Discussion: Why is Kern Co Failing?

There is a story in a local paper about the Kern Co pound’s ongoing failure to shelter animals.  The pound has been functioning primarily as a pet killing facility for years with no significant improvements.  The article characterizes the problem and attempted solutions this way:

The efforts by community leaders, animal advocates and the Kern County Animal Control Department to find solutions have included encouraging owners to spay or neuter their pets, increasing enforcement of licensing laws, prosecuting animal abusers and attracting help from nonprofit groups.

Robust relationships have been built with animal rescue groups that, in 2012, saved 4,468 lives. Shelter workers have begun driving adoptable animals out of Kern County.

Such efforts have paid off in other communities.

But the sheer size of Kern County’s problem dwarfs the solutions that have been attempted.

The pound’s director, Jen Woodard, told the paper:

“We’re never going to adopt our way out of this problem,” she said. But rescues and adoptions “are what’s keeping us alive.”

The article highlights some specific records at the pound, including those of a 4 month old black Lab puppy who had 3 people wanting to adopt him when Kern Co killed him for coughing.  There is also a photo of a pound supervisor carrying a little dog to the kill room.  The dog is kissing the supervisor, who refused to be identified.  As I often say, if you can’t own it, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.

Based upon the information available, why do you think Kern Co continues to fail as a shelter?  Is it the size of the problem dwarfing the solutions, as the article suggests?  Is there a failure of leadership?  How would you advise Kern Co?  What could the pet killing facility start doing today that would have a meaningful, lasting impact on lifesaving in the community?

(Thank you Clarice for the link.)

16 thoughts on “Discussion: Why is Kern Co Failing?

  1. As with many pet killing facilities in Southern California, the officials in Kern County talk about wanting to improve, but do actually do anything to bring about change. In fact, they don’t really want anyone to know what they’re doing. I tried for about 8 months to get accurate records from Kern County Animal Control, but had to go through County Counsel to do it. Call me crazy, but when attorneys have to censor and/or approve all information released from animal control, odds are good there are problems they don’t want to discuss (in my experience anyway).

    My records request was very clear. I wanted records for each animal taken in for a three month period. I even sent samples of the documents I wanted. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t. After months of letters back and forth, in which a county attorney repeatedly said that she didn’t know what I wanted, and I tried to clarify, I was sent a “sample” of what they intended to produce at a cost of $1,200 or so. Rather than give me the actual impound cards, medical records, and other raw information, which is all conveniently contained in their computer system, they wanted to give me a “report” that they had created especially for me. Very considerate, but I had made it crystal clear that that was precisely what I didn’t want.

    That “report” was missing several key pieces of information, including the outcome for each animal, outcome dates and other details that would indicate what happened to each animal. Short of filing a lawsuit to compel production of the documents, it’s next to impossible to get them which enables the pet killing facilities in Southern California to avoid any kind of accountability and keep telling the public what a great job they’re doing without actually proving it. If Kern County is serious about improvement, they can start with transparency. Until then, it’s all talk.

  2. I read the article and it appears that this shelter is near LA. One of the comments is that the article didn’t mention low cost spay/neuter clinics or low cost vaccine clinics. It also touched on the shelter’s record of possible errors in cleaning and sanitation and quarrantine procedures. All of these could help the situation. What also was not mentioned was the fact that some of the rescue groups in the area regularly import dogs from Mexico and people flock to adopt those (with appropriate media hype), leaving other dogs to be ignored and possibly euthanized.

    Partnering with local dog club enthusiasts would be great if the same shelters would stop blaming the good breeders for every dog that comes in. I am a show breeder and take all sorts of insults on a daily basis from some of the shelters that I help. For some reason they don’t see the irony in their comments. I try to ignore their comments and just keep plugging away helping them foster, fund raise, transport and get food, equipment, etc. I love dogs and no one will stop me from helping every dog I can. If this shelter and their people can stop blaming the dog show people for everything then maybe they will get more help.

