Orange County animal activists want the county-run shelter to reopen to the public, ending appointment-only adoptions.

They also want to reinstate free spay and neuter services to help diminish the number of feral, abandoned cats in the county.

These residents want the OC Board of Supervisors to make vast changes in the management of OC Animal Care after calling out issues regarding transparency on the shelter’s official social media accounts.

[Read: OC Animal Activists Demand Walk-In Animal Shelter, End Appointment-Only Adoptions]

Almost 10,000 people have signed a petition calling for shelter management to end the appointment-only adoption system and reinstate the shelter’s trap, neuter and release program.

Residents Ask County to Reinstate Spay/Neuter Program for Wild Cats

At last Tuesday’s OC Board of Supervisors meeting, members of the public attended to beg county leadership to change the way the shelter is operating — which they say would drastically diminish the number of euthanized animals at OC Animal Care.

Of the 148 dogs listed for adoption on the shelter’s website Friday, a vast majority were Pitbulls, Huskies, German Shepherds or other large dogs. There were 52 cats and five other animals listed for adoption.

One of the speakers’ main concerns was the reinstatement of the shelter’s trap, neuter and release (TNR) program for abandoned cats.

The program is a commonly used method to control abandoned cat populations. Using the method, wild cats are captured, spayed or neutered and released back into the community where they were found.

The shelter previously provided free spay and neuter services to wild cats before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic but has since refused to restart the program, saying it violates local law.

“Locally, it is OCAC’s understanding that the release of unowned cats into the community is prohibited.” Monica Schmidt, assistant director of OC Animal Care, wrote in an email to Voice of OC July 28. “At this time, the managed intake of healthy cats which does not bring them into the shelter is an industry best practice. We continue to monitor litigation processes happening around the state for rulings that may impact the penal code.”

Some residents hold that the failure to provide spay and neuter services for wild cats is irresponsible and contributing to the exploding population of feral cats across the county. Others point to organizations across California and Orange County that provide the free service.

“Several counties and cities throughout California have TNR programs by having municipal codes that allow community cars and the management of their colonies via such programs,” Romina Yamashiro said during Tuesday’s meeting. “Orange County is the only county that only does not allow a TNR program, but also does not offer any spay and neuter clinics to help the community in lieu of TNR.”

Debbi Hammil spoke at the meeting about her experience saving feral cats and bringing them to local spay and neuter services.

Hammil said that she — along with two other women — has trapped 398 cats at a cost of $38,697 to get the cats off the street and find them homes.

“I’m just doing Santa Ana, three of us girls,” Hammil said. “I know of so many other people that do Anaheim, Garden Grove, Westminster — they’re doing thousands and thousands of these kitties. This is OCAC’s job, isn’t it? Isn’t this what the 14 cities that contract with them pay them for?

“We’re asking for OCAC to do the job that we are now providing.”

At the meeting, Supervisor Katrina Foley said her office was “listening” to resident concerns at OC Animal Care.

In an interview Friday, Foley said her top priority is increasing the number of adoptions at the county-run shelter.

She said the problems at the shelter stem from overcrowding of animals and employee understaffing.

“If we are able to reduce the number of animals in the shelter, we will automatically be able to address some of the staffing issues,” Foley said. “I want to reduce the number of animals that are euthanized and get furry friends in forever homes.”

However, when asked about residents’ concerns regarding the appointment-only adoption system and the lack of a trap, neuter and release program, Foley agreed with the shelter’s stance.

Foley echoed shelter management’s reasoning that the appointment-only adoption system has decreased the rate of overall animal returns and diminished kennel stress. 

The shelter’s website describes that the return rate for dogs decreased by 23.8% from 2019 to 2020 and 18.6% from 2019 to 2021.

Foley also stated that the shelter cannot utilize neuter and spay services for wild cats because of legal issues. 

In an attempt to decrease the number of animals in the shelter, Foley is planning an adoption event Sept. 10. The event will also include a push for hiring more employees to address understaffing. Foley said the shelter is mainly looking to hire dog handlers and kennel cleaners.

Throughout the month, Foley said her office will cover the adoption fees for 200 animals, which includes fees associated with licensing, veterinarian services and vaccinations.

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett wrote in a text sent to Voice of OC Friday that her office is following up with the shelter based on resident concerns but did not offer any specific examples.

A representative for Supervisor Doug Chaffee wrote in a text sent to Voice of OC Friday that Chaffee is hosting an interview at 11:30 a.m. this morning at the shelter to address resident concerns.

Supervisors Don Wagner and Andrew Do did not respond to inquiries Friday from Voice of OC.

Is OC Animal Care Violating Residents’ First Amendment Rights by Turning Off Social Media Comments?

Questions regarding transparency have also been brought up regarding OC Animal Care’s social media presence.

On the county-run shelter’s official Instagram and Facebook pages, users have no option to leave a comment.

For Yamashiro, this is a clear violation of First Amendment rights.

“OC Animal Care states on their website that transparency is an important part of being a government agency,” Yamashiro said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Yet, they decided to turn off the ability for the public to comment on their social media posts. 

“As a government agency … OC Animal Care cannot block or limit the public from making comments on their social media page because that would be considered viewpoint discrimination.”

Yamashiro pointed to ​​a 2019 lawsuit where the federal court decided that government officials or agencies cannot control or limit opportunities for public comment on their social media.

This could potentially result in viewpoint discrimination — when speech is suppressed or limited by a government entity based on the opinion it expresses.

On previous posts where people can leave their opinion, the comment sections are full with people questioning and critiquing the way the shelter operates.

“5 days ago you turned off comments just another low in the already low behavior of micro and mismanagement of our county funds – open the shelter,” wrote Michelle Schumacher, who also spoke at Tuesday’s meeting.

The last Instagram and Facebook post with the ability for users to comment was on Aug. 18.

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at ahicks@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.

•••

Start each day informed with our free email newsletter. Be alerted when news breaks with our free text messages.

And since you’ve made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.