Few details available on progress to change police policy on injured animals

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comOctober 18, 2013 

It’s been one month since the Merced Police Department announced changes to its policy dealing with injured animals, which used to include taking them to the department’s shooting range to be destroyed.

Since then, the department and city have not released any information regarding the new policy, details about how it will work or what steps they are taking in the process.

The department announced during a Sept. 17 news conference it will begin taking injured animals to nearby veterinarians to make a decision on whether to euthanize and to do so by injection.

Mike Conway, Merced city spokesman, said the plan’s details are still being finalized and he could not comment on when the city will release a proposal to the veterinarians in the community.

“I’m not the one putting it together so I don’t want to attach a timeline to it,” Conway said Wednesday, adding that the Police Department is working on it. “When we issue a news release, we’ll let you know.”

Calls placed to Police Chief Norm Andrade, Merced City Manager John Bramble and Lt. Bimley West were not returned Friday.

Merced Mayor Stan Thurston said one meeting took place three weeks ago regarding the changes to the police policy. The meeting included Thurston, Andrade, Merced City Finance Director Brad Grant and four veterinarians who asked not to be identified.

“What we’ve done already is decide the police won’t do that anymore,” Thurston said. “The thing is, the police officers do not want to put a bleeding injured dog in the back of their car.”

Thurston said he isn’t sure when the plan will come together, but there is talk of striking an agreement with veterinarians to provide services up to a maximum dollar amount, or adding an on-call animal control officer until midnight. Whatever is decided doesn’t need a City Council vote, he added.

The old policy, which reportedly had been in place for more than 25 years, allowed officers to take injured animals to the range on Gove Road to be put down. Police said the change was prompted by community outcry after Sun-Star stories about the policy.

The new policy will require police officers to call the nearest veterinarian to come to the scene and evaluate the condition of an injured animal. The veterinarian will determine if the animal should be put to sleep or receive treatment.

If the veterinarian decides an animal should be put down because of its injuries, he or she will euthanize the animal using an injection.

Leah Hill, owner of the area’s only 24-hour clinic, Merced Animal Medical Center, said that since the policy change was announced last month, she’s seen “a few” animals brought in by the Police Department.

Hill, who serves as the president of the Merced-Mariposa Veterinary Medical Association, said her group has met two times to discuss the issue.

“As an association of local vet clinics, we have been working with the local Police Department to make sure all the animals are being taken care of,” said Hill, adding that the association represents about 30 veterinarians. “We are expecting to have something finalized in the next two weeks.”

Eric Sakach, senior law enforcement specialist with the Humane Society of the United States, said he wrote Andrade a letter last month to clarify the law regarding law enforcement shooting injured animals. He offered to meet with the chief and his officers.

“The law does not permit moving an animal that cannot be moved to a firing range to be destroyed,” Sakach said in the Sept. 16 letter. “If you wish, I would be pleased to meet with you or your officers to discuss this matter and what options are available to ensure compliance with the law.”

There was no response from the Police Department, Sakach said, but he assumed the policy changes would take effect immediately.

“The law is really clear on this,” Sakach said. “If we discovered that they are still taking them out to the shooting range, especially after being advised on this, I think they are going to have a very difficult situation on their hands.”

Taking injured animals to a veterinarian also ensures they will be scanned for a microchip and potentially returned to their owners, Sakach added.

Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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