    What I did like was the director’s positive attitude, but she may be fighting an uphill battle if the county will not support her ideas. There are grants available from Petco, Petsmart and others who can assist in getting low cost spay/neuter programs set up and paid for. One of the shelter I help received a large sum of money to spay/neuter several hundred animals at a cost to the owner of only $15. This is where I really wish HSUS gave a crap about actual animal shelters and the animals within. Instead, they have spent millions trying to push legislation that only hurts humans and animals. What a waste.

  3. ” The stray was cute and, within days, had three potential owners interested in adopting him. He was vaccinated and neutered and waiting for a home when he developed a cough and other symptoms of an upper respiratory infection.
    On June 13, after a veterinarian determined the pup was at high risk for the disease, Kern County Animal Control officers euthanized him.”

    So instead of giving him antibiotics and sending him home with care instructions, he was killed.

    “There was the tiny tortoise-shell kitten, spread-eagled and squalling in its identification photo, that was simply too young to survive in the shelter without a mother.”

    So instead of putting out a call for help from bottle feeders, they killed her.

    “And the tan-and-white pitbull caught by officers after he chased a person down a street in Lamont. He was too aggressive to other animals to live.”

    How do they know that? And why not try to home him as a single pet?

    “Then there was the Australian Cattle Dog, found injured and terrified near the Kern County Animal Shelter on South Mount Vernon Avenue near Highway 58. Fear would trigger a bite from him. He, too, was put down.”

    He was assessed with injuries. That is both invalid and unprofessional. But they killed him anyway.

    ” That’s a taste of what Animal Control staff are up against.

    What they’re up against is a mindset. Killing is still very clearly the default here and as long as they have that mentality, the killing will continue.

    This is a failure of leadership.
    This is a failure of imagination.
    This is a failure of empathy.
    This is a failure of education.
    This is a failure of will.

    But first and foremost, it’s a failure of leadership. As long as the leadership considers killing to be an acceptable means of dealing with coughs, ringworm, neonates, mange, injuries, behaviors, etc., then the killing will continue. No amount of “encouraging owners to spay or neuter their pets, increasing enforcement of licensing laws, prosecuting animal abusers and attracting help from nonprofit groups” and “robust relationships” with rescue groups will do anything more than make a small dent in the killing.

    LEADERSHIP. Leadership with the imagination, empathy, education, and will to say, “Today, we will not kill.”

    1. Yes, I was horrified too that a dog with kennel cough was killed with 3 potential adopters. The medication doesn’t cost much and the condition is completely curable. It is sad. Very sad. I don’t the shelter manager knows what the public wants, he/she probably oughta consult someone who does. Many No-Kill directors are happy to help others go No-Kill.

  4. Clearly a failure of leadership that a.) does not think outside the box and b.) still sees euthanasia as solution.
    It reminds of what the former Director of Tompkins County, NY once said: “What is plan B?”

  5. Well, the problems facing Kern County are numerous, and they do have an uphill climb.

    The shelter is taking in 32,000 animals a year for a population of 850,000. That’s extremely high for a populatin that size (by comparison, Washoe County which has often been considered to be a high, per capita intake took in 11,000 for 425,000 population in 2011 and Neighboring Los Angeles takes in 55,000 animals for nearly 4 million population).

    They mention “encouraging” spay/neuter — but my understanding from previous reports is that their first low cost spay/neuter program started in October of last year. In a community that has nearly 25% of the population living below the poverty line, the low cost services are essential to helping people comply.

    There is also a reality that they’re working out of a 30-40 year old shelter — that was built at a time where catch and kill was the expectation and the population of Kern County is about 1/2 of what it is now.

    So what can they do?
    1) Quickly grow the low cost spay/neuter program. They need the intake down.
    2) Continue to increae adoptions and relationships with rescues — and if the reports of rescues importing dogs in from Mexico are true, they need to get the rescues on board with saving community animals first.
    3) Vaccinate on intake, and implement proper sanitation protocols. The rescues (and public) need some assurance that the animals they’re getting are healthy.
    4) Build a new shelter with enough space and proper quarantine areas.

