“The Truth” and more of the truth

In my last post, I wrote about the San Francisco SPCA pressuring Animal Legal Defense Fund not to file suit against Stockton Animal Services and its supervisor, Pat Claerbout, for their unlawful practices. That pressure began in response to a blog ALDF posted in January 2014, and it came as a surprise. The blog told Gracie’s Story. Just in case that blog is taken down at some point, I grabbed a screen shot.

Gracie's story, page 1

Gracie’s story, page 1

Gracie's story page 2

Gracie’s story page 2

Shortly after the blog was posted, ALDF heard from its sometime ally from the San Francisco SPCA, Co-President Jennifer Scarlett, who said:

From: “Jennifer Scarlett, DVM” <jscarlett@sfspca.org> Date: January 17, 2014 at 12:43:11 PM PST
To: —–@aldf.org” <—–@aldf.org>
Cc: Carter Dillard <cdillard@ALDF.org>

Subject: Response to Stockton Blog

“Re: ‘Gracie’s Story: a Rescue Tail and an Exposé of Animal Suffering at the Stockton Animal Shelter’ We are very concerned and disappointed about the inaccurate and misleading facts presented in Ms. Molidor’s article about the Stockton Animal Shelter. Many of Ms. Molidor’s statements are based on information that is outdated by nearly two years. Since then, we have made significant progress toward improving our shelter and our live release rate.

“The Truth:

“By the end of 2013 Stockton Animal Shelter’s live release rate had climbed to 50%, which is the national average

“For comparison, our live release rate was 27% in 2011

“We have decreased euthanasia by 24% since 2012.
Adoptions and transfers have increased by 28% in the last year, which is more than 1,000 saved lives

“Since 2012, spay and neuter volume has increased by 67%, with 3,605 surgeries completed in 2013

“Our TNR (trap, neuter, release) volume is up 45% over 2012

“Last but not least, we have hired a full-time veterinarian, the first in the San Joaquin County shelter system

“The facts above speak volumes about what the Stockton Animal Shelter is trying to achieve and the improvements that we’ve recently made. Publishing misleading statements based on outdated facts on the Animal Legal Defense Fund website is harmful and unfair.

”Don’t set us back from what we’ve worked so hard to achieve; Stockton needs help and assistance from the community to continue its progress. We have extremely limited resources, and we need community support to help us improve our shelter.
We strongly encourage ALDF to print an updated story with accurate, current information. At the end of the day we all have the common goal of helping animals in need, and unfortunately Ms. Molidor’s article has the potential to be incredibly harmful to that objective.”

My response to our “team” at ALDF was quite long, but the main points are here. (Note: the blog must have originally listed Jennifer Molidor, ALDF staff writer, as author.) I have removed the name of one contact at ALDF, as that person has left the organization and as far as I know, had nothing to do with the decision to make a deal with Stockton and drop the lawsuit:

“You know this, but I still have to say it: Any discussion of statistics or changes in the live release rate is beside the point, since the complaint’s not about the live release rate but about violations of law. The point of legal action is that Stockton stubbornly refuses to follow relevant laws, as you pointed out in slightly different words,—.

“Still, Chris will give you the numbers. In the meantime, I would like to address the points raised in the SF SPCA’s message.

“First, the message doesn’t point out any inaccuracies in the blog, and the reasoning behind the claim that the blog is misleading seems to be that the incident described is from 2012 and that things are now dramatically different. Chris pulled up recent records noting animals with abscesses, Gracie’s injury. Abscesses are not common so are not the best gauge of changes in vet care, but for what it’s worth, Chris found that as recently as June, 2013, seven months in to the Stockton-SF SPCA MOU, a pit bull with an abscess that was noted on intake received no veterinary care whatsoever. He was held for several days with a painful untreated wound and then was killed when the abscess ruptured. Since the arrival of the SF veterinarian, abscesses have mostly been treated not by draining the wound as the protocols I’ve found recommend, but with antibiotics and Rimadil. Animals with abscesses only seem to get treatment during the spay/neuter surgery that prepares them for adoption. If they fall into Stockton’s ‘unadoptable’ category, they are prescribed pills and otherwise left to wait for the day of euthanasia.”

