Give 'em Shelter
Cities grapple with the problem of sheltering stray animals.
Thursday, January 7, 1999
While the future relationship between the SPCA of Monterey County and the cities and county it has served for more than 20 years remains to be defined (see related story, page 11), one thing is certain--the number of stray animals continues to increase and they need a place to go.
Two months ago, the SPCA of Monterey County notified county officials and the cities of Salinas and Seaside that come July 1, 1999, it will no longer be able to contract for sheltering their stray animals. The SPCA cited provisions of the Hayden Bill (SB 1785), which extends the holding period for stray animals from three days to six days, as the main reason. That means the SPCA would have to have roughly twice its current boarding capacity just to shelter the same 12,000 or so animals that passed through its doors in the last year.
Together the unincorporated county areas, Salinas and Seaside account for 82 percent of those animals. All the impacted agencies are hoping that statewide lobbying efforts will persuade the legislature to extend the effective date of July 1. In the meantime, the county has taken a lead role in getting together with the cities to explore a joint solution.
"We''re talking to cities about how we can create a new shelter operated jointly or perhaps two or three shelters," says Dr. Robert Melton, Monterey County''s health director. "Short term, we need a temporary shelter. Long term, a joint powers agreement to build a new shelter. I''m not sure how it will line up in terms of number of cities and number of facilities. Our goal is to have something up and going by July 1 and to build a more permanent facility by next year."
Currently, almost 37 percent of the SPCA''s sheltered animals come from the unincorporated areas of the county, costing more than $225,000. The county solution, according to Melton, will "depend on whether jurisdictions go in together and what type of facility is created."
One additional consideration for the county, says Melton, is its size. "The county is so big, animals are spread out. People like a shelter close to home and not have to drive 60 miles to look for a lost animal."
While Melton doesn''t spell out many specifics, Seaside Police Chief David Butler is asking his City Council tonight to approve Seaside''s participation in an interim shelter agreement with the county. Seaside accounts for almost 10 percent of the animals sheltered at the SPCA.
According to Butler''s staff report, "plans are underway to prepare the old Fort Ord holding facility in Marina to serve as an interim site for [Seaside''s animals]. This will provide time to develop a long term solution." Facility renovation is estimated at $100,000; operating expense is estimated at $336,100. Participating agencies would contribute a proportionate share of the total cost.
While talks continue, the city of Salinas, which is responsible for about 36 percent of the SPCA''s sheltered animals, is already on its way to building a new animal shelter. The city council last month approved plans to develop and operate a new animal control facility at its former sewer treatment plant site on Hitchcock Road.
"We''re hoping we''ll be able to work something out with other jurisdictions," says Salinas Mayor Anna Caballero, "but the numbers for Salinas are so tremendous we had to do something. We couldn''t wait. We''re caught in a situation where we have to react quickly to take care or our needs."
Salinas operated its own animal shelter program until three years ago, housing approximately 3,000 animals a year. When its facility couldn''t keep up with the space demands of increasing numbers of animals, Salinas closed it down and contracted with the SPCA to shelter its strays. The number of strays continued to increase, climbing to more than 4,200 last year. "The animal control officers had more time to pick up more strays," explains Caballero.
The new facility--to be built with modular construction and expansion capability--comes at the estimated price of $1 million.
"We''re looking at 5,000 animals," says Wayne Green, assistant to the city manager. For that, continues Green, "Salinas needs 60 dog runs and 40 to 60 cat cages to house 100 to 120 animals at one time. We want a humane facility that''s clean and gives animals room to move around."
According to Green, there is not enough temporary shelter space available without a new facility before July 1. "The county is doing (an agreement) first. There''s not enough time to negotiate, etc. before July 1. We couldn''t do the facility in time.
The city''s old animal shelter was antiquated, with cages and cement runs and it came under public criticism for being less than acceptable for strays--a move that in part prompted the city to ask the SPCA to take over its sheltering responsibilities. Salinas currently spends $227,000 a year for contracted sheltering services at the SPCA (up from $128,000 three years ago) and another $191,000 for three animal control officers, supplies and materials. The city plans to raise the necessary funding for the new shelter by means of a bond issue.
But, says Caballero, facilities alone are not enough to solve Salinas'' animal control problem. "It''s become clear that we need to start a spay/neuter program. We hope to put together city funds to offer a low cost spay/neuter program for low-income families and find some veterinarians willing to help us. I have no details yet," she adds. "We need to educate the public to be responsible pet owners. We spend a quarter of a million dollars on sheltering unwanted animals and euthanizing them." Adds Caballero: "If we can get across how to raise animals, including spaying and neutering, the amount of dollars spent on unwanted animals will go down."
Money isn''t Caballero''s only concern. "A phenomenal number of animals are destroyed every year," she says--around 2,500, according to the SPCA of Monterey County. Other animals are abandoned. "It''s tragic," says Caballero. "They''ve been raised by people, but in a year or two, they are dumped. They''re unruly because they have not been given training. Then, when they start chewing things up, they''re dumped. People need to be taught how to raise animals."
Caballero says she hasn''t seen an increase in dumping yet, but is concerned. So is Monterey County District 2 Supervisor Judy Pennycook "We can''t have abandoned animals on roads getting hurt and maimed," says Pennycook. "We have to do what we can to find placement and safe haven for them. Partnerships are in the best interest in keeping costs down. If we can''t partner with the SPCA, we have to look at whatever we can do."
While the county and cities scramble to find shelter for stray and unwanted animals, SPCA Executive Director Dr. Priscilla Stockner is looking at new directions for the local organization. "We will still accommodate the cities that brought smaller numbers of animals," she says. "We receive 1,200 animals a year from owners who can''t keep them. Animal control doesn''t deal with surrendered animals. We will continue this regardless of residential area."
"So many things change as a result of the Hayden Bill," Stockner explains. "We told (the county and cities) we can''t comply with the Hayden Bill. It''s not simply a sheltering contract. Our relationship will change," she adds. "What it will be is still on the drawing boards."