Grand Jury Report

OC Animal Care’s 2023 Statistics are a lie.  It looks like they copied the mid-year 2022 statistics and just tweaked the numbers.

[This opinion refers to statistics from OCAC’s website as of July 27.  Links point to downloaded copies, so they’ll still work if OC modifies or retracts its data.  Readers should immediately download their own copies of 2021-2023 statistics.]

The Mid-Year Report from 2022 (January-June 2022), and the 1st Quarter 2023 (January-March) statistics, by some amazing coincidence, contain almost the same numbers. 

This is so hard to believe, I’ll say it again:  One report seems to be just a slight tweak of the other.

  • Take a look at animal intakes.  In row B (Stray/At Large), the dog numbers differ slightly: 1287 vs 1284 adult dogs, 141 vs 142 juvenile dogs.  The numbers of cats are identical: 442 adult, 2069 juvenile in both tables. 
  • Same goes for animal outcomes.  In row K (Transferred to Another Agency), both tables show the same numbers: 243, 37, 156, 468. 

It’s the same story with other rows:  Only tiny differences between a 2022 Mid-Year statistics and the 1st Quarter 2023 statistics.

An amazing coincidence?  No.  The 2023 numbers were obviously made up.  OCAC did such a poor job of managing its database, it couldn’t make sense of it.  At some point in April it probably gave up and copied an earlier report with slight modifications to cover up its tracks. 

OCAC and county management made these statistics the centerpiece of their response to any criticism.  As of July 27, these are the only numbers they’ve put on their website (see screen shot).   Shelter management told us at every turn to ignore all other information and only look at these numbers.  Now we know they were feeding us fiction.   

And the made-up statistics, it just so happens, were put to good use by OCAC.   

The 1st Quarter 2023 is only 3 months. The Mid-Year 2022 report covers six months, so its animal numbers are about double the normal quarterly numbers.   This came in handy for OCAC management.  They claimed that the shelter’s problems stem from an unprecedented influx of animals.  No such thing happened.  Unbeknownst to us, they squeezed six months’ worth of animal numbers into a three-month report.

We have no trustworthy statistics for 2023.  Most likely, there is no large wave, just a return to the pre-pandemic (2019) levels.  Everybody knew it was coming, and OCAC should have planned for it.  In 2019, the shelter had good adoption procedures to handle the intakes.  In 2023, kennels are mostly off-limits to adopters, there is no TNR (Trap Neuter Return) to keep cat populations down, and the number of kennel staff is half what the shelter needs.  OCAC can no longer cope with a return to the pre-pandemic normal.  OC animals are paying for the mistakes of shelter management.

What about earlier statistics, up to the end of 2022? Thanks to OCAC’s chronic mismanagement, those are dubious as well.  A report submitted to OCAC showed that the statistics don’t pass a run-of-the-mill accounting check. 

The Asilomar industry standards specify that the beginning number, intakes, outcomes, and ending number of animals must balance out.   It’s just like the beginning balance, debits, credits, and final balance in a bank account or credit card statement.  It’s basic accounting and common sense. 

It’s not just the Asilomar standard.  The most respected national database, Shelter Animals Count, has a similar standard.  Its rules say that a shelter should include all animals in the beginning and ending counts, including the ones that are off-premises (like in foster care).

OCAC statistics in the 2020-2023 period fail this basic test.  Animals go unaccounted for.  The shelter ends up with either too many or too few animals in its ending count.  Graphs of the miscount for dogs and cats are shocking.  The community has the right to know why, in the shelter’s database, animals are routinely unaccounted for.   Can OCAC management tell us?  I doubt that they can regain our trust. 

For details, look at the report and spreadsheets for 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023.  These spreadsheets take the shelter’s statistics but add two rows (marked in yellow). 

  • One row shows the Expected Count (what the Ending Count should be, starting from the Beginning Count, adding Intakes, and subtracting outcomes).
  • The other row shows the difference (Ending minus Expected).  That difference should be zero, but it almost never is. 

OCAC tells us its statistics are transparent and industry standard.  They are nothing of the sort.  It publishes implausible and inconsistent numbers, starting with the fact that 2023 Q1 statistics are, by some miracle, nearly identical to those of the 2022 Mid-Year report.  

OCAC provided monthly statistics until 2020.  It’s the national standard, and what its peers in Southern California do.  From 2021 on, OCAC switched to quarterly statistics, and stopped participating in the national database.  No wonder.  Their numbers are suspect, so they hide them from their peers. 

And what about the metrics in the Strategic Plan?  The Plan, approved by the Board of Supervisors, relies on tracking enrichment, dog socialization, and length of stay.  All of these are common in the animal sheltering industry.  In the last three years, OCAC management has abandoned the Strategic Plan and its metrics.  The compelling explanation is that it’s simply unable to reliably track anything.  It’s unable to implement a plan that relies on data, consistency, and careful management.

In June, a Grand Jury Report found mismanagement and dysfunction.  It recommended updated policies to stop killing more animals.  I wonder how much more critical the Grand Jury would be if it knew how the shelter mishandles data. 

The community has been expressing its concerns in public comments, meetings, opinion pieces (Schumacher, Rhoades), and websites (,  OC Community Resources and the County CEO ignored the community’s insights.  The Board of Supervisors needs to act, promptly and decisively.

Laura Lawther, Resident of Orange, Animal shelter reform advocate

Opinions expressed in community opinion pieces belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

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