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Dogs get more days at animal shelter

What do you do when there’s more unwanted dogs and cats then there are shelters?

Animal shelters and humane societies around California are scrambling to find answers to that question before July when a new law requiring longer stays goes into effect.

The law expands the minimum impound time before killing an animal to four or six business days from the existing requirement of 72 hours.



“We have no choice. It’s very clear that as of July 1, we will be holding these animals seven days, because you don’t count the day the animal comes in,” said Pat Claerbout, El Dorado County animal control director. “This will easily double the amount of animals we’ll be holding.”

Animal control is low on the priority list at budget time in most counties and El Dorado is no different. Since the change is a state-mandated local program $1 million was appropriated to help counties and humane societies pay for the additional costs. Claerbout said the money won’t even make a dent.




“You’re talking about $1 million for all of California and spread out between 400 to 500 shelters,” Claerbout said. “We all agree with the purpose of the bill. All animals should be adopted, but to house and care for all these animals costs money. Most shelters are very poorly funded. We’re on the bottom of the totem pole, and that’s realistic. People are first concerned about things like public safety, money for roads and fire service.”

Claerbout said that many animal organizations around the state vehemently fought the bill because it didn’t address the real reason for pet overpopulation – irresponsible pet owners.

“I agree that we need to change how we’re doing business, and this bill has made all the organizations come together and sit down and talk about some of these issues. But it would be nice if some money was allocated for education. The problem will never be solved until people are educated and forced to become responsible for their animals.”

Dawn Armstrong, executive director of the Lake Tahoe Humane Society-S.P.C.A. and a humane officer, said warehousing animals is not the answer.

“Well-meaning people created this bill thinking they were going to help the animals and actually their living conditions are going to be worse,” Armstrong explained.

Claerbout and Armstrong said no shelter is going to get enough money from the bill to expand its facilities forcing directors to double and triple up animals in kennels.

“With more animals housed in closer quarters there will be a bigger spread of disease,” Claerbout predicted.

The South Shore shelter has 17 dog kennels and 20 spaces for cats, and according to Robert Gerat, animal control officer, the shelter usually operates at full capacity.

Claerbout added that since no extra staff will be added the animals will also have less human contact.

“Our goal is to place the animal in an appropriate home. The staff won’t have time to determine the animal’s personality and find which type of home they would fit in best. We’ll have to ask for more volunteers to come in and assist,” Claerbout said.

Claerbout said the law has many gray areas, forcing shelters to seek legal counsel for interpretation. One area is the requirement that no treatable animal be killed. Treatable is defined as any animal that is not adoptable but that could become adoptable with reasonable efforts.

“Dogs with heartworms are very treatable,” Claerbout said. “But, the average heartworm treatment can run around $500. Where the money is going to come from for something like that is unknown.”

Claerbout said some of the pressure would be lifted off the county if the humane society’s kennel was reopened. Armstrong hopes that the urgent need will help bring in donations to accomplish that goal. The society’s been offered a private matching grant of $100,000. Around $30,000 has been raised so far, Armstrong said.

Claerbout said as the county budget process begins she’s analyzing what the county’s two shelters increased costs will be.

“We will need more money for food, medication, cleaning supplies, just the basic things, let alone more kennel space,” she said.

Armstrong said due to the transient nature of the South Shore, pet abandonment is common.

“We have a lot of people that come through here. Kids will rent a place and each gets a dog. When they leave, they leave the animals,” Armstrong said. “The No. 1 reason given for abandoning animals at shelters is ‘we’re moving.’ In most of those cases, it’s behavioral problems. The owners wants an instant pet and won’t spend the time training the animal. It’s ignorance, people not realizing what’s involved in pet care.”

Claerbout said how the new law will be implemented and funded is still unclear, but one way being considered to cut down on the number of animals in shelters is to refuse owned animals.

“We’re really here to address the rabies problem and most directors have come to the conclusion that we are not required to take in owned animals. We’re still discussing what we’ll do in El Dorado,” she said.

The law also has the lofty ideal of working toward the end of euthanasia of adoptable and treatable animals by 2010, but it lays out no plan to reach the goal.

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