Monday, December 09, 2013

Oakland Animal Services in Crisis

Dear Oakland residents: Your city animal shelter is in complete and utter crisis.

That’s not ‘new’ news I’m sorry to say, but things at our infamously troubled city agency just went from bad to worse when Oakland Animal Services (OAS) - a branch of the Oakland Police Department - announced that they are no longer spaying/neutering adopted animals before they go home. Instead, adopters are now required to shoulder the burden and the expense. From the OAS website:

ADOPT ***Please note our new spay/neuter policy*** Due to shelter staffing, we cannot perform spay/neuter surgeries at OAS. All adopted animals are still required to be spayed or neutered per state law. Adopters will have two weeks to have the animal they adopted spayed or neutered at a vet of their choosing, at their own expense. Our new adoption fees are $10 for cats and $35 for dogs. We hope this is a temporary measure until we hire new vet staff. 

Does OPD know that they’re breaking state law? 

Food & Agriculture Code (Div 14, Ch 1.5., § 30520. (a)) states that "no public animal control agency or shelter, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals shelter, humane society shelter, or rescue group shall sell or give away to a new owner any dog that has not been spayed or neutered.” Link

The state makes exceptions for animals that are too sick/weak to go under the knife, or towns/counties under 100,000 residents. But Oakland is a city of 400k+ with a population of dogs and cats that will be very happy to spike the number of unplanned litters once they leave the shelter. Why? It's not an easy fix: The average cost to spay a dog is between $250 and $450 at the busy VCA Bay Area Pet Hospital. Even with the best intentions, human nature dictates and many will procrastinate making the expensive appointment until 'accidents happen.' Who really wants the bother? The added trouble and expense of adopting from OAS will naturally send dog shoppers elsewhere, driving city animal adoptions down and euthanasias up. Shelter volunteers have stepped up to sponsor adopted pets’ surgeries and others are scrambling to secure subsidized help from other non-profits including the East Bay SPCA, Berkeley Humane Society and SFSPCA. Key word: Scrambling. Shelter supporters we've spoken with have been in tears since interim director Dan Cronin made the announcement.

What gives, Oakland? 

Here’s the dirty laundry: While under the management of the Oakland Police Department, OAS has long suffered from the stresses of severe budget cuts, a revolving door of directors, staff shortages, furlough days and restrictive shelter hours, high volunteer turn over and a tenacious housing crisis that has boomeranged into a steady flow of homeless pets into crowded kennels. Meanwhile, distracted city leaders who have their hands full with other compelling PD-related problems (LINK) have let OAS’ ongoing issues fall to the bottom of their fix-it list. Unlike our neighboring community of Berkeley where animal lovers shouted their city pets to the front burner of city leaders' agendas and succeeded in building a viable shelter-based lifeline for pets in crisis, the culture of Oakland’s city government and even many residents has just never been terribly sympathetic to animal issues. Hence, our crisis - We are a very broke city with a plethora of problems affecting humans and our pets are, well,  just animals, right?

This is where the cultures clash in Oakland. To many of us, animals are our family, our comfort, our obligation. Whether they live with us in the O-hills or in the most challenged neighborhood in East Oakland, they greatly improve our quality of life by bringing joy and companionship. They are part of what makes us human. They matter and we owe them our best. Beyond the pet culture, Oakland residents face difficulties brought on by too-few animal control officers on our city streets (the city has only ten officers and is currently attempting to hire two full time and one part time officer).

Yes, the city is broke and cranky about it, but designing solutions to tough animal-related challenges is not outside of the scope of our local imagination. The SF bay area boasts some of the most motivated and solution-driven animal welfare mavericks in the country, all of whom have been wringing their hands about OAS from the sidelines, and all powerless to intervene due to - you know- city politics.

Leadership Fail 

OAS has been without a director since March 2013, and the city has been dragging feet on finding a replacement. Two candidates are said to be going through background checks right now and one would hope that the city would hurry that process along. A post on Craigslist advertising the position of shelter veterinarian is less than inviting. The new vet is expected to work as an independent contractor up to five difficult days a week tending to the needs of compromised shelter animals, help investigate and build cruelty cases and serve the OPD K-9 unit dogs. All without job security or medical/union benefits.

Without an oversight committee in place to help chart the course and implement humane policies for Oakland’s animal issues, our city pets face a losing battle. Oakland needs a humane commission made up of capable leaders and area experts to guide the city in best practices for a new age - budget problems and all. We really can’t pretend the shelter is doing well in its current state. It’s being euthanized right in front of our eyes.

Please Speak Out

If you’re a SF bay area resident, please tell Oakland city leaders that animal lovers want an immediate response to this current crisis, starting with full compliance of the state law requiring spay/neuter of adopted shelter pets and a vigorous effort to bring effective leadership to this important and badly neglected corner of our city.

Post City Council Meeting EDIT: With counsel woman Libby Schaaf leading the charge, the Oakland city council has agreed to move forward with exploring ways to move the city shelter out from under OPD management. We will update as we have news. Thanks to all who presented their views to the counsel.

The Oakland city council meets the second and fourth Tuesday of the month - this week! Please attend and submit a speaker card to get your chance to speak for one minute. Link

Deanna Santana, City Administrator:
Chief of Police: Sean Whent:
Jean Quan, Mayor:
City Council Members - If you live in one of their districts, you should mention it, but you don't need to be an Oakland resident for them to hear you on Oakland issues.
Noel Gallo - (510) 238-7005 - (the shelter is in his district)
Libby Schaaf - (510) 238-7004 - 
Dan Kalb - (510) 238-7001
Pat Kernighan - (510) 238-7002 -
Lynette Gibson McElhaney - (510) 238-7003 -
Desley Brooks - (510) 238-7006 -
Larry Reid, Vice Mayor - (510) 238-7007 -
Rebecca Kaplan - (510) 238-7008 -


Jill Posener said...

