Leading The Charge
New Monterey County SPCA director's "no-kill" philosophy dovetails with change in state law.
Thursday, January 7, 1999
In June ''98, Dr. Priscilla Stockner was chosen to lead the Monterey County SPCA (MCSPCA) into the 21st century, a century that--from all apparent indications--will coincide with a philosophical movement toward the idea that sheltered animals should not be killed. at least not at the rate they''ve been euthanized before.
Last year, the state legislature passed the so-called "Hayden Bill," which goes into effect July 1 and doubles the amount of time shelter animals must be kept before they are euthanized, from three to six days. And Stockner herself announced in October that the SPCA would work towards no longer killing any adoptable animals--a move that will end up relegating the problem of sheltering strays back to several cities that the SPCA had been contracting with (see related story, page 7).
But implementing a no-kill policy locally dovetails nicely with Stockner''s own philosophy. A former chair of the California Council of Companion Animal Advocates, an organization that strives to decrease pet overpopulation and euthanasia, Stockner believes "no-kill" is an obtainable goal, although she''s the first to admit to the challenges in making that goal a reality.
"The Hayden Bill [SB 1785] passage forced a change. Before, we could offer shelter to cities'' animals. It doesn''t end what we do, but now we have to have more of a partnership, with cities providing shelters and us helping to develop their humane efforts," Stockner says.
"Salinas is going full-scale to build a new shelter, they have land already. Other cities will do okay too, some have shelters, like Marina and P.G. The county will have to scramble. They get animals from the unincorporated areas and many strays and they have only four [animal control] officers for the whole county. Each agency must come up with their own solution, and we''ll try to help if they want. There''s no doomsday here. We''ll take some overflow, and we''ll always take the owner-surrendered pets. Strays will have to stay in the community they''re found in. We get about 32 animals a day, from six districts. About 28 or 29 of those are strays."
According to MCSPCA figures, about 12,000 animals are brought in each year, with about 2,500 adoptable animals euthanized annually. "Basically," says Stockner, "we need 2,500 families to adopt an animal and then much of the problem would be solved. We''re doing pretty good since that is only [one-sixth] of the animals that come in each year.
"Our goal is to not kill any animal that could be adopted. We''ll take that on a case-by-case basis. A dog with rabies or another serious, untreatable, infectious disease is not appropriate," she says. In fact, the Hayden Bill spells out what "adoptable" and "treatable" can mean.
"I go through the kennels every day and tell each animal, ''this could be your day, someone will come.'' The way we can do it is, we''re compassionate strangers," Stockner says. "Euthanasia is painless, and there are fates worse than death. It''s better than abuse, or starving to death or injury. I think there will always be a place for humane euthanasia. No-kill supporters believe there won''t be a time when they won''t kill all [animals]. Some animals have health problems and compassionate euthanasia may be better than the endless suffering. I''ve seen dogs that are so allergic to fleas that they have no hair left and can''t take more than two steps without stopping to scratch. Is that better than death? What is the proper application of euthanasia then? Some shelters just have arbitrary killing--''oh, we have too many brown dogs, they''ll never get adopted,'' or ''oh, that one never moves, no one will want it''--but we''re not that bad off in Monterey County. We''ll always work to place adoptable animals."
A one-time management consultant, Stockner first came to California from Seattle in 1982, with a background in management consulting. She first worked in Los Angeles, then moved to the San Diego area a few years later. Her clients in L.A. were primarily veterinarians, dentists, and women who wanted to start up their own small businesses. She herself owned a veterinarian practice, leading to a connection with other animal welfare agencies.
Stockner''s curriculum vitae includes evaluating animal control in San Diego County and then in the smaller community of Escondido. She participated in a countywide task force, working with a humane society there. This was the beginning of her connection to the SPCA, which started her on the road to Monterey. "It was the best application of my combination of skills, as veterinarian, animal lover and business manager."
Of the Monterey County SPCA chapter, Stockner says "It''s smaller than San Diego, which made some things easier." In the past, the MCSPCA has been criticized as disorganized, but with Stockner''s management background, the group may soon be running a tighter ship.
Vision 2005, a comprehensive long-range plan developed by Stockner and the MSPCA board (based on the year that the MCSPCA turns 100), was announced in October. It features an outline to help cities develop "satellite" humane shelters for their strays, a plan to better control feral cat colonies, a Website (www.spcamc.org) and a hotline (877-4-SPCA-MC) for better public access, and an adoption outreach program called Foster Friends.