We couldn’t know it at the time, because we did not yet have records for January 2014 when Dr. Scarlett was proclaiming The Truth with a capital The and a capital T, but even as she wrote, Stockton (with its full-time SF SPCA veterinarian) was failing to provide veterinary care to some animals, such as A207726, noted to be injured on intake, with a “poss abscess on left side” (like Gracie) and with no notes whatsoever of veterinary care. This is just one of at least a half dozen injured animals who were killed with no indication they ever received the veterinary care they needed–and that the law requires shelters to provide.

Animal Legal Defense Fund’s decision to first allow delays and then make a deal to drop a suit aimed at protecting Stockton and California’s shelter animals is a betrayal of its mission.

"Poss abscess left side"--this dog may have had the same untreated injury as Gracie, even as Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, Co-President of the San Francisco SPCA, claimed that Gracie's Story was irrelevant.

“Poss abscess left side”–this dog may have had the same untreated injury as Gracie, even as Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, Co-President of the San Francisco SPCA, claimed that Gracie’s Story was irrelevant.

Posted in Uncategorized

Backroom deals and betrayal

It’s time to tell this story. After years of reform efforts on my part, and a year of pre-litigation advocacy with Animal Legal Defense Fund, we filed a lawsuit against Stockton Animal Services in March 2014. That much is public knowledge. What has not been public knowledge is that before the suit was filed, Stockton’s partner the San Francisco SPCA pressured ALDF not to file suit, and local Stockton groups pressured one of the co-plaintiffs not to file suit. The SF SPCA and Stockton pound supporters all refused to get Stockton to settle and follow the law. If they had helped to reach a settlement, that would have given them a tool to establish and maintain improved conditions for Stockton animals. But they didn’t want that. They just did not want us to file suit. ALDF almost dropped out then; in fact, they would only continue if I agreed to be silent about the San Francisco SPCA.

Once the suit was filed, it was one delay after another, and ALDF was strangely reluctant to push for discovery or progress. I was instructed to be silent, not to contact the media about anything, not to talk with anyone from Stockton about the suit…to shut up and go along with the delays. I did not know then, but learned on October 7, that Animal Legal Defense Fund had been in secret talks with Stockton to drop the lawsuit. Our attorneys hadn’t known about these secret talks either, until one of them got this message:

From: Michael Roush [mailto:Michael.Roush@stocktongov.com]

Sent: Tuesday, October 07, 2014 7:45 AM

To: Fuehrer, Erik

Cc: cgreen@aldf.org

Subject: RE: Scanned image from Sharp MX-M620N – PRN0113

Erik, I assume you have had some communication with Chris regarding the City’s efforts to amend its Animal Services Ordinance to address many of the issues raised in the litigation. In particular, Chris and I discussed on Friday whether the City would be willing to provide in its ordinance that there would be a 120 hour hold period for impounded dogs and cats rather than the 72 hour hold currently provided by state law. Chris indicated that if that were adopted, ADLF would no longer participate in the litigation. I have taken him at his word and, at this point, City staff is agreeable to that change to the proposed ordinance. But if you are going to insist on the discovery process continuing, I see no reason for the City to change its position on the 72 hour hold.

So, I need some clarification. Do we go with the 120 hour hold or do we continue the litigation? Please advise.

That night, the Stockton City Council voted unanimously to shorten hold times. Owner-surrendered animals can be transferred or adopted immediately and killed after 72 hours, instead of the 7-day hold time for animals with known owners that had been on the books. Hold times for strays are now the minimum required by the state until an animal can be adopted or transferred (shortened from 4 to 6 business days stray hold for owner redemption) and 120 hours till the animal can be killed. This shortens the hold times for most strays and all owner-surrendered animals.

Old and new hold times using Saturday impound as an example.

Old and new hold times using Saturday impound as an example.

The changes to the city code didn’t address “many” of the issues raised in the lawsuit and they didn’t improve city practices to comply with longer hold times; they shortened hold times to make it legal to kill animals sooner. ALDF promised to drop the lawsuit—without consulting me or the other plaintiffs, or our attorneys—in exchange for a less extreme reduction in the hold times for some animals. Lack of veterinary care was not addressed. Failure to treat animals kindly and humanely was not addressed. Killing animals with rescue holds, denying public access, capricious methods of determining adoptability, breed discrimination…none of that was addressed. So, the San Francisco SPCA pressured Animal Legal Defense Fund not to sue, ALDF pressured me to be silent about the San Francisco SPCA, and then ALDF did a secret backroom deal to drop the suit in exchange for basically nothing.