Donna - thank you. The community had a chance to change the direction of OAS years ago when there was a massive scandal during the tenure of a previous director (who now runs Contra Costa Animal Services). We came close to being able to remove the agency from under PD - no animal shelter should be run by a law enforcement agency. But there wasn't the political will then, and there probably won't be the political will to do it now. And you are so right about their violation of state law by releasing unaltered animals. So disheartening. Paw Fund just received an email asking us for help with a 12 week old female pit bull pup who OAS refused to take in an an owner surrender saying the woman had to make an appointment. What part of the word 'shelter' (a place of refuge) do they not understand? Thank you again for this important post.

Diane said...

This is terrible!

If the police department will not give up management of the shelter, can they at least partner with a private organization, that will spay/neuter, for the adoptions side of the operation?

How can they possibly release un-altered animals? In addition to being morally reprehensible, I find it ironic that a law enforcement agency's policy is to systematically break state law.

copykate said...

Perhaps you are unaware that the shelter vet resigned. The city (not just OPD) has a laborious hiring process that can easily take 6 months. The shelter folks are trying to pressure the council to fast-track the vet position, and it would actually be helpful if people would contact the mayors office and their city council member to add their voices to that. (If you want to mention all the other shelter positions the city has failed to fill, please do!) Because you know what's worse than sending animals home unfixed? That many animals in a space with no vet care on hand!
I volunteer at Oakland, and though what you say is true, it leaves out a lot that changes the perspective, I think. For instance, OAS has improved so much that at least one former director was more or less poached by a city that needed help with its shelter. Volunteer turnover is always high at a municipal shelter because it's HARD: A municipal shelter isn't allowed to turn away animals the way a "no kill" shelter does. That means you see some things you'd really rather not. Also, you do know Berkeley is a quarter the size of Oakland, with a higher median income, right?

Sue Davy said...

Petaluma Animal Services can spay/neuter Oakland adoptees for $100. Email us at: to get scheduled. Go forth and adopt! Sue Davy, Board of Directors

Maria Bradford said...

This is ridiculous! Here in Washington State they spay and neuter for Free,$25 on up!We even have agency that will put $ out for the cause, whats up you people in the community is there no humanity for each other. I will stay out of Oakland that is for sure!!

Donna said...

Very generous, Sue Davy. However we have to caution against enabling a broken system. The city of Oakland is in violation of state law by releasing unaltered pets and the community of pet lovers needs to hold them to their moral and legal obligation. Petaluma Animal Services may want to contact OAS directly and help the shelter comply with mandated surgery requirements before* ownership is transferred to adopters - not after.

the ghostwriter said...

This is terrible! And its also breaking the California law. I'll try to spread the word on this, thanks for the heads up Donna.

Anonymous said...

Well this will cost them MORE money in the long run. So even constituents who don't gove a rip about the animals should be up in arms. More strays, more calls to police about at large dogs, bites, harassment. More housing animals. MORE MONEY! NO animal should EVER leave a shleter into a new home WITHOUT being spayed/neutered and vaccinated.

Kathryn R said...

Is there only one vet in Oakland? How about the clinics stepping up to the plate and offering pro-bono spay/neuter once a month to help pet owners comply with an illegal rule? Don't vets take a hippocratic oath to take care of the animals? Then it is their bound duty to offer their services free of charge on a periodic basis. I think that with what they charge a regular customer, they could afford to do this. Take responsibility folks. If you want a pet, be prepared to pay for vet bills as well. If you don't want to pay for a spay/neuter, are you going to want to pay for general exams and wellness visits? Something to think about.

copykate said...

There are actually several very good reasons for the shelter to be under law enforcement. When animal control officers are actually part of the department, investigating animal cruelty charges is taken more seriously. As part of the department, OAS has pushed to get convictions and has also worked to get animal education included in all officers' training (dog body postures, recognizing abuse signs, for example). Personally, I like the idea that my four-footed family's safety is on an equal footing with my own. Today's animal control officers are there because the truly care about animals and want to help. And the police department is unlikely to be entirely defunded, so at least there IS a pie to slice up.
At today's city council meeting, OAS staffing was on the agenda, and you can see the results in this PDF: As you can see, acting chief Whent also promises a report in January about possible transfer of OAS to another department. So now would be an excellent time to make your solutions known to him.

Loran said...

I went to the council meeting tonight. They gave us 60 seconds to make our point. I don't remember all I said but my final sentence was "You can be known as the city council that fixes this...or the next one can." It was more nerve wracking than it ought to have been so I'm just going to have to go back : ) Like tweeting, it will take some thought to get what I need to say in 60 second bits but what the heck, good hobby for the winter!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for giving a solution and not an added complaint. We get so frustrated at times that we stop problem solving and just go on complaining. Thanks a lot

Sumiko Saulson said...

the East Bay SPCA average spay/neuter cost is half as much ($125 for dogs/$60 for cats), and low-income pet owners qualify for an even lower rate of half that with income and residency verification. Pit bulls, which are the dogs in every single one of the photos, are spayed/neutered for free by the East Bay SPCA. You don't have to get your pet from them to have your pet spayed by them - we had our formally feral cat spayed there.

Unknown said...

Thank you Donna for background info, parsing out what we need now, and the contact list. And, thank you Jill Posener for always willing to stand up when others sit.

Anonymous said...

This is on the public safety committee's agenda for tonight's meeting - 6pm.|&Search=