Dead on arrival
A cacophony of barking and mournful howls assails people as they enter the front door. Inside the kennel area, it’s deafening.
Walt Disney’s characterization of pound life in”Lady and the Tramp,” doesn’t even come close. There is no humor here, it’s too painfully real.
A husky pushes herself up against the screen. She pants rapidly, periodically growling at the puppy she’s forced to share a kennel with. A distrustful yellow lab barks incessantly at any stranger approaching her cage. An elderly shepherd mix limps around his cage. Up until last week he was someone’s companion. Now he will likely end his life here.
The cards on their cages identify them as strays, but that’s not the real truth. None of these dogs are feral animals. Somewhere there is an owner ignoring their plight.
“We have 28 dogs in a 17-dog kennel,” said Ken Gentile, an El Dorado County animal control officer. “We had six puppies abandoned in the last week. Four where left in a box on the shelter’s doorstep over night. We picked up 13 animals in one day last week. It’s so frustrating. I hate this.”
On Monday, Gentile started dealing with the harsh reality of overcrowding – euthanasia. It’s a part of the job he hates, but at least it’s an option. Starting July 1, the minimum impound time in California will extend from 72 hours to four or six business days.
The first two dogs to go were Honey Bear and Funny Girl. They were given up for the No. 1 reason given to shelters – “we’re moving.”
“The owner came in this morning. I told him that if he turned them in, with the crowding, they would likely be destroyed today,” said officer Ruthie Cecchetini. “He said it couldn’t be helped. Both were older dogs. They didn’t know what was happening. I think there’s always another way. When you move, you don’t give up your kids because it’s inconvenient.”
“When the Hayden bill goes into effect, what am I going to do?” Gentile shouted, above the kennel’s din. “The day they say I have to put four adult dogs in one of these kennels is the day I walk out. I personally feel that’s inhumane.”
Gentile is worried. The South Shore shelter is already considered lucky compared to other California shelters. There is a high owner-return rate, and the dogs are often kept longer than required when there’s space. But, overcrowding like the shelter is experiencing now, doesn’t bode well for the future.
“I see this and wonder what we’re going to do in July,” Gentile said. “By putting more than one dog to a kennel, we increase disease chances. Plus, people don’t like to come into these conditions to adopt a dog. It smells in there already, and we just cleaned. It’s not pleasant.”
Gentile said animal control officers have little time to work with dogs, and eventually they become “kennel crazy.”
“The dogs get totally freaked out,” Gentile said. “This is a hard environment for them to take. With work, many of these dogs are adoptable. But we don’t have the time to give them the attention they need. Until the public changes, we’re just going to be overrun. It all comes back to owner responsibility.”
Gentile said the shelter found some of the dogs’ owners, but they couldn’t get any response.
“I call, begging, ‘Come get your dog. I don’t want to kill it,’ ” Gentile said. “They don’t come.”
Pat Claerbout, El Dorado County animal control director, said as the July deadline approaches, the county is still searching for answers.
“We really don’t have any good answers to what we’re going to do with these animals yet,” she said. “I don’t see any possibility of enlarging the facilities before that time.”
Claerbout said a private company in the Bay Area that is offering incentives to shelters is not accepting applications from other areas of California yet, and the county has no money for new facilities.
“We’re looking at using portable kennels when the weather is nice, but in Tahoe that’s only about four months of the year,” she added.
The shelter has accepted 973 animals since July. Cecchetini estimated that at least five out of 10 animals accepted are destroyed.
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