The Orange County Performance Audit Office has just released a shocking report on the county animal shelter and the results may be viewed here. It was just as advocates feared and worse.

Note: A source from the City of Mission Viejo maintains the financial information used in this report was not furnished by their city, is incorrect and has requested a correction.

The main objective of this audit was to evaluate the operational performance of the county’s animal services department to determine if management and staff are effective and efficient in accomplishing their business objectives at this 74 year-old facility.

But it also revealed the deficiencies and unhealthy conditions at the shelter which affect staff efficiency, moral, the health of the animals and service to the public.  If you only want to consider the money facet, bear in mind that a sick animal – or worse an animal that dies or is euthanized – means less animals adopted which equals less revenue and more costs to the taxpayers.

If you are wondering why the health department has not been contacted, in the interest of staff and public health at least, it has! Their response was “The Health Care Agency and Environmental Health do not have regulatory oversight of OC Animal Care.”

Poring over this report we wonder how this shelter could have been allowed to get to its present condition. A modern day animal shelter is not a “dog pound,” but a destination the communities can embrace and where the public wants to visit for education and enjoyment, not just to adopt a pet.

Instead people are reluctant to go to our county shelter and sadly it receives few donations. Our county shelter reflects the disrespect the OC Board of Supervisors (the responsible entity for the shelter) have for people of this county, their lack of consideration for the public’s health and needs and their refusal to recognize animal consciousness.

The excuse the board has used for close to twenty years is a lack of available land. The property on which the board has stated it plans to build a new shelter was once occupied by the Marine Corp Air Station Tustin and which we are told still today has not yet been cleared by the Navy for occupancy.

In 2014, I learned of a joint meeting between Orange County representatives and the Navy officials in San Diego responsible for the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) process of the Marine Corp Air Station in Tustin. However, not one of the Orange County Board of Supervisors chose to attend, which further indicates the low importance they give this 74 year-old issue.

When requested, county officials denied me the written results of the meeting, stating it was “exempt from public disclosure.” However I was able to obtain the information from the Navy through the federal Freedom of Information Act.  The creation of the FOIA law was based on the inherent rights of American citizens to have government information available to them. Evidently the board thinks otherwise in this case.

What I learned from the documentation is BRAC is a long and complicated process with, understandably, many considerations for safety of the public. In fact, it is my opinion this is the reason the county “chose” this particular property in the first place. It is because of this lengthy process that the Board has been able to put off building a new shelter for almost 20 years.

More important to the subject at hand, the FOIA documentation revealed that “no decisions have been made by Navy leadership regarding these scenarios (timelines).”

In other words, no date as to when a new animal shelter can be built on this property has been established, which was also stated in the County performance audit results.

The report is on the agenda for Board of Supervisors’ March 24 meeting. You can watch the proceedings live or later online. Will they act on this report or just ignore the recommendations as they have done with previous Orange County Grand Jury reports on the shelter, or the 2008 report by U.C. Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program and follow up report in 2014?

If we were dealing with a corporate fiduciary we could propose private law solutions. But this is a public governance problem and solutions to compel the supervisors to fulfill their duties would be challenging, time consuming and costly to the taxpayers in many ways. These politicians owe us a duty. They have eroded the public’s trust.

Yes, they plead fiscal responsibility, but is it fiscally responsible to delay construction of a new shelter for close to twenty years while construction costs continue to climb? Is it responsible to jeopardize the health of people and animals and not provide appropriate service to the public?

But wait a minute, let’s remember: if and when they decide to build a shelter, the responsibility for the costs will fall on the contract cities. So essentially, the Board has nothing to lose if they continue to delay.

In fact, when the shelter reported a financial shortfall last year, the supervisors refused to increase their stingy $249,912 contribution to the shelter’s $18 million dollar budget to cover the shortfall. Instead, they requested additional funds from the contract cities and raised user fees to you and me, the taxpayers.

Cities need to take control of this issue

Laguna Hills’ assistant city manager, Don White, is chairman of OC Animal Care’s Financial and Operations Advisory Board.  As stated by Director of OC Community Resources, Steve Franks, this group “reflects representatives from the 18 contract cities and provides input regarding OC Animal Care Issues.”  Has Mr. White or other representatives ever been to the Orange County Animal Shelter and reported its condition to their cities? Perhaps Mr. White should be relieved of this position.

Look around. We’ve all seen the massive development going on all over the county. The audit report proves the current shelter cannot accommodate the present population. How can it be expected to serve the increasing population?

Some research shows rather than one mammoth shelter miles away from the majority of the cities, one main shelter and a few satellite locations would be more effective to properly serve Orange County residents.

The county could have considered the 11 acres of their property in Huntington Beach, which would accommodate a satellite shelter. (The audit points out that Huntington Beach is one of most significant users of animal control).

Or what about a portion of the 120 acres of county property in South County, which presently are all being used to expand the Musick jail. (I’m sure the residents of the senior community Laguna Woods Village would prefer living five miles from an animal shelter in lieu of a prison.)

Surprisingly, the city of Anaheim has no plans to build a shelter, yet the audit points out it is one of the most significant users of animal services. Advocates in the city are outraged over a recent city municipal code which makes it unlawful for any person to intentionally provide food, water, or other forms of sustenance to a feral cat or feral cat colony within the boundaries of the City” unless the person is working with the shelter. As happens too often, government is focusing on the effect rather than the cause and punishing the victims.

In any case, we need to get the people and the animals out of that animal shelter NOW! If it means leasing industrial buildings in convenient areas in Orange County and renovating them appropriately, then do so! Renovation can be easily accomplished says Richard Rauh of the architectural firm Rauhaus Freedenfeld and Associates in Laguna Hills. We don’t want expensive band aide fixes to the current old shelter.

In the past, the subject of prioritizing a homeless shelter over an animal shelter has come up when I have written on the need for a new animal shelter. In fact, finding a location for a year-round homeless shelter had been a high priority for former Supervisor John Moorlach.

But consider this, if the supervisors had moved forward on building and relocating a new animal shelter years ago as promised, they could have used the property where the current old animal shelter now stands (adjoining the Theo Lacy jail in the city of Orange) to build a homeless shelter.

Finally, I will end this editorial on a positive note. Refer to page 14 of 108 of the audit and you see the number of purebred dogs who entered the shelter and were available for adoption. This confirms the fact, nationwide 25 percent or more of pets in shelters are purebreds. So if a purebred is what you looking for, adopting a pet from an animal shelter or rescue group is much less expensive than through other sources. (Please never use pet stores or the internet.) In addition, animals from shelters in California are required by law to be spayed or neutered, which makes shelter fees a real bargain in comparison.

Rose Tingle is an animal rights advocate, longtime Orange County resident and member of the Voice of OC Community Editorial Board.

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