Animal services chief defends shelter’s euthanization policies

Animal Services Executive Director Annette Patton responded to a flap this week over euthanized dogs pictured on Facebook by inviting reporters to the regional animal shelter on Cornucopia Way in Modesto.

Chad Winchester, an inmate in a sheriff’s alternative work program, took the photo while working at the shelter Sunday and put it online. The picture showed six or seven lifeless dogs lying on the floor of the shelter’s “E.R.” or euthanization room, and Winchester noted that a few smaller dogs were in a corner.

It was the kind of disturbing picture that is omitted when reporters turn off the camera out of discretion.

The Stanislaus Animal Services Agency serving the county, Modesto, Ceres, Patterson, Hughson and Waterford is not a “no kill” shelter. A percentage of the animals brought there are euthanized, some of them injured, sick, aged or in pain, Patton said.

The agency, which has a $4 million budget, has active adoption programs with a goal of further reducing euthanization, which has fallen from 75 percent five years ago to 46 percent last year.

“We don’t line up the dogs for massive euthanization,” Patton said. “I want the public to understand we are very humane and compassionate when we have to perform this process as an absolute last resort.”

After the agency took some flak over the picture this week, Patton decided to shed more light on the incident and the shelter’s euthanization process.

I should mention that animal issues really are not my subject. Patton said I was the second reporter to ask this week if animals are gassed at the shelter. Nope. The unfortunate dogs and cats are put down with an injection.

Inside the “E.R.,” one employee gently holds the dog on a table, even if it is bad-tempered, while a trained and certified staff member administers the injection.

Patton also explained why the picture on Facebook showed the lifeless dogs on the floor. She said that was done because their pulse needs to be taken to verify death before the bodies are taken to a refrigerator. The shelter does not incinerate; rather, a company from San Diego picks up the carcasses.

The inmate was able to enter the euthanization room because an employee left the door propped open while fetching a gurney. Patton said she has talked with the employee and implemented a new policy to ensure the door is always locked.

The Animal Services Agency asked the Sheriff’s Department to make sure the inmate no longer works at the shelter.

Sheriff Adam Christianson said Winchester was returned to custody, finished his sentence and was released.

Patton said she expects the shelter’s euthanization rate will be lower than 46 percent when the numbers are run this month, with Thursday’s close of the 2015-16 budget year.

The best way to reduce the number of unwanted or stray animals is through adoption and programs to shrink the population of dogs and cats, she said. Low-income families in the county and the member cities can receive a $50 coupon to help with the cost of spaying or neutering a pet.

Starting Friday, people who own pit bulls or Chihuahuas in the 95307, 95351, 95354 and 95358 ZIP codes of Modesto and Ceres can take their animals to the shelter at 3647 Cornucopia Way to receive a free spay or neuter certificate, a rabies vaccination and free license. Those ZIP codes and breeds were targeted because of the large number of those animals brought to the shelter from those areas.

For more information, call the agency at 209-558-7387.

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321