Why pay attention to Animal Services when the city is bankrupt?

Why, when Stockton is bankrupt, should anyone care about just one of its failed city agencies? Because that one agency is part of, and emblematic of, the whole. Anyone can begin to understand the systemic problems that led to bankruptcy by taking a look at one agency: Animal Services.

Bankruptcy is not something that happened to Stockton. It’s not something beyond Stockton’s control. It’s not a self-contained problem that needs to be solved apart from everything else in Stockton. Bankruptcy is not a problem that gives city leaders an excuse to ignore other problems. Bankruptcy is the result of long-term poor leadership and poor decision making. Animal Services is an example. Perhaps most importantly, the example of Animal Services shows us that Stockton is not developing the ability to make better decisions, so bankruptcy is unlikely to be the solution to its fiscal and civic problems.

Let’s take a look at Stockton Animal Services, a division of the Stockton Police Department.

While Stockton’s neighbors in Sacramento city and county animal services have focused on programs that work, with the result that they have made huge improvements in lifesaving, Stockton flounders, doing just about everything wrong. Stockton’s Animal Services director Pat Claerbout was the director in Sacramento County for six years—six years of citizen, employee, and volunteer complaints, six years of a kill rate that hovered around 50% (the adoption rate remained less than 20% from 2006-2009). Since Claerbout left Sacramento County’s animal services, that agency has improved its save rate from about 50% to almost 80%. The opening of a new Sacramento County shelter can’t explain the difference, since the dramatic improvements started not with the opening of the new shelter but with the departure of Claerbout, and lifesaving took a nosedive during the brief period that Claerbout’s crony, Tara Diller, was in charge, and came back up when she was replaced.

Meanwhile, in Stockton, Claerbout is repeating her failed leadership experience, with the difference that she has the backing of the wealthy San Francisco SPCA and the lazy, trusting Stockton City Council. Sacramento agencies have improved lifesaving by 60-100%, while Stockton has remained flat, barely fluctuating around its 70% kill rate. And yet, despite the proof of unlawful practices, despite the dismal performance, despite elected officials’ statements that the killing at the Stockton pound makes them sick to their poor little tummies, Stockton sticks with its incompetent employees and contractors (cronies, all), and refuses to actually solve a problem that has a known solution! What kind of government is that?


There are programs that, as a set, have been shown to increase lifesaving dramatically when implemented comprehensively, intensively, and with integrity. Together, they’re called the No Kill Equation, and they act to decrease intakes in the short- and long-term, improve shelter care, and increase placements. Of those programs, Stockton has nearly moribund adoption, rescue, and foster activities, and its Trap-Neuter-Return program barely scrapes the surface of the need. There are no pet retention, volunteer, community outreach, or medical/behavioral programs, and “proactive redemptions”—efforts to return owned animals to their homes—are a sick joke in Stockton, where the de facto policy is to inform owners of astronomical fees, fees that mount every day, give them a literal deadline, and then kill the pet when the owner cannot afford to pay.

Stockton’s failure cannot be explained by a lack of resources. Stockton wastes $2000 a month on a taxpayer subsidized cat adoption center that adopts out, on average, fewer than one cat per day. The organization that runs that adoption center, Animal Protection League (formerly and more accurately Stockton Animal Shelter Friends) is a staunch supporter of current shelter operations and of Claerbout.

Stockton also spent the time of its animal services director and staff, as well as an assistant city attorney, negotiating an agreement with the San Francisco SPCA that requires the city to make its database and records available and turn over any animal the SF SPCA requests, does not require the SF SPCA to do anything, and has not changed the live release rate for most dogs and cats. The agreement has actually contributed to unlawful breed-specific killing by cutting every pit bull type dog’s chances of survival in half, from about 20% to 10% if you include owner-redemptions, and from a 13% chance of survival to about a 6% chance if you exclude owner redemptions from the mix.

Whether from an animal welfare perspective, concerned citizen perspective, or a fiscal perspective, this is not good government—and this kind of decision making, extended across all city divisions and agencies as it must be, gives a pretty dismal prognosis for Stockton’s future fiscal and civic health.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Why pay attention to Animal Services when the city is bankrupt?