What do you think of that?

I’m seeking new attorneys so I can continue the litigation on my own. I fully expect new attempts to make me go away now that I will be the lone plaintiff, but one thing I am learning, over and over, is to do what’s right and do it loudly. No more silence.

Suzie aldf

Posted in Uncategorized

Stockton Animal Services: Claerbout and Beyond

I don’t know how Pat Claerbout got hired in Stockton. Claerbout was infamous in Sacramento County for her poor management and terrible treatment of animals and people alike, and she was infamous before that when she testified in opposition to the Hayden Act. I’d like to know how she got hired in Stockton. I imagine she was put in touch with Tammie Murrell through some contact on the California Animal Control Directors’ Association, and Murrell got her hired with the intention to push through a “Joint Powers Authority” (JPA) and run it herself after a year or two. That JPA, Murrell’s baby, was rejected by most cities in San Joaquin County but under consideration by the County and being pushed by Stockton when a few key stakeholders (including but not limited to me) popped up with a reality check and made the County Supervisors think–and put the brakes on.

So, Claerbout was hired in August 2011, Murrell’s JPA was on hold, and the kill rate in Stockton hovered around 75%. Claerbout started her term of employment by clearing out the facility with a needle: 971 animals killed in Claerbout’s first month at the Stockton pound.

Her term in Stockton was characterized by withholding veterinary care from sick and injured animals, killing strays during their hold period, killing owner surrendered animals on intake, killing cats at will, and generally running the Stockton pound like it was her own euthanasia certification practice site. Formal complaints, and more importantly, news stories like this, drew attention to Claerbout’s reign of terror. There was an investigation, but in the end, Stockton didn’t do much to reform its outlaw pound, and even though the city acknowledged laws were broken, it didn’t get rid of Claerbout.

Getting rid of Claerbout took a lawsuit. Despite the lawsuit and some improvements, though, the old high-kill mindset still rules in Stockton. Murrell, again in charge as Interim Manager, says she believes in the no kill equation, but she just led the effort to reduce hold times for many impounded animals.

So, the effort to truly reform the Stockton pound continues. It is possible to save every healthy and treatable animal. Stockton and its partner SF SPCA have been pushed and pressured and have tried to make the lawsuit go away through the time-honored tactics of fixing things before the courts put some oversight in place, and as a result, more animals are getting out alive. But just as in a segregated society, economic development leaves many minorities behind, in a pound with a high-kill mindset, improvements leave the most vulnerable animals–old, sick and injured, pit bulls–behind. So the effort for true reform continues.

Link | Posted on by

History Lesson

Stockton Animal Services before Pat Claerbout

With the public scrutiny and pressure of a pending lawsuit, Stockton has made some welcome changes in Animal Services operations. However, Stockton’s long history of poor management and unlawful practices demonstrates little or no understanding of the public good intended by animal protection laws. Pat Claerbout is gone, moving on to wreak havoc at the Baldwin Park, CA pound. The same people who were in charge before she was hired, and who worked with and defended her throughout her reign, are once again in charge of the Stockton pound.

Stockton Animal Services has a long and troubled history of poor performance and unlawful practices. That history includes killing animals during their mandatory hold periods, failing to provide veterinary care, and causing animals pain and suffering. These practices harm animals, their owners, and the people who spend a great deal of their own time and money trying to save animals in need. They also harm the public, as such practices constitute misuse, mismanagement, and waste of public funds.

We know about this history from City and State records, news stories, and animal records obtained through California Public Records Act requests. Staff comments in animal records show a long-term lack of compliance with mandatory stray hold periods; for example, this comment from 2007 on the record of a dog with the identification number A076990, “Advised [animal owner] of 72-hour hold.” At the time, state law required animals to be held four to six business days, and those holding periods had been in effect for almost 10 years. Stockton’s shelter performance has long been recognized as inadequate, and efforts at improvement have consistently been ill conceived and not evaluated.

As far back as 2007, when the Hayden holding periods of 4-6 business days were in full effect, Stockton clung to the 72-hour hold.

