Killing Joke

Photo by Keith MayEmployees at the OrangeCounty Animal Shelter often find animals dead in their cramped metal cages —from exposure to extremes of temperature, insects and disease. Simple cage cards identifying the animal's name, personality and medical history don't exist. Individuals who wish to adopt these animals face long lines, demoralized personnel and a sign on the shelter door reading, "It will take approximately one hour to redeem or adopt a pet." Only recently were activists able to force the shelter's chief veterinarian of 27 years, Dr. Richard Evans, to abandon his preferred method of euthanizing cats—injecting a killing solution into the animal's liver, a procedure that brought death after 15 painful minutes. County executive officer Jan Mittermeier has made some administration changes in recent months, but Evans remains.

Now conditions at the shelter are likely to get even worse. On Jan. 1, a new state law goes into effect requiring all county shelters to develop a plan for spaying and neutering all dogs in their care. The idea is to reduce the number of stray dogs. But at the Nov. 10 shelter advisory board meeting, county officials unveiled an anemic two-page document—one page for each month it was late—and critics of the shelter were outraged.

"This is a ridiculous plan," said Maria Dales, a longtime shelter critic and former shelter advisory board chairwoman. "We've been waiting for a year for this, and it is totally inadequate."

The plan is short because it's simple: the agency proposes hiring a new vet to perform all animal surgeries at the shelter. It's virtually identical to the spaying program for 1,200 cats each year that began in February 1998. Of course, the new vet will report to Evans. That's how shelter officials—who can't even keep their own facilities clean—expect to comply with state law.

"The shelter has had since September 1998 to come up with this plan," said Robert Newman, an attorney and shelter advisory board member. "For them to take on 4,400 more canine surgeries—considering the substandard care that's already at the shelter—is madness."

Newman and Dales have a different proposal: sack Evans, eliminating his influence and procedures.

Newman poked huge holes in the current plan—holes shelter officials couldn't fill during their Nov. 10 public meeting. For instance, the new vet position has no written job description or salary range. Shelter officials say they're negotiating with vet candidates but wouldn't name names for the advisory board. Nor would officials explain how they selected the shortlisted candidates—though it's clear the plan never went through the standard competitive process county officials say they hold dear. No Request for Proposal ever went out to the veterinary community. Shelter officials wouldn't even say where in the shelter the new vet would perform the additional surgeries.

Then there's the shelter's survey that supposedly validates its proposal. "According to a recently conducted fee study," says the plan, "by performing the services at the animal shelter, the cost of such services per animal can be reduced to $36, thereby reducing the cost for the customer to adopt the animal."

To the reporters and members of the public looking at the plan for the first time, saving money sounded pretty good. But it wasn't. "They asked 247 veterinarians about the feasibility of their plan," explained Newman. "They got back three responses. That's pretty pathetic."

Though the plan proposes to carry out the surgeries at the shelter, it also includes a proposal to lease a mobile surgical trailer at a cost of $12,768 per year. The plan says the trailer would "transport the estimated 4,400 dogs a year," but it doesn't say where. The same plan boldly ignores important information on the trailer's manufacturer. Though the county refused to help him, Newman identified the manufacturer as La Boit Inc. He contacted the company on his own—and discovered the county could simply buy a medical trailer for less than $50,000. Shelter officials wouldn't explain why they chose a lease over a purchase or how they found La Boit in the first place.

Evans, who will gain additional responsibilities under the new plan, didn't return the Weekly's phone calls.


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