Writing The Animal Bill of Rights was initially very challenging. I am used to writing fairly technical pieces for my Pet Column in The Record. I also had to create a list of fundamental animal protections from scratch. When I searched for an animal bill of rights, I couldn’t find any prior document in existence. This entire process was exciting and scary at the same time. We were part of something groundbreaking. I also didn't want to overshadow all of the amazing improvements that have taken place at the Stockton City/County Animal Shelter over the past few years.
I have worked with multiple past administrations to help improve care for animals at the Animal Shelter. I was a member of Mayor Ed Chavez's Animal Task force when renovations were made at the animal shelter and an annex was created under the direction of then Lieutenant Blair Ulring. Our group mainly oversaw and approved issues related to the new building. This task force didn't have input on the day-to-day facility operations.
I was also on Mayor Ann Johnston's Animal Shelter task force. We modified the Stockton Animal ordinance to include the requirement of licensing and microchips for both dogs and cats. No kill was discussed; but there were no other types of animal legislation submitted. However improvements were being made at the Animal Shelter under the direction of Tammie Murrell. At that time in coordination with the Animal Protection League in 2008 we developed a surgical suite within the annex building, and began doing onsite spay/neuter surgeries for feral and porch cats every other Sunday. I have volunteered over 1500 hours doing surgery. These surgeries continued until last year when San Francisco SPCA began using the surgical facility on the weekends for community animal surgeries.
With the assistance of SF SPCA there was additional funding in the form of grants and other resources. Veterinarians were available. Surgeries could be done during the week. Modular buildings were brought in, and the surgical suite was relocated. A cat care facility replaced the annex surgical suite. Sanitation and meals were improved. Care was better. Healthy cats were no longer euthanized; they were released instead. This allowed for a drastic reduction in the percentage of euthanasias. Adoptions increased through greater partnerships with rescue groups and utilizing Face book. Mobile adoptions at multiple facilities also began to take place. This also helped decrease euthanasias. It was only after financial redirections occurred last October that several issues became apparent.
Dr. Richard Turner and I approached many city officials regarding problems at the Stockton City/County Animal Shelter. We met with great resistance. Only our current Mayor Anthony Silva was willing to help to improve conditions for the free roaming and sheltered animals. This led to The Animal Bill of Rights.
The Animal Bill of Rights was critically important for several reasons.
Animals in our community are suffering. Loose or free roaming dogs and cats often become victims of car accidents or animal fights. Many sustain catastrophic injuries and can be waiting for hours in the streets for police or animal control transport to city contracted medical care facility. As of October of 2015, Good Samaritans were no longer allowed to bring animals to the designated city contracted hospital for treatment unless the animal was transported by an animal control or a police officer; or the person that found the injured animal was willing to pay for medical care. For the past several years prior to this past October, anyone could call animal control and receive a registration number for a found injured animal and then take him/her to the designated care facility for treatment.
There is no longer anywhere to shelter a healthy animal at night. In the past a private citizen could call animal control, receive an identification number for a found animal, and take it to one of the city contracted animal care facilities. An animal control officer would later transport him/her to the animal shelter.
The City County Animal Shelter is only open for 31 hours a week. That leaves 136 hours during the week in which there is no place to turn in a found animal, or relinquish a pet. Sometimes animals are turned away during operating hours as well due to crowding.
Animals have been transferred to the care of a rescue group or foster facility prior to the 72-hour required hold time. This hold time is a legal requirement to allow a pet owner time to find a lost pet. Also, days of non-operation are currently being included in this 72-hour hold time. This can make it very challenging for a pet owner to reconnect with his/her cherished companion before it is adopted or transferred to the care of a rescue or foster organization. Tipsy made nation news and was on Inside Edition when she was reunited with her owner Sharon Robertson. Tipsy is a sheltie that became loose and was brought to the Stockton City/County shelter while her family was on vacation. She was transferred to the care of a rescue/foster group prior to the 72-hour hold time. When her family returned to look for her, she was no longer at the Stockton City/County shelter. She was located in another town and had already been adopted by another family. Through great negotiation, largely on the part of Lost and Found Pets 209, she was returned to her family.
Healthy, loving canines and felines can be euthanized simply because there is not enough space for all of the animals at the Stockton City/County shelter. Dogs unfortunately fall victim to this most frequently, especially Pit Bulls. While I am writing this, there is currently a plea on Face book for the community to adopt or foster large dogs at the shelter because they are full. We have many rescue groups willing to help with our abundance of Chihuahuas. Fortunately other states such as Washington and Oregon do not have the same pet overpopulation issues that we do. Rescue groups there are willing to take in small dogs that are highly adoptable. They are transported there via bus, car, and/or plane.
The Animal Bill of Rights allows for a basic level of fundamental protections for free roaming and shelter animals in our community. These 9 items include things that many other shelters consider standard. They are safeguards that most citizens already thought existed.
- The right to shelter and protection from the elements if found loose on the streets 24 hours a day.
- The right to a full 72-hour hold time before adoption or housing with a rescue/foster group unless owner surrendered or deemed too unhealthy for re-homing.
- The right to rapid medical care 24 hours a day up to a city agreed upon amount for any injured free roaming pet.
- The right to a rapid humane euthanasia in cases of irremediable or extreme suffering with the unlikely-hood of rehabilitation; or for dogs that have been previously documented as dangerous, 24 hours a day.
- The right to have a microchip scan done within 2 hours of holding.
- The right to shelter in a space that is routinely sanitized and climate controlled. Proven strategies should be in place to prevent disease transmission. Each animal should have adequate space for movement and comfort.
- The right to receive individually nutritionally balanced meals and fresh water while under Animal Shelter care.
- The right for healthy adoptable animals to not be euthanized simply due to a lack of holding space.
- The right to have public health issues such as concerns over Rabies to be addressed promptly.
A City Council Animal Shelter Oversight committee of volunteers including local veterinarians was also included to help to work towards fulfillment of these goals.
A Coalition of volunteers was also suggested to assist the shelter in a multitude of ways at no additional cost.
It will take time to achieve these changes. Our city is just emerging from bankruptcy. Funds are limited. The City Council Animal Shelter Oversight Committee and the Coalition of Volunteers are no cost ways to help the shelter. The animal shelter is recently asking for volunteers to assist in multiple areas. 2 new animal control officers were just hired. Changing the work schedule of one of them to swing shift hours could help with implementation for most of The Animal Bill of Rights.
We can and should do better to protect and care for the lives of those that are unable to help themselves. We have a social, ethical, and moral obligation to do so. How we treat the animals within our city is a direct reflection of who we are as a community. The animals are counting on us. Together we can do more !!!