New era coming for OC Animal Care
By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist
This week, the Register detailed an important improvement for animals and the public: the construction of a state-of-the-art county animal shelter in Tustin that will provide a much-needed upgrade to the decades-old facility in Orange.
This move elevates the county’s focus on improving staffing levels and conditions within OC Animal Care. The agency runs the shelter and provides related public health and safety services to many Orange County cities. The county projects the 50,000-square-foot building will open in October 2017.
In coming weeks, 18 cities across the county will consider whether they will participate in this groundbreaking $35 million project. Some are weighing whether they can afford the cost. An equally relevant question is whether they can afford to drop the critical services that come along with partnering with the professional county staff to keep their communities safe and healthy.
OC Animal Care was created in Orange County because of a public health and safety necessity – to stem the spread of rabies and other communicable diseases.
At the shelter, that means staff cultivate partnerships with veterinarians and foster families to promote adoptions and transfers of orphaned animals to rescue groups. A professional staff also ensures animals are spayed or neutered, evaluated for aggression and that they are healthy before being released – unlike some other private organizations that take in animals and adopt out pets with a history of injuring children.
They also invest in protecting the public and animals outside shelter doors. Animal control officers do much more than picking up stray animals, ensuring they can be reunited with their families.
They are on the clock 24 hours a day, ready to respond to public-safety emergencies involving pets and wild animals. They regularly are called to intervene when children or others are attacked by dogs. And when officials discover a homeowner is hoarding snakes or cats or other animals – which happens surprisingly often in North Orange County – they are trained to remove the animals and ensure neighbors and police are protected from becoming ill.
They also seek justice for animals that are the victims of attacks. Through a partnership with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, hundreds of animal-related cases have been submitted for prosecution since 2012. These crimes are horrific – involving torture, neglect and even bestiality. In some cases, assaulting an animal is a precursor to domestic violence. There have been cases where husbands assault their wives’ pets during a dispute, and intervention by the animal care authorities prevents violence from escalating further.
Last year in Garden Grove, for example, OC Animal Care officers handled 567 bite investigations, 406 cases of animal cruelty and 75 vicious animal investigations.
Some cities have evaluated moving to a piecemeal approach to providing animal care services, by contracting with private kennels to handle strays and reducing or cutting the public health and safety services that are so needed in our communities. In some cases, cities are even considering moving to kennels with documented poor health and safety protocols, where animals have been found soaking wet in cages and in squalid conditions that threaten the health and safety of the pets and humans they come in contact with.
We sometimes take for granted that if our pet is lost, someone will pick up the phone to help 24 hours a day, or that there are experts who can intervene when a neighbor’s dog won’t stop barking, or worse, the house next door is infested with feral cats or snakes. That’s because the workers at OC Animal Care are always there.
The new shelter will add long-needed improvements to the kennel portion of the agency’s operation. It’s an exciting development for our community’s pets and people alike.
Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
Publication Date: April 15, 2016