Lots of people find out about the unlawful and cruel practices at Stockton Animal Services by reading or hearing about a single case in which an animal wasn’t provided veterinary care, or was killed early, or where owners were charged hundreds of dollars to get their pet back and/or the pet was killed when the owners couldn’t pay. Shocking as those instances are, it’s hard to fathom the extent of the problem when you encounter it one case at a time. So here’s the Cliff’s Notes version.
Stockton Animal Services has been a high-kill pound for a long time. Minutes from City Council meetings in 2007 refer to the problem and to the council’s “No Kill Plan.” The plan involved increasing fees and fines on pet owners. The plan was supposed to include grant funding, but the grants were never written or didn’t come through, perhaps because they were as ill-conceived as Stockton’s no kill plan was.
In 2011, Pat Claerbout, formerly the embattled director of Sacramento County’s animal services division, was hired to run Stockton Animal Services, part of the Police Department. She was appointed by City Manager Bob Deis despite her controversial history, including accusations that she killed animals illegally in Sacramento. Claerbout also publicly testified in opposition to the Hayden Act, which provides safeguards to shelter animals, before it became law, on the grounds that it would be too hard and too expensive to hold animals for 6 days. Claerbout began her work in Stockton by killing off 971 animals. Called to account for the huge number of killings, Claerbout was blasé.
I had heard a lot of stories about the bad things happening at Stockton Animal Services. In January 2012, I helped Marilyn Williams of Pups Rescue compile her concerns into a formal letter of complaint to the Chief of Police, who oversees Stockton Animal Services, and I submitted a request for public records to find out exactly what was going on. The California Public Records Act gives public agencies 10 days to provide a response to a request for records, and specifies that within that 10 days they need to let the requester know when the actual records will be forthcoming. Long story short: it took three months of fighting for Stockton to produce partial records. When we did get the records, here’s what we found:
40% of animals killed were killed on intake;
Another 36% were killed during their holding period;
Injured animals were routinely killed instead of receiving veterinary care.
Animals were killed for being “thin,” “scard” (scared or scarred?), and for possibly having skin allergies.
On visiting Stockton Animal Services on March 2, 2012, we found injured animals with no record of veterinary treatment, like Gracie and Speranza. As a result of the fight to get records, and the evidence that sick and injured animals were not receiving veterinary care as required by law, I lodged another formal complaint in April, 2012. The Police Department had said it launched an investigation as a result of Pups Rescue’s complaint, but I got no reply to my formal letter of complaint.
Every trip to Stockton Animal Services and every record obtained through the California Public Records Act added to the story. I, and others, contacted Stockton’s Police Chief, Mayor, and City Council time after time, with no result. Two more news stories did what we had not been able to do, and reinvigorated the moribund investigation into unlawful practices at Stockton Animal Services.
There have since been many more cases of sick and injured animals not receiving treatment, and we have received more records. The investigation ended with token changes: the shelter is open from noon to four on Saturdays now, and this is presented as a way to increase adoptions but actually allows Stockton to call Saturday a business day for the purposes of state law. That means it can reduce holding times and legally kill animals sooner. Stockton PD’s investigation into Animal Services also concluded with the statement that, “The department found that some of the policies and procedures in effect at the shelter, although meeting the spirit of the law, have not always met the precise letter of the law.”
We now have plenty of evidence that Stockton Animal Services under Pat Claerbout is violating both the letter and spirit of the law: animals killed for being malnourished, killed for being injured, killed for being old– killed, killed, killed. Stockton has consistently ignored the unlawful practices at its animal shelter. Only a massive outpouring of public outrage is going to make a difference.