Advocates Level More Accusations Against County Animal Shelter

Orange County's animal services department has been facing increased criticism in recent years.

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

Orange County's animal services department has been facing increased criticism in recent years.

Print More

Animal advocates turned out to Tuesday’s Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting to allege that top animal shelter executives have been lying about the rate at which they euthanize animals – claims that were met with silence from shelter officials.

After protesting on a street corner with signs showing faces of dogs they say were wrongfully killed, advocates – including a city councilman – leveled accusations from the speaker’s podium while also urging officials to ramp up adoption efforts and cut down on the killings of dogs, cats, and other shelter animals.

The advocates’ key bone of contention is the shelter’s so-called “kill rate,” which is the percentage of animals at the shelter that are euthanized. They say shelter managers include animals that arrive dead in their total animal intake figures so they can increase the number of reported admissions, which in turn makes the kill rate appear to be lower than it actually is.

“The data you’re working on is false data,” Lake Forest Councilman Jim Gardner told supervisors, who are ultimately responsible for the county government’s sole animal shelter in Orange. “How can you do your job, when they’re giving you bad data?”

In response to previous criticism from advocates, the county’s animal services director, Dr. Jennifer Hawkins, publicly told supervisors in September that the county’s kill rates were down to less than 6 percent that year.

But it’s actually been a far higher rate of around 35 percent, according to data later provided by the county in response to a legal settlement with animal rescuer Sharon Logan.

The 6-percent rate cited by Hawkins “is false,” Logan told supervisors Tuesday.

There was no response from county staff to the claims. Hawkins was watching the comments in the audience, but did not respond. Her spokeswoman didn’t have further comment when asked about the claims after the meeting.

The following day, Hawkins released a short statement saying her agency will be complying with a directive from county supervisors to respond to the claims by an unspecified date.

“OC Animal Care will provide responses to the Board of Supervisors as directed in the Board Comments on March 22nd,” Hawkins said.

In a memo to shelter staff a few days before Tuesday’s protest, Hawkin’s boss, OC Community Resources Director Steve Franks, cited figures showing a 7 percent kill rate for dogs and 55 percent for cats. Significant progress is being made, he added.

“This is the first time [OC Animal Care] has reported live release rates for dogs above 90 percent,” Franks wrote, adding that there’s a variety of efforts underway to improve the shelter and increase adoptions.

Those efforts, he said, include working with an outside best-practices consultant, adding staff, and seeking nonprofit groups to help fundraise and find homes for animals.

(Click here to read Franks’ memo.)

But the allegedly false kill rate information is among many things that have eroded trust between animal rescuers and shelter officials, advocates said.

“How can you ask us to trust you when you refuse to take responsibility – and lie to us?” asked Rose Tingle, a South County-based animal advocate.

Tingle also noted county officials have acknowledged that when they euthanized an entire litter of kittens at once, they would only count it as one death, which made the euthanasia numbers seem smaller. That practice was corrected after Voice of OC asked about it in early December.

“We want transparency. We can’t trust your statistics,” Tingle said.

Other advocates alleged that harmless and healthy dogs were being killed for the wrong reasons, like not being social enough.

“When will the mislabeling and killing stop?” asked Danielle Parker, a founder of the Save More Kill Less OC Animal Care Protest Group.

The comments frustrated Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who said he was “bummed out” because an adoption event he hosted this weekend found homes for 52 animals and “literally cleared out the shelter” of all but two or three animals.

Given that there’s a group of people who “sing a collective chorus” of criticism, he said, “I think that needs a response…People will ask me questions, and I don’t know the answer.”

Spitzer asked county CEO Frank Kim to work with Hawkins and Franks to summarize the allegations and provide responses.

“Please give us some information, because those allegations just out there without a response – they’re really hurtful,” Spitzer said, adding that he hasn’t observed what the advocates were alleging.

