Photo by Keith MayOn average, adult dogs and cats crap between two and four times per day, with multiple whizzes sprinkled throughout. So when you multiply that stat by the roughly 250 dogs and cats currently kept at the Orange County Animal Shelter in Orange, it makes sense that workers there hose down the cages at least twice per day, every day.
But what to do with all that watered-down doo-doo? The problem with the Animal Shelter's waste-disposal method is that its kennel drains not into sewer pipes—where wastewater eventually gets sanitized before being pumped out to sea—but untreated into storm drains that pour directly into the Santa Ana River, which flows into the most polluted waters off Huntington Beach.
This dumping violates federal clean-water regulations but has been standard policy at the Animal Shelter for years, according to employees who spoke with the Weekly under condition of anonymity. And not only are these workers' county bosses aware of the problem, but they're also apparently doing little to stop it.
The latter revelation comes courtesy of an Aug. 30 and Sept. 2 workshop for Animal Shelter employees conducted by the county's Resources N Development Management Department (RDMD) Stormwater Program, the agency in charge of ensuring that Orange County rivers and beaches remain pollutant-free. Animal Shelter workers who attended the mandatory meeting described the hourlong lecture as your standard bureaucratic bore: handouts, diagrams, and an accompanying slide show stating such grade-school maxims as “Water Resources are Crucial to Orange County” and “Lead by Example.”
What awoke the packed lecture on both days, these employees say, was the candor of RDMD spokesperson Christine Hanson, who blasted the Animal Shelter gang for washing Fido's digested lunch down the drain.
“[Hanson] was appalled that we wash feces and urine down the drain and not pick them up and put them in trash dispensers,” one worker said. “She also noted that most of our dumpsters and trash cans were overflowing and that the parking lot was filled with trash. That's also a violation, apparently.”
But in the course of the reprimanding, according to those present, Hanson also told workers that the county is “just going to keep the shelter in the shadows and hope that it does not get inspected [by the State Water Resources Control Board]. At one point, she even put her fingers to her lips and told us to be quiet about it.”
In a written response to questions submitted by the Weekly via e-mail, Hanson and her supervisor, Grant Sharp, did not deny that the cover-up exchange took place. They both disputed, however, that Animal Shelter workers wash pet excrement directly into the storm-drain system, saying that a trough that leads to a sewer collects such cleanings. Hanson and Sharp noted that the water used to wash off walkways goes directly into storm drains, but since a Jan. 26 RDMD Animal Shelter inspection identified this particular problem, “Animal Shelter staff has reduced the amount of water used for this purpose while incorporating dry cleaning techniques, thus preventing non-stormwater discharges to the maximum extent practicable.”
But Kurt Berchtold, assistant executive officer with the Santa Ana Regional Board of the California State Water Resources Control Board, said that if his agency finds the Animal Shelter is dumping waste into the river in any way, “the administrative penalties would be $10,000 per day of violation.
“We have a permit that is issued to the county of Orange and the cities that requires them to inventory all the businesses that have a potential to discharge runoff that adversely affect water quality,” Berchtold said. “They're required to identify and inspect those types of businesses.” Failure to do so, Berchtold added, would “require some corrective measure to prevent future violations. And depending on the severity, we can also decide to take some penalty actions [against the business and municipality].”
This is merely the latest controversy stinking up around the Animal Shelter. In the past five years, county officials have reprimanded the facility for euthanizing pets in cruel and unusual ways and allegedly using funds earmarked for spaying and neutering animals to subsidize the salaries of administrators. Most recently, the Weekly reported that one of the shelter's special projects coordinators, Kevin Van Otterloo, molested a handicapped boy while Van Otterloo was a nurse at Orange County Juvenile Hall (see “Heavy Petting,” Aug. 20).
The anonymous Animal Shelter workers don't think the prospect of penalties will provoke any changes. “There's not a lot we can do, and the county knows this,” one Animal Shelter worker said. “They have put in thousands of dollars to fix things up, but the shelter is still falling apart.”
The worker added, “The funny thing about it all is that after Hanson finished the presentation and talked about overflowing dumpsters, the next day we walk into the parking lot, and not only were the dumpsters filled, but there was also trash strewn all over the parking lot. Last week they shoveled goat feces and hay into the dumpster and when some fell out onto the ground about 25 feet from a drain it was just left there. Everyone is so set in their ways that any recommendations won't faze workers here at all.”