UCD vet school suggests changes to address conditions at Sacramento County shelter

A cat at the Sacramento County Animal Care Facility, November 17, 2010.
A cat at the Sacramento County Animal Care Facility, November 17, 2010. aalfaro@sacbee.com

Sacramento County needs to hire staff and make construction improvements to address inhumane conditions at its animal shelter, according to a review by the UC Davis veterinary school.

While the shelter has made improvements and reduced the number of animals it kills, some continue to live in unacceptable conditions, said Cynthia Karsten, a veterinarian at the school’s Koret Shelter Medicine Program. Among other things, feral cats live in housing where they eat, defecate and urinate in the same place.

At the request of the county’s animal care director, five members of the Shelter Medicine Program spent six months reviewing the shelter and concluded that staffing shortages and other problems prevent the county from providing “a truly safe haven for the animals” and are “severely jeopardizing the gains that have already been made,” according to the program’s report.

Animals remain in the shelter too long, Karsten told the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors during a presentation this week. Dogs stay in the shelter an average of nine days, while cats are housed an average of 11 days.

The shelter lacks the staff needed to move animals out of the shelter faster, she said. She recommended the county hire a shelter manager and a veterinarian.

She said the review team initially recommended the shelter stop taking in feral cats, since it is not considered a core mission and the problems at the shelter are so great. She said they backed off because of widespread opposition in the community.

Karsten said there is a lot of animosity among shelter staff as they struggle to meet the goals of providing proper care and find homes for animals, when appropriate, so they won’t be killed.

County Animal Care Attendant David Verdugo told supervisors that not enough time is spent evaluating animal behavior to see if they are suitable for adoption.

“We’re setting them up to fail,” he said, adding that animals are being returned to the shelter because of what owners consider inappropriate behavior.

Dave Dickinson, director of the Department of Animal Care and Regulation, said he agreed with the review’s findings and recommendations. He said changes are needed to keep improving on the county’s goal of returning animals to the community. In 2010, more than half of the animals in the shelter were killed, but the percentage of euthanized animals has dropped to about one-fourth in the first three quarters of this year.

Dickinson estimated that hiring a shelter manager and a veterinarian would cost roughly $200,000 a year.

Making adjustments to the feral cat housing would cost much less, Karsten said, but she did not have a cost estimate. The shelter would add separations to the cages.

At the request of supervisors, Dickinson will return to the board in coming months with a proposal to address the report’s issues. He said the board isn’t likely to consider new hires until it considers the next fiscal year budget in June.