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
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.
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.