At Purina Pro Plan's 53rd annual Show Dogs of the Year Awards, presented by Dogs in Review magazine and the Bow Tie Inc. publishing company, Irvine Animal Care Center (IACC) was presented the Shelter of the Year award in 2007 for the facility's innovative programs and disaster-relief efforts during that year's Southern California wildfires.
Billing itself as "a progressive and innovative municipal animal shelter," the IACC has also been recognized for providing top-notch veterinary care; high-quality food; soft bedding; and daily socialization with animals that include dogs, cats and bunnies available for adoption.
But what has most set the IACC apart from other city- or county-run shelters are its low rates of euthanization. A February 2013 Orange County Register article reported only 6.2 percent of IACC animals were put down for behavioral and health reasons–and that none was euthanized due to lack of space or time spent at the shelter. By comparison, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals lists the national rate of euthanization for cats at 70 percent and dogs at 60 percent.
"We don't consider ourselves a 'no-kill' shelter," the center's administrator Ron Edwards told the Register at the time, "but our euthanization numbers are extremely low."
Edwards is no longer the IACC administrator; Michelle Quigley took over in November 2013. And today, along with chief veterinarian Dr. Lawrence Kosmin, she is accused of running the shelter's sterling reputation into the ground. Their accusers are IACC volunteers, including 10 who say they quit over a litany of quality concerns (see the blockquote portion of this post).
Things have deteriorated so quickly and profoundly that volunteers swarmed the Nov. 25 Irvine City Council meeting to speak out and present a 50-page report detailing the problems at the 3.73-acre, park-like shelter that operates on a $2.53 million budget in the current fiscal year.
The volunteers say they have previously advised IACC staff, the City Council, city manager, assistant city manager, Community Services director, Community Services manager and Human Resources Department of their concerns, but doing so publicly got the word out to residents watching in the council chambers or on local television.
"Sadly, I realized the shelter developed a culture that did not center on animal welfare," said Ava Crittenden, her voice cracking, of her decision to quit as a staff member just days before the City Council meeting. "I saw our city dollars being spent on a management team that falls grossly short of upholding the city's vision."
One longtime volunteer said she used to have funds from her paycheck diverted to the city shelter but will donate no longer. Another, who had volunteered for 11 years, alleged "animals are being euthanized carelessly, barbarically, for space and just out of laziness for not wanting to care for them any further."
When it came to gravitas, it was tough to top Dotsie Bausch, a silver medalist for USA Cycling at the 2012 London Olympics, an Irvine Distinguished Citizen Award honoree last summer and a shelter volunteer for the past four years. "We want to get the shelter back to what was celebrated on the national news channels and what every Irvine resident wants it to be," she told the council.
Despite the revelation that these concerns have been presented to them before, the top two members of the City Council only appear to be taking them seriously now. "The city manager will closely monitor what the shelter management is doing to prompt these complaints," Mayor Steven Choi told the Register a day after the council meeting, saying pre-publicity about the IACC volunteers coming to address city leaders and the folks at the speakers podium that night convinced him problems exist.
Choi said that after some investigation, city staff will draft a proposal for changes that will be brought before council for a vote. But the mayor hinted at one major change: "I was hoping Michelle Quigley could turn it around, but obviously, this person may have her own set of problems," Choi said.
When it comes to medical care, Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Lalloway said the city will consult with experts, possibly from the UC Davis veterinary school. "Whatever the problem is, we'll get to the bottom of it and fix it," Lalloway vowed to the Daily Pilot on Nov. 28.
The council did take one solid step toward improving IACC at that Nov. 25 meeting, although it was coincidental, coming as part of its year-end budget review: A $250,000 request for medical supplies and new flooring at the shelter was approved.
Parts of this story originally appeared on Navel Gazing as "Animal Shelter Volunteers to Raise Concerns About Conditions to Irvine City Council."