It is with a heavy heart that I share that a seasoned dog volunteer of 15 years was seriously attacked by a shelter dog. The volunteer was bitten 18 times and sustained over 90 puncture wounds. Since the kennel area has no visitors and little animal care staff, the incident lasted for a while until a kennel attendant heard her screams for help. After a visit to the UCI Medical trauma dept. and surgery on both arms, the volunteer is thankfully home. She was severely traumatized physically and psychologically, possibly with lasting effects. As of this date, neither Orange County Animal Care (OCAC) nor Community Resources (OCCR) have reached out to volunteers to explain, comfort, or reassure. The dog was one of 37 dogs who were part of Kennel Connection, a program which (for 5 hours per week) allows the public to view just a small subset of the dogs, supposedly thoroughly screened and vetted. There are currently about 300 dogs on site with 200 available for adoption.
What are the factors involved in OCAC’s negligence, leading to this horrible occurrence?
• Based on the National Animal Care & Control Association (NACA) Guidelines cited in the Grand Jury Report (GJR) from page 27 on, the kennels are woefully understaffed. This is because management keeps hiring more and more administrative staff but not kennel staff. Of more than 130 employees at the shelter, only about 20 are allocated for direct animal care, feeding and enrichment. The recommended number is over 60 (based on current animal numbers). With an annual budget of over $26M, OCAC can and must do better.
• OCAC has no behavioral protocol for evaluating animals. Their assessment is completely arbitrary. There are no written guidelines, policies, procedures, or standards for evaluating animal behavior (GJR).
• The animal care staff are hard-working and conscientious, but OCAC management gives them no systematic training on animal behavior. Management just has them follow another attendant for a few days. This was documented in a report based on Public Records but OCAC/OCCR shrugged it off.
• As indicated by public records, it appears that OCAC/OCCR understated the number of bites for 2021-2022 in order to make their system seem successful. This information was given to the county but was not acted upon. The OCAC/OCCR bureaucracy prefers its own fiction over the facts.
• Also adding to the poor behavioral conditions are inadequate/inaccurate record-keeping (GJR), the absence of a certified animal behaviorist, and inadequate dog enrichment programs. In 2019 there were an average of 3 playgroups per week for large dogs, working towards 5 playgroups per week. Playgroups for large dogs went to zero under the current management.
• The stress level for animals and people is compounded by increased length of stay and inadequate veterinary care. In 2022 the average length of stay was over 20 days compared to less than 10 in 2018. This is due to ineffective adoption procedures that prevent the public from seeing dogs in their kennels and force them instead to pick just a couple of animals to visit from web photos.
• OCAC/OCCR has been ignoring repeated requests to open the shelter. Instead, OCAC pretended to “improve” adoption protocol by allowing the public to open the kennels for 5 hours per week (half during normal working hours) and only for about 20% of the dogs. It’s just a PR stunt that has made no discernible difference.
• Lastly, OCAC/OCCR is routinely confused about the numbers of animals in their care. They refuse to see that, as a result of their failed policies, the number of dogs at the shelter continues to rise. Crowded conditions and longer stays without socialization lead to increased stress for the animals, and dangerous conditions for kennel staff and volunteers.
• The shelter makes up policies on the fly, based on factors known only to the bureaucracy. It has abandoned its Strategic Plan and, with it, any aspiration to be a cost-effective, humane, and safe shelter.
For well over a year, OCAC’ Monica Schmidt and OCCR’s Cymantha Atkinson and Dylan Wright refuse to address these and other issues, as the shelter’s downward spiral continues.
This was an accident waiting to happen. According to two seasoned Animal Control Officers (ACOs), this was the 3rd severe incident involving a volunteer and dog under the present management. In their experience as ACOs these occurrences are very rare and truly aggressive dogs should be easy to identify.
1. Contact the Board of Supervisors and tell them that we expect more from our investment in OCAC. Let them know that they are failing taxpayers, kennel staff, volunteers and homeless companion animals of Orange County. The Supervisors unanimously approved the Strategic Plan in 2018. The plan’s implementation is long overdue.
2. Contact city managers and mayors in the 14 cities contracted by OCAC. Tell them that OCAC is obviously failing the homeless companion animals in their jurisdiction and raising their costs.
Jackie Lamirande is a Laguna Beach resident. She has served multiple animal welfare organizations both municipal shelters and non-profits across the country since 1992. Including OCAC, (Jackie resigned in 2020 after the new management was put into place). Her prior service in animal welfare includes serving as a paid volunteer services manager, volunteer foster care administrator, and a member of the Board of Directors. Helping homeless animals has been Jackie’s passion her entire life.
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