  1. Catherine Johnson says:

    I have been following the efforts of Ghetto Dog rescue in a very poor area of LA w/ a progressive shelter director. They have a team parked out front of that shelter that problem solve w/ people bringing in animals – they have fixed fences, diverted to rescue, worked w/ local vets to take care of some medical problems at a low cost, and actually provide free training classes and consults to work w/ the behavioral issues that bring some pets to a shelter! If they can do it in that environment, can’t we do better?

  2. Tara Diller says:

    I am posting here, because the website, blog and Facebook pages do not have a “contact us” area.
    I am writing to you today to discuss your most recent blog: Why pay attention to Animal Services when the city is bankrupt?, posted on May 8, 2013.
    In your article, you not only referred to me as Pat Claerbout’ s crony, but you also, inaccurately said that when I was in charge of the shelter after her departure, the live release rate took a dive. I would like to address these statements, so that you know the real me, not the caricature that you have inaccurately created.

    I have never been in charge of the shelter. When Pat left, the County put the Code Enforcement Chief in charge, Carl Simpson, so I am unclear where you received the information that I was put in charge. But, most importantly, I want to address the devastating and hurtful statement where you accuse me of being responsible for the death of animals, needlessly, when my life’s work is and has been dedicated to just the opposite.

    During the nearly 13 years of my career, I have fought, very hard, for many of the lifesaving programs we now have in place. I am responsible for starting our Community Cats and Barn Cat program where we no longer euthanize healthy feral cats, I secured the County’s first ever PetSmart Charities grant of $99,000 to target the spay/neuter of pit bulls and Chihuahua’s and mixes of those breeds, in two of our under-served communities who desperately need free services brought to them and want to do the right thing, I even included free rabies and licensing in that program to come from our budget rather than the grant. I recently started the first municipal Vehicle Donation Program like most of the non-profits have in the communities, I created a trust fund where donations made to the shelter are not swept into the general fund, rather, they stay within our department so that we can save more lives, while confirming with our County Council that donations made to an animal shelter, even a municipal one, are tax-deductible per the IRS code, I modified the County Ordinance to remove barriers for cats and pit bull/mixes owners so that they can receive $10/$15 spay neuter services, rabies vaccination and license with no income restrictions and I included free vouchers for any feral cat caregivers in the community, myself and the volunteer coordinator created the shelters Save our Shelter’s (now Support our Shelter) campaign netting over $500,000 in donations and leveraging many existing community resources. In 2010, I created our Facebook and Twitter pages where we constantly and consistently market our animals, I championed for the rescue pull fees to be reduced from $35 to the $10 we currently charge – against many’ s wishes internally. Additionally, I have created all of the automated lists that currently go out to anyone who wishes to receive information to create accountability and transparency within our Department, such as the Daily List that shows all of the animals that came in and were outcomed the day prior, including how they were outcomed, the Rescue List that shows all of the animals that are eligible for rescue, animals that were reported as lost and/or found by the public online, and many, many more so that all our special interest groups can save time and focus on doing what’s important; saving more lives. Most recently, I implemented a feature on our website where members of the public can report lost and found animals and their pictures are posted… these things do not just happen and no Director at Sacramento County is advocating or spending their time on making them happen, these are things that I have fought for and worked on during my own time.
    I don’t typically take credit for all of these accomplishments; I typically use the phrase “We” but I feel it’s important to clear my name and reveal my true self, finally. For many years I have endured the rumors of who people think I am and have stayed at the shelter through many, many years of failed leadership because this is not about me; what I do is about saving lives of homeless, innocent animals that I am fortunate enough to help. This is not a career, this is my life’s work and passion and this is what I was destined to do and I do a damned good job at it. I, like many others, have sacrificed myself, my family, my health, and my sanity for this cause, so for you to accuse me of anything less than that is hugely offensive and hurtful.
    What you do is extremely important for the movement and I think it’s even more important that you remain factual so that the movement isn’t compromised by opinions and rumors. Don’t fall victim to the rumor mill, please. This world is cruel enough; we don’t need the infighting amongst our movement!

  3. I stand by the assertions in the blog, which are based on news articles, county memos and statistics, and information from those knowledgeable about the nastiness that followed Claerbout’s departure from Sacramento County Animal Services.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s