After years of protests and advocacy, visitors at Orange County’s animal shelter can view the dogs and cats in some kennels during select hours twice a week.
This is the first time the kennels have opened to public access since before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the shelter’s doors.
But it’s limited to five hours a week.
OC Animal Care’s new “Kennel Connection” program opens designated kennels to the public Wednesdays and Saturdays from 2 to 4:30 p.m. starting on July 19. No appointment is needed to walk through.
Some advocates say it isn’t enough.
April Josephson, a former member of the shelter’s community outreach committee, said the program is a distraction from the real issues at the shelter.
“All of the programs are minimal, fully micromanaged interactions that take staff and volunteers away from walking and socializing all dogs in favor of staff hand-selecting some of the best few dogs to spotlight,” Josephson said.
She also argued that the Wednesday hours for the adoption program end too early, when most people are still at work.
OC Animal Shelter spokesperson Jackie Tran said shelter leaders will evaluate the program, but did not provide a clear answer about how long the program will last or if the hours will increase in the future.
“With all pilot programs, OC Animal Care evaluates successes as well as opportunities for growth and adjustments,” Tran wrote in an email sent to Voice of OC Friday. “We look forward to reviewing each initiative, receiving feedback from a variety of stakeholders, and assessing next steps in recommendations to transition those successful pilot programs into permanent activities in our ever-growing lineup of programming.”
The kennel reopening comes after arguments that kennel closures and appointment policies were driving up kill rates for dogs and cats in the shelter.
OC residents gathered at the shelter in Tustin as recently as last month to again demand the shelter reopen without restrictions.
Previously, the public has been unable to see animals in the kennels or dogs or cats without an appointment.
As a result, a recent Orange County Grand Jury report outlined an investigation into current shelter practices and found the kennel’s closures limit adopters’ access to the animals.
“Prior to COVID-19, the adoption process at the shelter was relatively open … The experience was unconstrained, spontaneous, instinctive, and natural,” the report reads. “The current appointment system is restrictive and does not provide prospective adopters viewing access to all available adoptable animals.”
The report was released on June 8, and OC Animal Care has yet to issue any formal response.
Tran said the report will be reviewed and the County Executive Office will prepare an official response within 90 days.
Advocates have criticized the shelter’s policies for years, demanding shelter leadership fully reopen the kennels, reinstate a catch and release program for community cats and end the appointment-based process for adoptions.
Pushback against OCAC’s leadership culminated when the shelter’s director stepped down from the role in late May. County officials said the decision came after “escalating negativity” against Andi Bernard as director.
While shelter critics acknowledge the kennel connection program is a positive change, some point out that the actual impact will be minimal.
“It is definitely a tiny step in the right direction, but the parameters are so ridiculous it is embarrassing,” animal advocate Liz Hueg said. “Adoptions are down. Returns are up. Open the shelter — lives, actual lives, count on it.”
OC Supervisor Katrina Foley recently released a statement applauding the shelter’s efforts to connect the public to the shelter’s animals.
“Our office received a lot of suggestions from the community to improve access to animal adoptions,” Foley wrote in a statement released July 12. “By allowing visitors to walk through kennels twice a week, OCAC offers a compromise that allows their staff to better manage visits and adoptions without aggravating the animals.”
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.
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