanasia rate has dropped significantly in recent years.

“OC Animal Care is committed to continuing to follow state law regarding the euthanasia of animals impounded at the shelter and we intend to continue to fully comply with the criteria outlined in the settlement agreement,” said Katie Ingram, a spokeswoman for the county animal services department.

The law requires a waiting period of four to six business days before shelters can euthanize animals, with three exceptions: animals that are suffering from a serious illness or severe injury that can’t be cured; newborn animals that need maternal care and have been impounded without their mothers; or if an owner turns in their pet for euthanasia because it’s irremediably suffering or has a documented history of aggression.

If Logan and her team find violations, they can notify Superior Court Judge David Chaffee, who as part of Logan’s settlement agreement has the power to issue sanctions against the county.

‘Worst Shit That You’ve Ever Seen’

Lake Forest Councilman James Gardner, who is active on animal issues, says the high euthanasia rate is an indicator of major problems with the way Orange County shelters animals.

While the shelter has many documents and policies about how to kill animals, “they have almost nothing on how do you care for animals. Almost nothing on how do you make [them] marketable to the people,” Gardner said.

The documents include advice on how many animals to put on table at a time when killing them, he added. “Just the worst shit that you’ve ever seen in your life.”

When the shelter is killing as many animals as it does, Gardner said, it makes it harder to get volunteers to care for them.

“By having so few volunteers you dramatically…reduce the quality of the care. If you reduce the quality of the care, then on top of everything else, you’re also going to increase the death rate,” he added. “Orange County kills animals because they’re scared – honestly, because animals are scared, they’re put to death.”

(Click here to download the raw October euthanasia data.)

Shelter officials now that the euthanasia rate has declined dramatically in Orange County over the past few years – from 54 percent in 2011 to the current 35 percent – amid new initiatives at the shelter.

“Over the past few years, OC Animal Care has implemented a [trap-neuter-release] program to reduce the uncontrolled breeding and euthanasia of feral cats, hosted monthly low-cost pet adoption events, partnered with a low-cost spay/neuter mobile to host clinics at the shelter and implemented a shelter intervention program, through a creative partnership with OC Shelter Partners, which assists in keeping owner surrendered animals from entering the shelter system,” Ingram said.

“Additionally, OC Animal Care continues to work with non-profit rescue groups, veterinarians, local shelters and local pet stores, who assisted in finding alternative placement for more than 4,000 shelter animals last year.”

(Click here to see the multi-year euthanasia statistics.)

Logan said she was encouraged by a meeting Monday she and other animal advocates had Monday with Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who ultimately oversees the shelter with the other four county supervisors.

The meeting lasted for an hour and a half, and Bartlett’s chief of staff, former Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters, showed a strong interest in their cause and delving into the details, Logan said.

“I was really surprised,” Logan said. Walters was “very accommodating, very open, and he actually paid attention” and “asked a lot of valid questions and…showed concern.”

Walters said he’s going to recommend that Bartlett set up another meeting with the advocates, and invite the animal care director and her boss to it, according to Logan.

However, Gardner, who also attended the meeting, was more skeptical.

“There is no political will on the part of the supervisors to do the right thing. They have to have the right incentive,” Gardner said. “On no other issue are we doing as horrible a job as we’re doing with animal care. On no other issue has the grand jury come after the county as many times as it has. It’s the most disgraceful service that we provide.”

Bartlett and supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer didn’t return a messages seeking comment for this story.

A great example of animal sheltering practices can be found in Austin, where the shelter went from a “super-duper high kill” rate to no kill largely through involving the community, Logan said.

In Austin, she said, volunteers can get started walking dogs as soon as they sign a release, while in Orange County some have had to wait for a year or so before being allowed to help out.

“Orange County…needs to engage the community more and make it more easy and accessible for the community to come” and help, Logan said.

