Animal advocates saw progress this week in their efforts to reduce euthanasia at the Orange County animal shelter, with a promise from County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett to involve them in discussions to change the county’s process for deciding whether to kill shelter animals.

Responding to sustained pressure from activists – who showed up in force at a recent supervisors’ meeting and spoke up again this week – Bartlett also expressed interest in having an animal behavioral specialist get involved in deciding whether animals are too aggressive, something advocates say isn’t currently done at the shelter.

“I think that our county policy needs to be revisited,” Bartlett said after advocates spoke at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting, adding “I would like to have you join me in the process of fixing the policy.”

“I think right now, when animals are brought in and then they’re assessed, they’re either ‘okay,’ or they’re ‘aggressive’ or ‘vicious.’ And so there’s no in-between. I think we need a better method for classification and assessing animals, and I think maybe getting an animal behavioral specialist involved would be very helpful.”

Bartlett’s comments came after an outcry from advocates last month over the county’s euthanasia practices, unsanitary shelter conditions, and a lack of progress toward replacing the 74 year-old shelter.

At the Sept. 1 meeting, advocates criticized the lack of an animal behavioralist in euthanasia decisions and urged supervisors to allow a citizens’ oversight committee work with staff on studying shelter practices and collaborating on improvements.

That theme was hammered on again this week by activists.  They thanked supervisors for preventing a wolf dog named Karma from being killed, but said the problem is much more systemic.

“Karma the husky has shed light on the never-ending needless killings happening [in] Orange County.  So many dogs are being mislabeled as being aggressive or having behavioral problems,” said Stephanie Ellison, a Huntington Beach resident representing the No Kill Shelter Alliance.

“Orange County should strive to be a leader in animal care and protection. Instead we are quite the opposite.  We’re actually known as one of the worst in California.”

Ellison was one of four animal advocates who addressed supervisors Tuesday.  They waited most of the day – from 9:30 a.m. to 3:20 p.m. – for the opportunity to speak at Tuesday’s meeting.

Nik Peter said dozens of animals are killed at the shelter each week, many for “absurd and subjective reasons.”

“Last month, the favored justification that was used was alopecia, which is just hair loss, and a very non-life threatening disease for the animal, and very treatable”

His mother, Jacquelyn Peter, asked on behalf of the alliance that a citizens’ oversight committee be granted access to the animal department’s data, policies and procedures to see if they’re being followed.

The committee would also review the role of rescue groups in saving dogs, explore opportunities to raise revenue for the animal services department, and work on saving more animals’ lives.

“It’s imperative that we move toward a direction of pro-life, pro-adoption at the shelter, and we are committed, with the board’s help, to achieving this at the OC shelter,” Peter said.

Rose Tingle, meanwhile, reiterated that the county needs to establish multiple shelters across the county.

“Orange County is woefully behind when it comes to caring for animals,” she said.

Bartlett’s interest in the issue comes amid an increase in citizen advocacy recently at county supervisors’ meetings, which has led to stepped up county efforts to find a new animal shelter site and plans to place an ethics commission proposal on the ballot.

Click below for a video of the advocates’ comments, and Bartlett’s response, at the end of Tuesday’s meeting (starts at 1:55):

YouTube video

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

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