"You come out and take an adoptable animal home with you. You care for it, socialize it and take it upon yourself to get it into a good permanent home," explains Stockner of the underlying philosophy behind the plan. "We think it''s a great way for people to feel involved and to keep the animals in the public eye. The Foster Friends generally feel a bigger obligation to find a good home for an animal they''ve come to know. We try to keep the animals moving, in mobile pet-adoption units, pet adoptions out in the community like at PetsMart, anywhere people could see them."
A large part of Stockner''s job also includes managing the SPCA staff and the hundreds of volunteers, attempting to involve and encourage everyone. "I''m what you call a ''participatory manager,'' which is sort of a buzzword in management these days," she says. "Our staff now works in empowered teams and they''re given tasks to accomplish. Everyone''s vision is incorporated and welcomed. Volunteers usually want animal contact. We always need volunteers and we assess their wants and our needs and see how they could match up closest. Some have been helping for 10 or 15 years."
Another facet of the SPCA is community education, and Stockner plans to strengthen those programs in the next few months. "One of our main concerns is education. I don''t know how many times we''ve heard ''I didn''t know that'' when it comes to animal safety and care. Many don''t know that dogs should not be tied on a chain in a yard because of their ''fight or flight'' instincts and because dogs are social animals who want to be in the house with people, their ''pack.'' Animal care runs the spectrum. A lot of these problems are solvable with just some education. We want to work with people, to educate them on how to handle pets, so the pets don''t get brought in here. Once we''ve gotten them adopted, we want them to be taken care of and we want to help. It''s in our interest."
Stockner says she is particularly delighted with the depth of community compassion and media involvement in Monterey County. "The interest is a pleasure. There''s a wide network that informs people of a need. Our pet overpopulation problem is close to being solved, the pet/owner connection is getting there. I see a horizon in Monterey. In L.A., it''s almost hopeless. I''d never want to work there.
"This county is very tolerant of wildlife intrusion. Our shelter is located in a beautiful location here, more than others I''ve been at. The back country, that most people don''t see, is very rough but gorgeous, with indigenous plant life. Many humane societies are on leased land and much of their energy goes into staying in their location or finding a new place. We''ve thought of a possible interpretive center, preservation of land, possible building expansion. There could also be hiking back there, with maybe educational tours of native wildlife. We''ve got lots of ideas, maybe a pet cemetery or columbarium. We''ve got a backlog at the spay/neuter clinic, so maybe that will be expanded."
Of course, the not-so-tolerant side of wildlife intrusion has been seen in the community reaction to raccoons in Pacific Grove, where a toddler last year became ill after ingesting soil contaminated by raccoon feces. Stockner voiced opposition to P.G.''s killing of raccoons and she is also concerned that the public still doesn''t understand the safety of not feeding wild animals. "We''ve always printed literature on not feeding wildlife, it''s not good for people or the animals. I think P.G. is starting to understand the interface of wildlife."
While Stockner may have been hired as the head honcho of a group facing challenges now enlarged by more state requirements, it''s also obvious that she cares deeply about the animals, as a vet and a pet owner.
"Of course I have shelter pets. Right now I''ve got two cats, J.J. and Spiderwoman. Spiderwoman was brought in by a woman who said ''I just paid $1,000 for this cat and she won''t even come out from under my bed!'' She wanted one who would sit in her lap. Well, Abyssinians might sit next to you but not in your lap. She also was slightly cross-eyed so that seemed to affect her sight. J.J. is a 20-pound Maine Coon and sort of acts as a ''seeing-eye cat'' for her, it''s neat. I''ve always been a dog fancier too." She points affectionately to an oil painting on her office wall of a noble-looking Golden Retriever and then to a watercolor of two Shelties with Sheltie pups near her desk. "Those are the two breeds I''ve had most.
"I always took in the hurt animals that were found. We were building a retaining wall near the house once and I found a nest of little creatures, and I convinced my mom that they weren''t rats and she let me raise them in a box on top of the stove, where it was warm, until their eyes opened. All the animals I had that died went in a pet cemetery under my bedroom window and I decorated the graves with rocks and shells. When I was about 15 or so, we were moving and my dad asked ''what do you want to do about your cemetary?'' Well, he helped me square it off and dig it all up and it got moved with us."
Of the MCSPCA''s future mission, Stockner is clear. "We''ll always shelter animals," she says, "That was never a question, even after the Hayden Bill. We''re advocates for the animals'' perspectives. We''ll always take a leadership position for animals and work to strengthen the animal/human bond. We''ll always be out watching the chicken playing tic-tac-toe [on Cannery Row] and the monkey man [in Custom House Plaza] to make sure the monkey looks healthy. California''s laws are the best in the U.S. Some would say they''re too strict but the point is to protect animals'' rights and people''s safety. If we have compassion in how we treat animals, it''s a correlation to how we treat people." cw