You can contact Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

  • Annie Nanimoss

    (shaking head)
    You have no idea how bad it really is over there. Really. Animals going without care for HOURS and sometimes DAYS that could have been saved. Suffering in cages unseen and untreated. Why? Look no further for that answer than the self-proclaimed “Chief Veterinarian” and Director of OC Animal Care, “Dr.” Jennifer Hawkins. She is overwhelmed, under qualified for the position and level of responsibility, lacking in experience, clueless and corrupt. Hawkins is MUCH more worried about surrounding herself with a protective barrier of cronies and overinflating their salaries in the hopes they will cover for her incompetence than she is concerned with the care and treatment of the animals under her control and legal obligation. But hey, who’s going to find out that OC Animal Care has no competent clinic Veterinarian anyway? Who’s going to know that Hawkins continues to eat up all the money originally designated for clinic Vets with her own historically outrageous salary (a generous gift from Steve Franks) or that she prefers to spend her time finding ways to gift County positions to her friends over more qualified candidates while the animals continue to suffer and die needlessly under her care? Who’s going to find out the animals are receiving less than adequate care since Hawkins has ensured there is no recorded proof of her and her contract Vet staff’s malpractice? If I have my way?
    Everyone.

    • LFOldTimer

      I have tremendous respect for veterinarians. I’m familiar with the process it takes to get accepted into a US college of vet medicine. It’s harder than gaining acceptance to medical school. And the training is super rigorous. It’s a great accomplishment to have a D.V.M. after one’s name. And the veterinarians I’ve known personally are great people. Most have a deep respect for animals and aren’t just chasing a dollar bill like I’ve seen with many human doctors. Why Hawkins would lower herself be a “yes woman” for the County of Orange is beyond me. My gawd, from what I read in the GJ and Performance Auditor reports animals were being openly abused at the shelter. How could any veterinarian be a part of that and look him or herself in the mirror each morning? No clue. Perhaps Hawkins is in over her head. I don’t know. But when she took over from Drabek the agency was in the state of total disarry. Gawd only knows why she accepted the Director job. It’s a one way road to burnout. Veterinarians should be protesting and boycotting OCAC in honor of their oaths, not working there.

      • Annie Nanimoss

        I agree with you about most Veterinarians. I’ve seen some really good people come through that clinic. Honest and dedicated to the care and protection of animals. Sadly, I’ve also seen some very bad people come through that clinic. Veterinarians who don’t think animals have feelings or can feel pain. The answer to your question of why Hawkins would accept the director position at OC Animal Care is an easy one. Greed. Pure and simple. Steve Franks thought bringing in a veterinarian as the director would solve all his problems so he threw a bunch of money at her and with all of her personal financial problems, she managed to convince herself that she was the best person for the job and took it. Naive and short sighted of Franks. Selfish and self serving of Hawkins. Because of those two, OC Animal Care and its animals are suffering even worse than before.

  • LFOldTimer

    OCAC and it’s management are untrustworthy. Promise after promise have been broken over the years. The agency abuses both the ones who are forced to use their services and the animals they are obligated under state law to house and treat. If you don’t believe me go read the 5 Grand Jury reports and the Performance Auditor report – the county’s premier oversight bodies.
    How fair and just is this? Dog owners who opt to obey the law and license their dogs and pay their fees are forced to subsidize the large, large majority of pet owners who ignore the licensing laws or, by the county’s choice, are exempt from the licensing laws. Way less than half of the dogs in the OCAC cities are licensed. OCAC overstates the licensing compliance rates by as much as 10% for each city. How? They use old 2010 population census data for 2014 and use flawed variables in their own compliance formula to inflate the compliance rates. You don’t believe me? Go to their webpage and to their statistics page. If you can do 9th grade math you can figure it out for yourselves. The large majority of dogs in OCAC are unlicensed, based on the CORRECT calculations. That means the minority of dog owners must subsidize the majority who ignore the licensing laws. Furthermore, cats are exempt from the licensing laws when cats use OCAC services more than dogs, Many more cats than dogs are killed there. Cats carry transmittable disease. Cats reproduce in great numbers. Since cats are exempt from the licensing laws the owners won’t spay or neuter them since there is no penalty for not doing so. Bottom line: The lawful dog owners are forced to pay grossly excessive license and penalty fees as compared to all the neighboring cities and counties under the authority of other animal agencies. Don’t believe me? Do your own research. If they mandated cat licensing it would distribute the financial burden so the excessive fees and penalties wouldn’t be necessary. In essence, the dog owners who obey the law get punished by being forced to subsidize all the other pet owners who ignore the law or are exempt from the law. “Equality under the law”??? Hogwash.
    Any city that pays OCAC a huge down payment UP FRONT on the proposed shelter locking themselves in financially to this abusive agency deserves what they get. And any elected leader who votes to stay with OCAC deserves to get ousted by the people they represent. Btw, where is the documented proof that the Navy does not have any authority to restrict the community college land transfer to the county due to environmental concerns that apply to the adjacent Marine base land? Has anyone seen the document where the Navy signed off and released any environmental interest in the college district property? Where is it? Perhaps the VOC could find it for us.

