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.

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