Over the years, efforts have been made to address the problem of the high kill rate at Stockton Animal Services; some have even been characterized as “no kill” initiatives. Current Stockton Animal Services and Animal Protection League head Tammie Murrell has led most of these efforts. In 2007, her “Pet Overpopulation Task Force” made recommendations that became local law. Those changes were introduced with the Gandhi quote, “The greatness of a nation, and its moral progress, can be judged by the way its animals are treated” but they weren’t really about better treatment for animals. They did increase hold times, bringing the city into alignment with the longer holding periods for animals that had been required since 1998 by California’s Hayden Act. But at the same time, they created much higher fees for licensing and redemption of unaltered animals. While the longer hold times were not respected, the new fees were enforced, and both the rate of licensing and the rate of owner redemption dropped.

Instead of the predicted increases in revenues, spay/neuter, and lifesaving, the opposite occurred. Most notably, in the absence of any low-cost spay/neuter assistance, owners had few resources to affordably alter and redeem their pets. Stockton’s ACT Spay/Neuter Clinic opened in 2009 and offered spay/neuter below the rates charged by private veterinarians, but those prices were still out of reach for many low-to-moderate income residents of the city and county. Within a year of implementation of the new fees, Stockton’s owner redemption rate for dogs went from 17% to 11% and continued to decrease to a low of 7% in 2011, but the city never evaluated the implementation or the impact of the changes. Highly adoptable animals began being transferred to distant rescues in 2009, but less adoptable animals were killed, even if their owners wanted them back.


The next attempt to fix the Animal Services problem was also led by Murrell, this time as a paid consultant. Murrell retired in 2010 as Deputy Chief of the Stockton Police Department, as one of the city’s most highly paid employees, and since then has served as a paid consultant and then as Interim Manager of Stockton Animal Services. Her San Joaquin County Animal Services study, initially presented in July 2011, recommended yet more fee increases and a reliance for revenue on door-to-door canvassing to enforce payment of pet licensing fees. Based on anticipated adoption of the recommendations in that study, Stockton cut its Animal Services staff by 10 FTE and its budget by more than $1 million in 2011. Soon after, “lack of staff” and “lack of resources” became the constant excuse for the high kill rate.

Over the years, efforts to “fix” Stockton Animal Services have proven ineffectual and often unlawful, such as the adherence to the practice of a 72-hour hold regardless of the legal requirement. With funding from the City of Stockton, Animal Protection League has operated a cat adoption center since 2002, with the cost to taxpayers now approaching a quarter million dollars total, and yet until this year, they never adopted out more than 15-20 cats a month. In the 10th year of the partnership, the live release rate for Stockton Animal Services’ cats was about 10%. Only the imminent and then actual filing of a lawsuit seems to have created the motivation to improve that dismal performance, though it seems many if not most cats are altered and put on the streets, whether or not they were pets.

This pet cat was "returned" to the streets as part of Stockton's new "community cats" program.

This pet cat was “relocated” to the streets as part of Stockton’s new “community cats” program.

The State Controller audited Stockton Animal Services’ Adoption Program. His report covers most of the period from 1998-2007. The State Auditor found that Stockton Animal Services made almost $2.5 million in “unallowable” claims for reimbursement from the state; that less than $500,000 of Stockton’s claims were allowable, and that Stockton should reimburse the state over $1.5 million for payments the city should not have received. These claims were made under the mandates of the state’s Hayden Act provisions, provisions that–if followed–protect shelter animals. It seems very clear that Stockton has never understood or complied with the state’s Hayden Act, even as it adopted some provisions as its own Municipal Code.

The next post will focus on the more recent history: the Claerbout era and beyond.

Posted in Uncategorized

Improvements vs. Reforms: Why Stockton Animal Services needs systemic reform

It looks like things are getting better at Stockton Animal Services. There’s a new coat of paint in a little yard that was empty for years. It’s used by a few approved volunteers to take attractive photographs of adoptable dogs, and that’s new, too. There’s a Facebook page for the City of Stockton Animal Shelter; a post on that page boasts of 60 adoptions for March 2014. Stockton’s Interim Shelter Manager, Tammie Murrell, claims a live release rate of 69% for January and February 2014. Stockton Animal Services even held its first ever orientation for people interested in fostering unweaned kittens. With all these improvements, how could anyone possibly complain?

