Boisot: Efforts to Improve OC Homeless Pet Population Miss Mark

4 year old bulldog Mack met his tragic fate shortly after the Logan lawsuit settlement agreement but just before the period of enforcement.

This editorial is written as a 3 part series. Part 1 outlines the background leading up to the lawsuit.

Most Orange County residents are completely unaware of one of the county’s most shameful dirty secrets, namely that of how its homeless pet population is treated at the county animal shelter, Orange County Animal Care, a misnomer in-and-of-itself, and in fact many falsely believe the institution to have achieved so-called “No Kill” status. However, for many years, animal advocates have been crying foul over the state of animal sheltering at OCAC and its attempted misrepresentation in the public sphere. 

One such advocate, Sharon Logan, who has been rescuing animals from OCAC since 2011 through her non-profit rescue Paw Protectors Inc, decided she was no longer prepared to stay quiet about the litany of infractions she had observed over the years she regularly frequented the shelter in her capacity as a rescuer.

On July 27 2012, Sharon was at the shelter to retrieve a dog to be taken into her rescue, and whilst in the parking lot, she came across a woman who was loudly laughing and joking to a friend about the dog she had come in to surrender to OCAC to be killed, a young boxer mix named Stitch; the woman was talking about how “stupid” Stitch was, and how he in fact belonged to her boyfriend, who was not present at the time, and therefore whose endorsement of owner relinquishment could not be confirmed. However, once at the shelter intake window, the woman’s tone drastically shifted, at which point she unabashedly told shelter staff that Stitch had been so aggressive that he should warrant being killed immediately. Thereafter, taking this woman’s statement to be true, albeit clearly unverified, Sharon witnessed OCAC animal control officers bring out the Ketch-All cart, also known familiarly among those in the know as “the wheel of death”, a mesh-enclosed cart designed purely to contain “unruly” animals who are to be unassumingly shuffled in public view straight to the “euthanasia room”; Sharon witnessed multiple people, including the woman herself, shoving Stitch into the device, after which he was immediately carted off straight to the “euthanasia room” to be summarily killed. Realizing the gravity of what she was witnessing, Sharon had the foresight to capture the entire incident on video; for anyone who has the stomach to watch the video, it is quite obvious that, while Stitch did try to resist being coerced into the cart by bucking, at no time did he exhibit any signs of aggression, including but not limited to lunging at or attempting to bite any of the people handling him (Video of Stitch being shoved in Ketch-All).

Following this episode, and in the same way as she had done with prior witnessed events, Sharon brought the incident to OCAC management’s attention, and after a brief attempt at placating her, OCAC proceeded to fully revoke her rescue partnership, as well as any associated adoption privileges, including those as a private citizen. Needless to say, at this point Sharon understood that legal intervention had become the only viable recourse, and on July 29th 2014, Sharon Logan and Paw Protectors Inc. filed their initial Pro Se Complaint against OCAC with the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Orange, Central Judicial District with ensuing amendments filed on October 14 2014 and March 23rd 2015 (Amended lawsuit).

In the state of California, animal shelters are legally mandated via the Hayden Law to operate according to a guiding principle which favors life by rehoming, over death, for shelter animals Hayden’s law (SB 1785), named after its main sponsor Senator Tom Hayden, was enacted in 1998, with a view to shifting California’s animal shelter system in the direction of saving, rather than taking, the lives of animals who ended up in the care of its state shelters (see here for Hayden law). Although the law itself attempted to tackle many issues as they pertain to animal sheltering, its core principle simply stated “it is the policy of the state that no adoptable animal should be euthanized if it can be adopted into a suitable home”, and further delineated that “no treatable animal should be euthanized” Cal. Civ. Code §1834.4; Cal. Food & Ag. Code §17005.

To accomplish the state policy of saving rather than killing impounded animals, California state law now imposes upon all animal shelters within the state a series of life-affirming duties, including but not limited to a minimum legal hold period ranging from 3-5 days, depending on location, to allow redemption by the owner, a requirement to maintain appropriate documentation on all impounded animals, an oath to treat impounded animals kindly and humanely, with adequate nutrition, shelter, water, and veterinary care, and an agreement to work cooperatively with nonprofit animal rescue organizations to promote adoption and reduce the rate of shelter killing. The last clause in particular has met with considerable debate as the way it is stated is imbued with subjectivity, especially given that what might be considered “adoptable” is widely open to interpretation.

To mitigate prejudice in how the Hayden Law is interpreted by others, individual animal shelters have developed their own set of policies and procedures in accordance with their interpretation of the law, a manifesto of sorts stipulating how they plan to operate. Of the over 200 policy and procedure documents guiding operations at OCAC, one in particular, 400.13, the procedure for owner surrendered animals, bares special mention, as it pertains to the Logan lawsuit and specifically the incident Sharon Logan witnessed involving the dog named Stitch. Prior to the lawsuit, policy and procedure 400.13 was broadly written, and what constituted appropriate documentation was poorly delineated, allowing for extensive interpretation which enabled violating the Hayden Law. When Stitch was surrendered to OCAC and immediately killed for purported aggression, although this clearly violated the Hayden Law, it was nevertheless done in accordance with the original policy and procedure 400.13 in place at that time, as this had no documentation requirements for providing evidence of such alleged aggression (Original policy and procedure 400.13). This underscores how OCAC’s standard operating procedures failed to capture the very essence of Hayden’s Law, which revolves around prohibiting owners from bringing their pet into the shelter and simply claiming aggression as the reason for having the shelter kill that animal specifically because, as was clearly established in Stitch’s case, there are always people who will confabulate to serve their own personal agendas.

Photo: 4 year old bulldog Mack was originally surrendered to OCAC in May 2015, whereupon he was adopted by one of the shelter employees. After seemingly attempting to dump him in a local park four days prior, the employee re-surrendered Mack to OCAC for “owner requested euthanasia” in September 2015, with aggression being the reason stated in the record. According to insider information landlord issues were the real reason for relinquishment, and it is surmised that the employee did not want the constant reminder of seeing him at work, so elected to have him killed instead. Mack was killed within half an hour of arrival at OCAC. Although Mack’s records were obtained through according to the California Public Records Act, it is noteworthy that the owner’s sworn statement was not provided. Mack met his tragic fate shortly after the Logan lawsuit settlement agreement but just before the period of enforcement, so his records could not be obtained through the court (Mack’s records).

Saskia Boisot, MD is a physician who practices human pathology in Orange County.  Because of her profound love of animals, she founded the group No Kill Shelter Alliance and also co-founded its sister group Save More Kill Less, with a view to reforming Southern California’s high kill animal shelters, starting with Orange County Animal Care, because it exemplified everything that is wrong with the system.  Through her advocacy, she has forged alliances with some of the leading organizations in this space, and most notably has spent time at both Austin Animal Care and Austin Pets Alive, widely recognized as the gold standard in the field of animal sheltering.

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