In 2022-2023, the OC animal shelter transferred 200 rabbits, 273 rodents, and 241 birds to a herpetology (reptile) group. All this happened under the radar. Was this appropriate? What was the ultimate fate of these small pets?
In a similar case, San Diego transferred rabbits and rodents to a non-profit. Suspicions were raised by the fact that nothing appeared about these animals on social media. Rescues always advertise the animals they take, to facilitate the search for adopters. San Diego began an investigation and threatened legal action. A few weeks later, the presidentof the San Diego Humane Society stated: “Our leading theory and most people’s leading theory is that these animals ended up as food for reptiles. […] we hope it’s not the case, but it’s impossible to think otherwise.”
In the San Diego Humane Society case, there were two intermediary transfers that obscured the troublesome final destination of these small pets. OC Animal Care (OCAC), on the other hand, transferred rabbits and rodents directly to a reptile group. San Diego launched an investigation and did not accept vague reassurances. OCAC is asking no questions, is not even bothering to look into the matter, and pretends that its behavior is totally fine.
A Public Records request led to a spreadsheet showing all animals transferred to this one recipient. Here is what we found from this spreadsheet and other Public Records.
The transfers happened in large batches, often dozens of animals at a time. Is the OC animal shelter off-loading its entire inventory of rabbits and guinea pigs each time?
OC Animal Care has claimed that the reptile group has extensive knowledge and experience in finding homes for rabbits, rodents, and birds. But a simple lookup in their Facebook posts finds, for example, no information on taking in or adopting out rabbits.
The animals came from many jurisdictions served by the OC shelter. Anaheim, Santa Ana, Fullerton, Orange, and Tustin each account for dozens of rabbits and rodents that were given by OCAC to the reptile group.
OC Animal Care has made the reptile group the primary destination for OC rodents and rabbits. Looking just at 2023 to mid-September (when the requests for Public Record began) we find that OC is making little if any attempt to reach species-appropriate rescues. The inventory of rabbits and rodents is cleared by transferring them to the reptile group. (We have not made a comparison for 2022 but it is likely to follow a similar pattern.)
OC Animal Care initiates contact with the group and proposes the transfer of rodents and rabbits to it. This is evident in a message from Community Outreach manager Sandy Pantoja.
The OC animal shelter entertained the idea of entering some other “front” group as the recipient, so that the public would not know that these animals went to a reptile organization.
We can reasonably assume that these transfers occurred with the knowledge and approval of management at OC Animal Care and OC Community Resources. Any criticism should be directed at the management teams, and not at ordinary employees who applied the guidelines given to them.
At the August 8, 2023 meeting of the Board of Supervisors meeting (Agenda item #28), Supervisor Chaffee said: “This last Saturday my office did a cat and rabbit adoption event […] I was there about a month before and they had about two dozen rats, white rats. And I asked, how are you going to deal with these rats? And we came back and they were all gone by Saturday. They found homes.” We applaud Supervisor Chaffee’s interest in rabbits and rodents. We hope that interest will extend to verifying, via a reliable independent investigation, where OC Animal Care sends these small pets and what their fate is.
Ask your County Supervisors and other local elected officials to order an investigation. (For information on specific animals, use the county’s Public Records portal.)
Romina Yamashiro, a Santa Ana resident, is an advocate for animal welfare and shelter reform. Fueled by concerns about OC Animal Care, she champions transparency and change, calling for external audits. Romina also focuses on promoting Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR) programs, striving for a positive impact on animal welfare and her community.
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