As an advocate for shelter reform, and for saving every healthy and treatable animal, I am happy about every improvement that saves lives. But I’m not joining the fan club. These are improvements, but I don’t think they are reforms, and Stockton needs real reform–improvements based on systemic change and a commitment to saving lives by comprehensively implementing programs that work. I will post the history lesson another day, but the people in charge are the same ones who have been in charge for years and years of unlawful, high-kill operation. Their fundamental values and approach to animal control haven’t changed.

The sign has been removed, but the people haven't changed.

The sign has been removed, but the people haven’t changed.

There are now attractive photographs of adoptable dogs, and that’s great. However, many, if not most, of the adoptable dogs are still behind the locked door and not accessible to the public. Interim Shelter Manager Tammie Murrell said in a recent Stockton Record interview that many volunteers are directed to Animal Protection League and potential adopters can only see dogs with an escort because of the “limitations of the shelter”*—in other words, no public access, and the door will stay locked. That is a huge problem, and the people in charge either don’t know it or don’t care.

The locked door has been hiding a horror show.

The locked door has been hiding a horror show.

The statistics are held behind “locked doors,” too, with no published reports of shelter intake and outcomes. In order to figure out what’s going on, you have to put in a public records request, wait at least 10 days but usually several weeks to several months, and then figure out the statistics yourself from the hundreds of pages of individual animal records provided in PDF format. We have gone to the trouble of doing all that, but most people don’t have the time or know-how, so Stockton’s policy thwarts transparency and accountability. By contrast, the City of Sacramento posts animal shelter stats every month, with comparisons to the same data for previous years. I’m not thrilled with how slowly they are improving, but I can see ample evidence in the statistics and other public information that the improvements are real, that they reflect improvements in capacity and practices, and that they will last.

In Stockton, the 60 adoptions for March are out of about 700 animals impounded (an estimate based on records for Feb. 2014 and for March of 2012 and 2013 obtained through the California Public Records Act), so the adoption rate is less than 10%. Presenting this number as something positive is misleading.

Stockton has done little to improve local capacity for lifesaving, relying heavily on transferring the most adoptable animals to its partner shelters and rescues in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Seattle. Little is done to meet the needs of animals that most need the care of a lifesaving shelter: cats, and dogs labeled pit bulls/mixes.

From February records obtained through a public records request, we see that of approximately 180 cats impounded, 125 were sterilized and put on the streets, even if they had been pets before being impounded. Only 6 cats were adopted from Stockton Animal Services in February, despite the existence of a taxpayer subsidized cat adoption center run by Animal Protection League since 2002 (with subsidies now approaching a quarter million dollars).

The number of dogs going to rescue groups continues to grow, but it’s probably reaching the limit. Stockton has done little to encourage or incentivize rescue of pit bulls/mixes or to build local adoption programs. The de facto breed discriminatory killing continues.

The people making decisions for Stockton Animal Services haven’t changed. They have a long history of bad management and unlawful practice, a history of short-term improvements that evaporate as soon as the pressure lets up, and a history of claiming “we’ve fixed all that” when they really haven’t.

Any improvement that saves lives today is good, but what Stockton Animal Services really needs is deep and systemic reform. Until Stockton has new leadership committed to implementing the No Kill Equation, I will keep advocating for real reform.

I rescued Henry as a stray in Stockton in February 2014. He would have had a less than 1 in 5 chance of survival in the Stockton pound. He's still getting treatment for demodex, but he's been adopted and is happy and loved.

I rescued Henry as a stray in Stockton in February 2014. He would have had a less than 1 in 5 chance of survival in the Stockton pound. He’s still getting treatment for demodex, but he’s been adopted and is happy and loved.

*Roger Phillips (2014, April 4). “Work in Progress: Interim Manager of Stockton’s Animal Shelter Responds to Stinging Criticism” Stockton Record. http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140403/A_NEWS/404030328

Image | Posted on by

The preference for killing shows through in every little choice

Who would choose to kill a treatable dog when there was someone who wanted to save him? Pat Claerbout and the high-kill Stockton pound, that’s who.

