Thursday, May 08, 2014

Oakland's most popular dogs need community support

Follow up from our report back in December. Oakland Animal Services (OAS) is still in the spotlight for ongoing practices that endanger the survival of our city’s lost and surrendered dogs (News Link).  

If you are a pit bull owner or if you’ve found a lost dog in Oakland and you value his survival, it’s imperative that you try every alternative before bringing your dog to OAS at this time. Please read at bottom of post for information on alternatives. But first, some background...

OAS has been under heavy scrutiny for lack of leadership, high euthanasia rates of adoptable and ‘treatable/manageable’ animals (definitions), and substandard conditions brought on by too few staffers including an urgent lack of on-site veterinary care. 

Change is in the air, but it may be a long time coming: A recently hired shelter director is out on leave after less than two months at the helm and is not expected to be replaced until an investigation into allegations of misconduct are complete - possibly up to a year. In the meantime, the City has acknowledged that it is trying to find a way to move the shelter from the Oakland Police Department to civilian leadership. The how-tos for a possible transition have been tasked to the City Administrator, who recently resigned from his position and will be leaving in June. And these are just some of our challenges, Oakland.

Right: Daddy-O is the type of dog facing death at OAS. His age (six), his coat color and a flea allergy were the deciding factors. We were physically present the day he was set to be destroyed and were able to pull him in time to save his life.

Lost Pets, Lost Forever

While nearly every urban municipal shelter in CA utilizes an online photo database to help pet owners locate their lost animals (pet, OAS has no such system in place, leaving pet owners completely in the dark unless they can manage to visit the shelter during the 21 hours a week that they're open to the public. Those with transportation and scheduling challenges have little to no hope of reclaiming their animals.

To compare, next door neighbor Berkeley Animal Care Services uses as part of their proactive 'return to owner' (RTO) efforts and was able to return 33% of the dogs that walked in their door in 2013. OAS' 2013 stats have not been published yet, however they reported that only 12% of Oakland's dogs were returned to their homes 2012.

Communication Break Down

OAS does not have a formal system in place to alert rescues when pets are in danger of being euthanized. While most Bay Area shelters offer full disclosure including regular e-alerts and volunteer driven notices on busy Facebook pages, there is no euthanasia “list” or notification system at OAS for rescues to review. Once a dog goes in the door and has been deemed 'unadoptable,' very few ever know that he or she exists.

Over the years, the transfer of OAS animals at risk has been accomplished informally through emails or phone calls placed by one or more staff members and shelter volunteers to rescuers whom they maintain personal relationships with. Their valiant efforts have saved numerous animals, but falls short of being an effective approach to rescue outreach. As a stop gap measure, the Oakland City Administrator’s office has just communicated that they will now be offering select times for rescues to "visit the shelter" and assess animals that are scheduled to be euthanized (link).  (We're currently waiting for a reply to learn more about this system).

Euthanasia decisions at OAS tend to happen very quickly, and pit bulls and dogs that are mistaken as pit bulls are quick to go. We acknowledge that the City wants to do better by its animals and efforts are s-l-o-w-l-y moving towards creating positive change. However, until the shelter develops a coherent system for working with rescue groups and families who’ve lost their dogs, it will continue to be one of the deadliest places for a lost or unclaimed pit bull in the SF bay area to find itself. 

Right: Huckleberry was set to be destroyed without a formal evaluation after a staff member felt that he looked at her "funny." We were physically present the day on his last day and pulled him into our program. Huck is now a reading assistant dog for a tutor who works with at-risk kids. You can read more about his work on his facebook page.

Please Act

What can you do when you find a stray or can no longer keep your own dog?

- Do everything in your power to reunite your stray with the dog’s owner. Don’t assume he’s from a ‘bad home’ because he’s dirty or shows wear & tear from life on the streets. Locating his home may save his life. What to do if you find a stray

-  Have the dog scanned for a microchip at your vet’s office, or contact us and we’ll scan him for you.

-  Consider holding onto the dog until you can find a home. If the dog is a pit bull or pit bull look-alike, we’ll support you with free training and promotional assistance. Contact us

Right: 'Squeeks' was set to be destroyed at OAS after a staffer found her to be too shy. We were physically present on the day she was set to be destroyed so were able to pull her into our program. Squeeks is now a cherished member of her family.

- If you can no longer keep your dog, plan ahead. It can take several weeks or months to find a new home. Let us coach you. Start here: Rehoming Advice

-  If you cannot afford a spay/neuter surgery, veterinary care or are facing homelessness because of your housing situation, please visit this page first and then allow us the opportunity to help you. Keep'Em Home

- If you’re a veterinarian, RVT, foster home or donor and want to help us reduce the number of pit bulls entering (and dying inside) Oakland Animal Services, please join our Keep'Em Home Project.

- Contact your City Council member, and demand that the shelter move quickly to fill critical staff positions and to build an advisory board to oversee shelter policies.

To save lives, demand that the shelter begin immediately to improve slagging 'return to owner' stats and increase the public’s ability to search for their lost animals inside through an online database.

Right: This pointer was said to be misidentified as a pit bull and destroyed by OAS staff because the "pit bull population is too high." Link  Of course, pit bulls and their imposters are not the only breed types that are losing their lives at OAS. This facebook page, run by OAS volunteers, offers more examples. 

To increase the number animals saved by rescues, demand that the OAS provide 501c3 groups with a minimum of 48 hours notice via an electronic alert on ANY adoptable/treatable/manageable dog that they plan to put to sleep.

For Oakland's dogs and the families who love them, thank you.

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 -


Unknown said...

Oh my God - euthanize a dog because she's too shy? If my local shelter had followed that policy, our beautiful little pit bull Gina, the love of our lives, would've been destroyed before we ever had a chance to meet her. And she's now been a cherished family member for 7 years. Sharla Fouquet, Sarasota FL

Diane said...

I live in Oakland and, for years, I believed that, when finding a stray in Oakland, taking the animal to Oakland Animal Services was the best course of action. In fact, I counseled and assisted several neighbors on this, convincing them to "let our municipal shelter do its job" and "go to the place the owner is likely to go looking", etc, after they were initially not inclined for fear the animal would be killed.

In January, I found a stray cattle dog mix early on a Sunday morning in Oakland. I spent hours walking the dog around the area where I found her and having her privately scanned for a non-existent microchip. Finally, unsuccessful in locating her owner, and unable to bring her home with my dog who is selective, I took her to Oakland Animal Services.

At Oakland Animal Services, the dog was held in "the back" for one month, then killed. During that month I called many times, visited once and even sent one potential adopter down to meet her. I could never get an answer from anyone as to why she was not being made available for adoption or what her options were. She was a nice, sweet dog. I am a long-time shelter volunteer (at a different shelter) and have worked with many dogs. This was a sweet, well-adjusted dog.

The final time I called to ask about the dog, I was told she had been "put to sleep" (hate that expression). The person on the phone read from the file "finder stopped calling - put to sleep". Finder (me) called many times and even visited once. Finder did not "stop calling". Finder was not getting any useful information from calls and was prevented from helping to network the dog. So sad, so avoidable, and one of many similar stories.

Becky said...

This is so sad and yet so helpful that you've laid it out there in black and white. I just hope Oaklander's take note and really push their city council hard. You've been there at the last minute for some fantastic dogs, it hurts the soul to think of all the ones that no one was there to save. :-(