Community Columns

County animal shelter director's hold time is up

In April, the director of animal services implemented a closed-door policy at the Stanislaus County Animal Shelter. This means residents can't go into the compound to see most of the animals unless they claim to have lost a pet.

In three months, the result is 2,379 healthy, behaviorally sound cats, kittens, dogs and puppies were killed without being allowed a single opportunity to be adopted. The main reason given for this policy is that it keeps the animals healthier and calmer and prevents people from getting bitten. But what is the purpose of keeping the animals healthy? Is it so that they can be healthy and calm when they are killed after their five-day hold time is up?

During this same period, management has admitted they have not kept up with demand for adoptions. They claimed it was because they were unable to get vets to spay or neuter adoptable animals. But I called four veterinary clinics and found that three of them were willing to spay or neuter adoptable shelter animals.

What then is the reason that adoption demand is not being met while thousands of healthy adoptable animals are being killed?

The majority of the photos on the shelter's Web site are for reclaiming a lost pet. If you see an animal you are interested in adopting, you are not allowed to request that you be notified when the animal's hold time is up. They say it is because the animal might get sick and have to be euthanized.

In the six shelters in Los Angeles, not only can residents consider any healthy animal for adoption, they can adopt an injured or sick animal by having it transferred directly to their personal veterinarian, with the resident taking full responsibility for the cost of veterinary care.

When Mike McFarland started as shelter director more than a year ago, he claimed he had respect for the lives of animals. But his policy does not show respect for their lives. He is acting as if the only two choices are no access to the animals or a total free-for-all with everyone touching animals, spreading disease and getting bitten.

McFarland also claims the shelter is a reflection of the community. He blames the high intake on the community, without allowing community members to help more animals leave the shelter alive through adoption. He has failed to implement large volunteer and foster home programs, which are vital to allowing citizens to help decrease the killing at the shelter.

It seems that hiring a manager with many years of experience in animal control only leads to the same old high-kill policies.

Before the community engages in major fund-raising for a new animal shelter, we need to make sure the management of the shelter is dedicated on a daily basis to saving as many lives as possible. This includes finding ways to not impound more animals as well as having more animals leave the shelter alive, and using the veterinary community to the fullest extent it is willing.

For the past year, we've given McFarland the benefit of the doubt. Now he needs to shape up or ship out.

Robinson, of Modesto, is the president of the Coalition for Cats and Dogs.