On April 22, 2013, five months into the Memorandum of Understanding between Stockton and the San Francisco SPCA, a concerned member of the public brought a German shepherd with mange to Stockton Animal Services. The note does not report the conversation between the person who found the dog (the R/P) and the Animal Services staffer (ZB), but it’s likely the staff member told the R/P that the dog would be killed, because the R/P left with the dog, taking him to the vet and paying for it himself. When the veterinarian said he couldn’t board the dog for the duration of treatment for mange, the R/P brought the dog back to the pound.

He asked Stockton Animal Services to work with him to help the dog. He offered to pay. He also said he would like to possibly keep and treat the dog but he was  concerned about his own dogs catching it and about his pregnant wife. No one bothered to tell him demodectic mange is not contagious. No one did anything to save this treatable dog. At every decision point, everyone at Stockton Animal Services took the path that leads to death.

A196802 was unlawfully killed on his second day in the Stockton pound, even though a citizen wanted to save him and other dogs with severe demodex had been saved by Pups Rescue.

A196802 was unlawfully killed on his second day in the Stockton pound, even though a citizen wanted to save him and other dogs with severe demodex had been saved by Pups Rescue.

From the notes on this dog’s record, it appears that no one at Stockton Animal Services took any of the following actions to save the dog:

1. No one told the owner that mange is not contagious. It would not have cost Animal Services anything to give a concerned member of the public the one piece of information that might have allayed his fears and helped him save a life.

2. No one called a rescue and told them that someone was offering to pay the cost of treatment if they would save the dog.

3. No one asked the San Francisco SPCA for its expert advice about how to save this dog, even though the purpose of the MOU is to improve outcomes for animals, the SF SPCA has a well-funded veterinary hospital, and the leader of the partnership from the SF SPCA end is their Director of Shelter Medicine, Dr. Kate Kuzminski. Then again, Kuzminski has a record of recommending killing with rescue available.

kill the puppies

Stockton Animal Services probably could have saved that dog at no cost to the taxpayers. NONE of the actions above would have cost Stockton anything, and all could have been done even in Stockton’s current state of mismanagement, with barely any fosters or volunteers. Mange—even severe mange with secondary infections—is treatable, as shown by Speranza, Xena, Siousxie, Fiona, Angel, Luna, Wilbur, Charlie, Jack, Janet, Cindy and Sadie (all rescued by me or Pups Rescue with varying degrees of opposition by Stockton Animal Services). But you have to choose lifesaving over killing.

Wilbur, who had severe mange, was rescued by Pups Rescue of Stockton and now has a loving home.

Wilbur, who had severe mange, was rescued by Pups Rescue of Stockton and now has a loving home.

Furthermore, the note that an unnamed vet gave approval for killing a treatable dog before the end of his hold period tells me everything I need to know about the callousness and complete disregard for law and life of everyone in charge of that abysmal hellhole.

I personally have rescued dogs with severe demodex and secondary infections (one of them snoozes on the bed as I write this), and so has Pups Rescue. Generous people in and well beyond Stockton have fostered and/or adopted them, and we know that these dogs can be saved, deserve to be saved, and bring great joy and satisfaction to the people who save them.

When we first tried to rescue Fiona, Animal Services staff refused to release her without special permission from Supervisor Claerbout. They didn't need special permission to kill the dog in the next kennel while we were there, though. We fought to rescue Fiona, she was treated for demodex and is now a well-loved family pet.

When we first tried to rescue Fiona, Animal Services staff refused to release her without special permission from Supervisor Claerbout. They didn’t need special permission to kill the dog in the next kennel while we were there, though. We fought to rescue Fiona, she was treated for demodex and is now a well-loved family pet.

But even with evidence of dogs with severe demodex rescued, treated, and adopted, and even with someone who wanted to save A196802, Stockton just chose killing.

Even if you don’t believe it is possible to save every healthy and treatable animal, it is inexcusable to choose to kill when there are such easy lifesaving alternatives available. Pat Claerbout, Animal Protection League, and the San Francisco SPCA need to go. Stockton needs a Compassionate Director and the No Kill Equation now.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Stockton and SF SPCA Partnership Part 2: The Results

In mid-November the City of Stockton entered into an agreement with the San Francisco SPCA, the stated purpose of which was to improve humane outcomes for animals impounded in Stockton and to promote effectiveness and efficiency at the Stockton shelter. In Part 2 of this post we will examine the results of this partnership after five months of implementation.