Meanwhile, a union representative for shelter workers said the staffers continue to provide great service and serve a “valuable public safety function” – such as referring over 70 animal-related criminal cases to the district attorney’s office – despite the circumstances.

“We want you to continue to bring the employees along, because there is a lot of untapped expertise” that could help all stakeholders in this situation, Tim Steed of the Orange County Employees Association told supervisors.

The protest comes at a particularly sensitive time for the county, with at least three cities – Lake Forest, Rancho Santa Margarita, and Laguna Hills – weighing whether to exit the county system by a deadline next month.

Advocates said they’ve provided Hawkins with info about shelter systems in Austin and San Diego, which are both “no-kill” systems and considered among the most innovative in the country.

“Better sheltering is possible, and already exists,” said Miriam Penna Cathorall, adding that Austin cited its no-kill policy as one of the key reasons for its over-90 percent adoption rate.

Advocates made it clear they won’t be letting up in their pressure to reform the shelter’s practices. “We demand change, and we are not going anywhere,” said Summer Parker of the Save More Kill Less group.

Update: This story has been updated to include Dr. Jennifer Hawkins’ statement Wednesday.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. He can be reached at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

  • Sharon Logan

    “It is the policy of this state that no adoptable animal should be euthanized if it can be adopted into a suitable home unless it has manifested a sign of behavorial, temperamental defect or a sign of disease, injury or congenital hereditary condition. The state policy is clear that unless one or the other of those exists there is no basis to euthanize the animals. We know that the OCAC like many municipal shelters for the reasons we just discussed, claiming lack of resources, but also because they simply become callous and let’s face it, if it’s a job that you do day in and day out, it doesn’t take you long to figure out that the less animals you have to be accounted for and take care of the less work you have.”

    “The law is the law, for the next two years as of the 10th of every month, I and Sharon will be receiving as the court designated people, a list and identification of all animals euthanized in that prior month and we can choose at random whatever 5 animals we want further documentation on, so we will be looking over their shoulder and I assure you quite carefully, and that should have at least some kind of effect on the people working there. This is a battle that we will have to continue to fight.”

    I think that in time, over a 2 year period, should have some effect on putting in place these procedures they have agreed to, learning to live with them and hopefully coming to the understand that doing it the right way produces more forever homes for these animals, and makes you feel better about yourself than doing it they way they have been doing it.”

    Howard Finkelstein Attorney for Sharon Logan and Paw Protectors Rescue, Paw Protectors, et al speaking on Live On Air Radio.

    • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

      Thank you Counsel Finkelstein and animal advocate Sharon Logan. All those lives matter. Animal Care should mean animal care, all of them. If civil servants are not grateful for their jobs and are no longer into helping the animals we as taxpayers and citizens have trusted them with, then step aside and privatize, or at least contract services to humane, animal loving rescues, of which we have many. If the system has to change for us to be humane in Orange County, then it must be changed. No animal gets to this facility through fault of their own, and none should be penalized by death for lack of room, or staff is shorthanded, or overwhelmed. A lot of the pie goes to administration, not to the animals. No excuse. Contracting rescues we all know would save The People money.

  • Sharon Logan

    My Attorney the Law Offices of Finkelstein and Krinsk has set up a website specifically for any citizen, community member, the general public rescuer, rescue, former employees, shelter workers or volunteers that would like to address any complaints or concerns they may have against Orange County Animal Care. The link is here:
    http://www.ocacsettlement.com

  • John Claxton

    I was able to seethe shelter in Austin a couple months back. Wow! Awesome shelter!

  • Jacki Livingston

    Wait…WHAT? Seriously? Everyone is “bummed out” or outraged about animals. I love animals, I have four rescue ones, myself. But this county seriously has their priorities all messed up. For six long years, I have been screaming to the BoS, the ACLU, the FBI, The Register and, yes, VoC. I have been showing people the horrendous and disgraceful neglect and killing of helpless HUMAN BEINGS. The County has tried to discredit me, in addition to destroying my career, because they are profiting off of this, and because major contributors to their campaigns are in bed with these scumbags. They are feeding these people vermin infested food. They are going without the diapers and hygiene care that they need. They have open bedsores six inches across, all over their frail, emaciated bodies. They are warehoused in substandard facilities, left alone, cared for by untrained personnel who are paid minimum wage. One 87 year old woman was dropped on her head on a concrete floor and killed. Then, to add insult to very real injuries, the criminals at SSA, Public Guardian and the BoS are using the rigged computer system to rob the taxpayers, with multiple billing, and then steal the patient trust accounts of the residents. This is not just me, ranting and raving. This has been proven in lawsuits and federal prosecutions of some of the doctors, but no real change has happened. Instead, Todd Spitzer and his ilk put their fingers in their ears and their empty heads up their fat, lazy posteriors, and they don’t want to hear it. When he was faced with possibly having to testify under oath about his incompetence and his failure to do his freaking job, Spitzer used his wife and his close friend/client at the court to rig a court settlement, so he would not have to testify. Same for Nelson, same for Nguyen, same for Moorlach. They are either the most incompetent cowards, or they are filthy, dirty criminals. AND, the worst of it all, is all of you…yeah, I said YOU. That means YOU, Norberto. YOU, Cynthia Ward. YOU, all of YOU. You have heard about this. Did even one of you work up enough outrage over the shocking and despicable treatment of men, women and children who cannot speak or fight for themselves? No…not one of YOU! I don’t give a tiny little rat’s behind about what they did to me. I am a big girl. But none of you cowards even spoke up, wrote an article, looked into it! No one is screaming to the rafters for the HUMAN BEINGS who are being treated far worse than a bunch of animals. You all weep and moan for the poor wittle doggies and kitties, but not one tear for the humans. I hope that each and every one of you winds up under the tender care of these criminal scumbags. I really do. Then you can lie there and know that no one is going to do a thing to help you.

    You bunch of whiny brats make me sick.

    • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

      Both issues are painful. People and animals, without voice and who do not vote, should not be harmed. People and animals are not disposable toilet paper. Both revelations are sickening. Betrayal of trust, civic trust. Our county and cities should do no harm. Sounds like people and animals are numbered, tagged inventory to simply invoice and generate cash payments for the few running these factory systems. Please stop. Heart.Breaking. stuff to read. Just heartbreaking.

      • Jacki Livingston

        Yes, and so long as the Gang o’Five is doing anything about his pet concerns, Santana’s not going to hold their feet to the fire on the scandalous nursing home issue. So, in the OC, doggies, kitties and homeless win out over nursing home residents. The going rate for VOC’s silence might seem a good trade, but I find it revolting and it diminishes the site. Journalists are not social workers or politicians. They are supposed to report the factual news, not create policy and then use their site for deal making and patting themselves on the back. Revolting.

  • No Kill ShelterCA
  • Annie Nanimoss

    OC Animal Care’s leadership has been in the spotlight as animal killers and liars more often under Jennifer Hawkins’ and Steve Franks’ rule than the prior 10 years combined! When will the BOS pull their heads out and bounce them from their positions? We need REAL change in leadership if there is going to be any glimmer of hope for OC Animal Care.

    • Bob and Barb

      If you want change the anger and activism should be directed at the Supervisors. Support candidates who challenge them for their seats and maybe you’ll see a response from them.

  • John Claxton

    Spitzer thinks the comments were hurtful. Tell that to the cats and dogs! No changes with OCAC will take place until Tami Rosales is euthanized or removed as the real head of this agency. She has ran it into the ground. It’s nice to see real leaders – city councilmen standing up, voicing legitimate concers, and taking their agencies out of this no good agency. Shame on the BOS for letting it go on this long without effective leadership.

    • David Zenger

      “Spitzer thinks the comments were hurtful”
      Well, there you have the grand narcissist. It’s always about him.

    • Bob and Barb

      Exactly. 9982 animals were killed at OCAC in 2014. Now that’s really hurt!

      • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

        What? “Animal Care” on the sign needs to be removed. False advertising! I am sickened to see that number. Had no idea!

        • Sharon Logan

          In October of 2015 out of 2035 animals that entered the shelter OCAC killed 725 in one month, that is one third of the animals that entered the shelter.

          If you break that down, OCAC had to systematically kill 24 animals every day for 31 days straight to get to that number.

          • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

            Oh wow. I never knew they executed so many animals. I was told once by a field officer that they have a 90% adoption/rehome rate. This is beyond sickening. Thanks for sharing. Poor animals that were killed through no fault of their own. Very, very depressing.

  • Sharon Logan

    Awesome Speech today by Rancho Santa Margarita Council Member Bradley J. McGirr condemning OCAC and great speech by Carol A. Gamble Mayor Pro Tem of Rancho Santa Margarita supporting moving services over to Mission Viejo.

    Thank you to Mayor L. Anthony Beal for stating that Euthanasia Rates are important and it is a moral issue,

    Thank you city of RSM for choosing a more humane, more compassionate option for your animals, and even stating RSM Is willing to pay more at Mission Viejo for better care and better service

    Motion to move over services from OCAC to Mission Viejo passed passed unanimous 5-0.

    Laguna Hills moving over services from OCAC to Mission Viejo passed unanimous 5-0.

    Both city councils addressing the grand jury reports and OCAC doing absolutely nothing to correct any of the conditions mentioned in the grand jury reports.

    • LFOldTimer

      What an awesome RSM city council.

      Morals over money.

      What a concept.

    • Bob and Barb

      Great to hear. Now Garden Grove and Lake Forest should do the right thing.

  • LFOldTimer

    So the county got caught in yet another untruth?

    Did I read this correctly? The Director of OCAC was in the audience? And she failed to walk to the podium and address the allegations of the understated euthanasia rates made about her agency? Hmmm.

    Why didn’t even one supervisor demand that Hawkins approach the podium and provide an explanation? They do it all the time to other department heads. Why did Hawkins get a pass? Are they protecting her?

    How could any city on behalf of its residents work with an agency that is untrustworthy and produces bad data to make itself look much better than what it is?

    Now Franks and Hawkins were allowed to retreat behind closed doors and concoct some playbook cover story? Can’t either of them ad lib? Then they shouldn’t be executive managers making the big bucks.

    Typical county operations.

    • OCservant_Leader

      “Why didn’t even one supervisor demand that Hawkins approach the podium and provide an explanation…”

      Come on – when was the last time this happened when it wasn’t a “play” fight orchastrated in advance for PR?

      They are all on the same side. Their own.

      There is no real dialogue or even real governing. They are running a scam people–public sector crimes and getting away with it –every day.

      • LFOldTimer

        My point was that if there was a reasonable explanation the allegations of understated euthanasia rates that Hawkins likely would have addressed it publicly at the time the allegations were made. IMO that’s part of her job. Supposedly, she’s a civil servant who works for and is paid by the residents of OC. But she remained silent and instead will retreat behind closed doors with Franks to concoct a delayed response. She’s the Director of the Agency. Franks is her supervisor. BOTH should know the euthanasia rates like the back of their hands. The fact that both avoided an immediate response to the public (w/ the help of the supervisors) is very suspicious.

    • Annie Nanimoss

      Neither Jennifer Hawkins or Steve Franks have any business running OC Animal Care. She’s inept and he’s a political hack. Neither knows what they’re doing and the animals and staff are paying the price.

    • Bob and Barb

      I saw Hawkins and Franks in the audience but they never said a word. What could they say. As far as I can tell, the speakers were telling the truth and had evidence to prove it if the Supervisors asked or if challenged by Hawkins or Franks.