    • UnitedWeStand

      “Any city that pays OCAC a huge down payment UP FRONT on the proposed shelter locking themselves in financially to this abusive agency deserves what they get. And any elected leader who votes to stay with OCAC deserves to get ousted by the people they represent.”
      I agree, but the horrible fact is that the animals will be the ones suffering. Shame on Orange County for allowing this to exist.!!!

      • LFOldTimer

        United, do you know of any other county in California that is FORCED their cities to front HUGE deposits (some well in excess of a million dollars) for a proposed shelter as condition of remaining w/the host animal agency? I’ve researched it and can’t find even one. This makes me wonder whether that mandate is even legal. LA County has 7 shelters – no up front deposits from their participating cities required. Same with San Diego County that has 3 shelters. And it is highly speculative whether the county can comply with their construction timelines. Look how many other promises, re: OCAC, the county has broken and violated in the past. Past performance is the most valid predictor of future performance. So if the county is off by a year or two or three on their timeline are they financially penalized and required to pay the cities? Of course not. Once the cities front the cash they are at the county’s mercy, regardless of what happens afterwards. What sort of “deal” is that? It’s a one way road. And any city council member who votes for such a lopsided agreement deserved to get booted from office. City electeds are supposed to protect their citizen’s interests, not the county’s interests. They have a fiduciary responsibility to their residents. How is fronting huge sums of money with absolutely no guarantee of non-abusive, improved services and decent care for the animals “responsible”? Any discerning adult with 2 brains cells understands that it’s a scam setting the contract city residents and our animals up for more abuse. And any city council member who goes along with it should be ashamed of him or herself!

        • UnitedWeStand

          In answer to your question..”do you know of any other county in California that has FORCED their contract cities to front HUGE deposits ….” NO I don’t..

    • UnitedWeStand

      The fact that “Bartlett and supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer didn’t return a messages seeking comment for this story” says a lot and its not good.

      • LFOldTimer

        Yeah, it’s pretty hard to shut Spitzer up. I agree. They know. They just can’t say. They have to circle the wagons. If that means taking the Fifth – so be it.

  • UnitedWeStand

    Talk is cheap Ms. Bartlett. Action is what matters. Mr. Gardner…..a Republican with a conscious, will wonders ever cease? He needs a metal. A conscious which the OC Board of Supervisors have lacked to display on soooooooooo many subjects. This subject is a glaring example. One has only to read the O C Grand Jury Reports on the shelter to know how they have failed.(and now we have the real truth on statistics, thanks to Ms. Logan) Animals can’t donate to campaigns, that’s the problem.!!!!!

    • LFOldTimer

      Barlett is just another ‘go along to get along’ talking head. Weak willed and gutless. The way to claw your way to the top in politics is to master the art of double-talk gobbledegook, discount the needs of others, feign sincerity and learn to maintain a straight face while you lie. There are certain elements of sociopathic behavior that are essential to a successful political career. It’s true.The way our political system is designed you’d have to be one strange hominid to last 30 years in the business. I assume many of them have full-time shrinks to try and rationalize the career choice they made. At some point the guilt must be overwhelming unless the elected is a full-blown sociopath, in which case I guess they sleep like babies at night. To make it as non-establishment politician you have to be filthy rich like a certain GOP presidential candidate. Otherwise you are washed out early in the running by the party gatekeepers. This is the reason you generally find your choice is between Frankenstein and Dracula in most elections, particularly for the higher offices. Once is a while a good one slips through the cracks onto a city council. But it’s the exception, not the rule.

  • David Zenger

    Come on, Todd. It seems Karma the Wonder Wolf Dog has lots of relatives that need your help. There may even be good publicity in it for you.

    Thank you, Mr. Gardner. An elected with a conscience. The Age of Miracles is not past.