Our analysis is based on records provided by the City of Stockton covering a ten-month period – five months before the partnership with the SF SPCA and five months after –  accounting for approximately 9,500 dogs and cats that were impounded alive.


Outcome rates before and after the SF SPCA partnership. Live-release rate is calculated using the Asilomar Accords formula, which counts adoptions, rescues, transfers, and owner redemptions as live releases, and does not count animals that were lost or died in custody. The rescue/adoption rate includes transfers to other shelters. The live-release rate and the kill rate sum to 100%.

When comparing performance during the five months before the SF SPCA partnership with performance during the five months after, we see that the overall live-release rate improved by 12 points.

To better understand this change, we next look at the live release of dogs and and cats separately, instead of aggregated together.

For dogs, we see that the live-release rate was essentially unchanged, with a 1% difference in the return-to-owner rate and no change at all in the rescue-adoption-transfer rate.


Outcomes for dogs. Dogs that arrived at the shelter dead, or that were lost or died in custody are not counted.

Because the live-release rate for dogs was unaffected by the SF SPCA partnership, the overall improvement must be attributable only to cats. For cats, we see that the live-release rate went up by 24 points. Since virtually no cats are returned to their owners, all of this change is in the number of cats rescued, transferred, or adopted.


Outcomes for cats. Cats that arrived at the shelter dead, or that were lost or died in custody are not counted. Likewise, TNR cats that were brought to the shelter solely for the purpose of a spay/neuter operation are not counted.

We want to understand what caused the improvement in the cat live-release rate. There are two ways in which the live-release rate might have improved: (1) by increasing the number of animals released alive (growing the pie slice) or (2) by decreasing the total number of animals impounded (shrinking the pie itself). To find out which it might be, we look at the absolute numbers of cats impounded and their outcomes (dogs are included too, for completeness).


Intake and outcome numbers for dogs and cats. Since so few cats were released alive in the five months before the partnership, a modest increase in the actual number of cats saved creates a large percent change.

In the period following the partnership 119 more cats were released alive (average 24 cats per month) and 959 fewer cats were killed (average 192 cats per month). Of the additional cats released alive, most were clustered in the tail of the time period, which is the beginning of the kitten season. At the same time, 1032 fewer cats were impounded (average 206 cats per month). While additional cats per month were released alive, given the magnitude of the other numbers it is clear that the dominant cause of the live-release rate improvement was a policy change that resulted in dramatically fewer cats being impounded in the first place (the contribution of the additional cats rescued/adopted per month is on the order of seven percentage points).

CatsIntakeTypeNumbersTo understand this a little better, we look at the kinds of cats that were impounded and see that the drop off was mainly in stray cats and not in cats surrendered by  owners.

Impounding fewer stray cats is a good practice that has been a component of high-save animal sheltering for a long time. Taking in cats only to kill them by the hundreds per month does not resolve citizen complaints, does not reflect the community’s values, and is not a wise outlay of taxpayer dollars. We are glad to see this change in the Stockton shelter’s operation, but we note that this change could have been made two years ago and would have had exactly the same effect. Also we note that this change provides a one-time boost in the performance numbers, and continued improvement will depend on the implementation of real life-saving initiatives, like a high-volume local adoption program and a strong system of local rescue organizations.

The reduction in stray cat impounds began around the time of the end of the Stockton Police Department investigation into illegal practices at the shelter, which was one or two months before the partnership with the SF SPCA. Thus, the before-partnership cat live-release rate of 8% noted earlier benefited some from this policy change. Historically, the shelter had a live-release rate of 5% for cats and was a veritable slaughterhouse for stray and surrendered cats, routinely killing them illegally within minutes of intake.

To sum up, the partnership between the Stockton shelter and the SF SPCA has yet to yield important and badly needed advances in saving more lives. At CCPA, we know that you cannot get anywhere close to a 90% live-release rate by transferring animals out of town. The results of this partnership substantiate that belief. While a transfer program can be a good supplement to a robust local adoption program, it is no substitute. Furthermore, when not managed properly, there is the danger of skimming off the most desirable and valuable animals and shipping them away, thus depleting the pool of animals available to local rescue organizations and weakening the local rescue system.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment