Orange County animal care officials have agreed to follow a series of new policies surrounding euthanasia under a lawsuit settlement that was approved earlier this week.
Among the new rules, officials say they will not euthanize animals within the legally-required holding period – currently four to six days under state law – with certain exceptions, like violent dogs or severely injured animals.
The county also says it will transfer stray animals to rescue groups before they’re euthanized, if a qualified group requests the animal and is able to take them.
And the county will provide the plaintiffs with monthly lists of animals that were euthanized, along with detailed information about the animals.
County supervisors unanimously approved the deal Tuesday in a closed door meeting. Six other sections of the county’s policy manual are also slated to be changed in ways unspecified in the settlement agreement.
The agreement comes after a lawsuit filed last year by Sharon Logan, who heads a Seal Beach-based nonprofit rescue group called Paws Protectors Rescue.
In her suit, Logan argued that county officials are too quick to euthanize dogs and cats, and alleged a pattern of abuse and neglect against animals at the county’s World War II-era shelter.
The shelter’s umbrella agency, OC Animal Care, failed to provide injured animals with proper veterinary attention, and its staff “routinely kill healthy and adoptable animals without first holding the animals for the minimum period of time mandated by law,” according to the suit.
The suit also alleges employees took “retaliatory actions” against Logan, including “indefinitely suspending her rights as a rescuer and refusing to release animals to her” and her organization, which also has a facility to house animals.
She also asked for a judge to force the shelter to comply with state laws that mandate animals be made available for adoption before being euthanized.
Logan argued the county was violating the state’s Hayden Law, which says public shelters and pounds must hold animals for four to six business days before euthanizing. The law also requires shelters to release stray animals to any registered non-profit that requests them, with the intention of transferring animals that would otherwise be euthanized to private shelters.
The suit also alleged:
- Euthanizing of animals that are ill or injured, but treatable
- Euthanizing animals with improper justification, such as “geriatric” animals
- Failing to give animals “meaningful opportunity for reunification with their owners or adoption”
- Failure to provide animals with adequate water, shelter and exercise
While Logan’s suit sought $2.5 million, the settlement doesn’t call for either side in the suit to pay anything to each other. Each party pays their own litigation costs under the deal.
Euthanasia has declined significantly at the shelter – 47 percent of animals in 2010 to 26 percent last year – but still remains prevalent amid tight staffing and space at the aging shelter.
OC Animal Care has been under fire lately amid multiple reports, including two by the county grand jury, regarding management problems and deplorable conditions at the 74-year-old shelter.
In their review of animal control, grand jurors took the unusual move of issuing two back-to-back reports criticizing the department’s executives for creating an environment that risks public health and safety.
One of the reports alleged that poor leadership has contributed to bad cleaning practices at the county shelter that could spread disease, as well as a dead deer being left in front of a home for five days after being reported to animal control.
The situation is so bad, according to the grand jury, that the county should consider replacing the leadership of the county's community resources department, which oversees OC Animal Care.
County CEO Frank Kim responded to the grand jury report by saying it doesn’t accurately reflect practices as the agency.