The Public Eye

Elk Grove explores animal shelter options

Animal advocates in Elk Grove are calling for the city to build its own shelter and believe the city has done too little to address public health and safety concerns that come with stray animals.

They say they are especially vexed after recent commitments by city leaders to other projects, including a south-city land purchase for a proposed soccer stadium complex and approval of an aquatic center in the city’s Civic Center area.

A city-run facility is but one option – officials are meeting with residents to hash out ways to address shelter service. A report to city leaders is expected in January. But residents and animal advocates say this city of more than 160,000 long ago outgrew its reliance on the county to shelter its stray animals.

The discussion comes nearly a year after entering into a deal to have Sacramento County house and care for the city’s stray animals.

Shelter proponents have criticized what they consider misplaced priorities as the city pursues big-name attractions. They believe a city facility would have more room for strays and give Elk Grove animal services staff more time to collect animals.

“If anything, the City Council isn’t paying attention to vital infrastructure in their push to be a tourist destination,” said Dr. Kelly Byam, an Elk Grove veterinarian who has long advocated for a city animal shelter. “We need a responsible municipal agency to take care of this. We need to have infrastructure. We need a city that works and not just plays.”

City leaders in August approved a nearly $4.4 million deal for 100 acres of farmland off Grant Line Road, borrowing money from the city’s stormwater drainage fund to pay for the parcel. Last month, City Council members approved a $17 million, 30-acre competitive aquatic center at Civic Center Drive near Big Horn Drive. The project will go out for bid in 2015 and could be completed as early as 2016. Elk Grove will fund the project.

City officials say the aquatic center funds must be used for that purpose after being appropriated for a similar project in 2006. The city also expects that the Grant Line Road recreation facility will generate enough revenue to pay back the stormwater drainage fund.

“The animal shelter can reach this status as well, but it takes time and action,” city spokeswoman Christine Brainerd said.

Elk Grove officials say animal services are a priority for the city. The city has its own animal control unit that collects animals and sends them to a county-run shelter on Bradshaw Road.

A city-commissioned study offered three future options: using the existing county shelter or another facility; using a future county facility or expanding a current one; or building and operating a new city-run shelter.

“Bottom line, the city wouldn’t be spending its time and resources to study the needs for animal services if this wasn’t a priority for the city,” Brainerd said. “It’s important to note that this is step one. The city is doing the needs-assessment study to discuss the various operating models. No conclusions have been made.”

But a packed audience voiced concerns about misguided priorities at a city-led forum in September where Elk Grove staffers debuted findings of a city-commissioned animal shelter needs study and listened to residents’ views.

“I hope that people stand up and see the reason for a shelter,” Manfred Werner said outside that forum. Werner, who lives in the Laguna area on the city’s west side, said he has captured nearly 300 stray cats in his neighborhood over the years to be spayed and neutered.

“Everyone in there wants the city to have its own shelter. The city can best serve its citizens by having its own shelter,” Louise Dela Cruz said outside the September forum. “That’s why residents voted for cityhood so long ago.”

A second forum is set for 6 p.m. Nov. 13 at Elk Grove City Council Chambers. A report to city leaders is expected in January, said Deputy City Manager Kara Reddig, who is leading the community forums.

County leaders in November 2013 approved a five-year contract to house Elk Grove’s strays, with the city picking up operating costs – about $595,000 for the current fiscal year, Police Chief Robert Lehner said.

The deal came after the Sacramento chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in January 2013 severed a contract with the city for animal housing. The chapter said it didn’t have the room to handle the animals coming from Elk Grove.

Elk Grove officials estimate the city will have taken in nearly 1,400 stray dogs and cats for the trip to the county’s Bradshaw Road shelter by the end of the year. Advocates say the number of strays collected is already easily twice that number, with many more still on the streets.

Feedback during the September forum could compel the city to revise those estimates upward, Reddig said.

Elk Grove’s animal services have worked since the end of the SPCA pact in 2013 to reduce the numbers sent to a shelter, Lehner said, by placing microchips in dogs so they can be more easily found and returned to their people.

“Overall, our shelter needs are not so much strays, but escaped and abandoned animals,” Lehner said.

A more complex challenge is controlling the city’s feral cat population, he said.

Reddig last week said the city isn’t wedded to any of the options. Rather, the city is “looking at all models. There is no front-running model because we’re in the preliminary stages.”

But Byam said relying on a Sacramento County with few resources to build or expand shelter services is unrealistic and says the city’s focus should be on building its own facility.

“It’s a people issue, it’s a health-and-safety issue, it’s a vital service,” Byam said. “It’s fine to have these other things, but we have loose animals in the streets. We’ve created this problem because we’ve grown so big. We can’t ignore that it exists.”