    I’m sure that Ms. Woodard knows all of this, but rallying the community support, especially with a couple of her early stumbles, is going to take soem time.

  6. They do not appear to have a comprehensive marketing program. The more research I do on animal shelters, the more I think they need to concentrate on hiring directors and assistant directors with experience or expertise in marketing. This would help with adoption promotions as well as increasing the number of volunteers and fosters. In addition, the shelter hours are not very convenient for working people, the individual shelters don’t appear to have their own websites, and there is nothing to draw anyone in to explore the AC website.

  7. Anyone who knows me knows I insist that shelter leadership must maintain a “philosophy of life” and I am very adamant about holding shelter leadership accountable for the successes and failures of their organization.

    I know the director personally and have worked alongside her “in the trenches”. We spent four years working together with our primary goal being, “today, we will not kill.” We didn’t always accomplish that, but it was our goal every single day…and we accomplished it a lot!

    If there is anyone who knows how to market animals, market an organization, make the best out of an old facility, implement good sanitation and intake protocols, do much with little, work with the community, etc., this director can do it. She has a huge uphill climb ahead, hasn’t been there all that long, and could really use the community support.

    Good things are not accomplished overnight, and not without stumbles and sometimes, stepping on toes. But I have no doubt this shelter’s leader has the chops to do it.

      1. It’s likely that this director is aware of this link, having been hand picked by Nathan Winograd from the shelter in which we worked together. I don’t believe she is arguing with progressive and enthusiastic adoptions concepts; I believe she realizes, as we all do, that it takes a global, holistic approach to achieve real, lasting, signficant change. I have to say, though, those numbers are truly staggering and she has a very hard job ahead of her. She’s only a few months into her position there and there are so many lives to save.

      2. I don’t care if she was hand picked by God. To kill a dog with a URI even when that dog had multiple adopters interested is unconscionable and inexcusable.

      3. It’s funny, in the late 1990s, Peter Marsh, who was one of the early advocates for targeted low cost spay/neuter made the statement that we were not going to adopt our way out of the problem. He was right, at the time. With animals coming into shelters at the rate they were coming in, the math wasn’t going to work.

        Now, more than a decade later, it IS possible, in most areas, to adopt our way out of killing — but it’s because, in part, of the work done by low cost spay/neuter access slowing the number of animals coming into shelters. Neither is a sole sollution to the problem. No kill is just math. Number out has to = number in. You get there in two ways, decrease the number in and increase the number out.

        In the situation in Kern County, as I previously noted, they apparently have NOT had any form of low cost spay neuter until about 4 months ago. While Reno is (rightfully) cited as a “high intake per capita shelter” by the no kill community, Kern County has a per-capita intake 50% higher than even Reno.

        If they’re going to succeed there, they MUST tackle both ends of the spectrum. I wouldn’t take just one quote out of a newspaper article that was the sole quote out of what was probably a 20 minute interview as thinking Ms. Woodard doesn’t believe in increasing adoptions. I feel very confident that she does.

    1. I’m sorry, but assessing behavior in an injured dog, writing off neonates, and killing for mange are not hallmarks of a philosophy of life.

      I truly hope that this shelter’s leader does indeed “have the chops”. Perhaps with the link Shirley provided, she’ll find that there are yet more tools out there to add to her toolbox.

  8. I wouldn’t know the first thing about marketing. But if the shelter really needs better marketing, which I’m sure it does, maybe it can offer an internship to a nearby college student. Marketing for an animal shelter would be a great thing to put on a resume when looking for a job or applying for graduate school. Shelters are always in need of more volunteers and fosters but that would be a great way to think outside the box. I hope she can pull their way out of the hole they are in, but she should also look at each dog as an individual. She may be overwhelmed by the amount of work that lies ahead but if a sick dog has 3 potential adopters, they should have offered to send the dog home with them to be treated. If I was the potential adopter and found out the dog was sick, I still would have wanted to bring her home to make her better. Hopefully that is why someone wants to adopt… because they have fallen in love.

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