“The Incident with Barbie”

barbie co co
Barbie with a toy, in a screengrab from a video apparently made by rescuers.

Contra Costa County Animal Services spokesman Steve Burdo says a 4 year old dog named Barbie was put on the June 18 kill list “after a series of evaluations by the department’s staff and medical team.”  She appeared to have a mammary tumor.  She also had two rescue groups who wanted to save her and had communicated that to the shelter.  But Contra Costa killed Barbie anyway – by mistake.  Oops.

“There were two rescues interested in this dog and the shelter manager overrode those notes and said to have her killed by the end of the day,” said Melissa Farley Law of Petaluma Pet Pals told CBS San Francisco on Thursday.

“I literally cried for three days,” she continued. “I couldn’t even look at her picture without crying. l just felt like I let her down.”

Rescues didn’t let her down. The people solely to blame for killing Barbie are the people who actually killed her – Contra Costa Co Animal Services.  And they did more than just fail Barbie – they appear to have broken the law.  Specifically the Hayden Act, which requires shelters to release pets to rescue groups willing to save them.

tommy co co
Tommy at Contra Costa Co Animal Services, as pictured on CBS SF.

In addition, a dog named Tommy who was killed around the same time, was reportedly also slated for rescue:

Rescue group member Melissa Farley Law said a second dog named Tommy had been pulled for adoption as well, but was instead euthanized.

Burdo said the department does not have any records confirming that a rescue group had shown interest in rescuing Tommy. He doesn’t believe there was a mistake.

No records.  Now.  So just punt, I guess.  But let’s be clear, unless Tommy was medically hopeless and suffering, which his completely adorable photo seems to refute, killing him was a mistake.  He had a right to live and it was Contra Costa County’s job to protect him from harm.  Instead of doing their job, they killed Tommy.  Just because the spokesman wants it known that the killing was intentional does not justify it in any way, shape or form.  Tommy is irreplaceable.

There are records confirming rescue holds on Barbie.  So there has been a two-pronged response by the county:

1. Distract with shiny thing.

Ironically, the “Barbie incident” comes on the heels of good news regarding the agency’s increasing live release rates. As of May 2016, around 80 percent of animals that were brought to the county shelter made it out alive, up from around 45 percent in 2011, CCAS spokesman Steve Burdo said.

“Not to take away from the incident with Barbie, but the situation with Barbie, if you’re asking me, seems more like the exception than the rule,” he said.

Breaking the law and killing dogs rescue groups are willing to save is not the rule at Contra Costa Co, it’s just the exception.  Gee, I’m glad it’s not the rule.  That would be bad.  Seeing as it’s just the exception, I guess we can let it slide.

Barbie’s death was not an incident or a situation, by the way.  It was a tragedy which a state law was enacted in order to prevent.  Barbie is irreplaceable.

2.  Investigate yourself!

“We’re going to take this opportunity to learn and improve our process so this never happens again.”
Burdo said the department is investigating the incident internally.

I can’t think of anything that would give me more confidence.  Except possibly an investigation by a specially appointed piece of cardboard with aspirations of higher office.

Anyway, if you feel like bawling your eyes out, watch this video of Barbie, apparently posted to social media by rescuers the day she was oops-killed, playing, being social and generally loving life.

Barbie had the right to live and to love.  So did Tommy, despite what recordkeeping, or lack thereof, may exist at Contra Costa Co.  Barbie’s needless and apparently unlawful killing is not “an opportunity” nor should it be waved off as merely “an exception.”  Barbie, like Tommy, and like every other shelter pet, was exceptional.  That’s the part too many shelters don’t get.  There are and will be other friendly, happy dogs in our broken shelter system.  But there will never be another Barbie.  Or Tommy.  Or any of the millions of others whose lives are snuffed out each year in the name of “animal services.”  Taxpayers of Contra Costa Co, this is your animal shelter.  Let your elected officials know exactly what services you want.  Demand that compassionate people are immediately put into place who are committed to treating every animal as exceptional.  Accept nothing less.

(Thanks Clarice.)

6 thoughts on ““The Incident with Barbie”

  1. I wonder if they offered the rescue groups another dog, because hey, one is just like another, right?

    Wonder if anyone out there actually enforces Hayden’s Law?

  2. This is my local shelter, one of the main reasons I enrolled in the No Kill Shelter Management program offered through UOP and whose courses were taught by Bonney Brown and Diane Blankenburg. I WANTED to make a difference, I studied this ‘shelter’ and its operations with a fine tooth comb. I tried to become a volunteer but the program was so poorly managed that by the time they posted the next info session I was already booked for something else. I sent a friend who came by with info – the only way they would “allow” you to volunteer was if you signed a non-disclosure statement and agreed to post NOTHING on social media without the volunteer coordinators permission. Unacceptable.

    I tried to start a No Kill Contra Costa facebook group but dealings with a volunteer at the shelter I did my work at for the No Kill program tamped that out. Ah, the petty politics of the petty minded… So I started working with a group in Oakland (believe it or not Oakland Animal Services was even WORSE than CCAS) and we made actual change. I had one rescue that I worked on featured in a news story, with a follow-up with the adoptive families, that helped raise awareness of our program. When OAS said they had no volunteer program I put a complete one together for their new volunteer coordinator. Handed her 400 pages that encompassed everything she asked for, including the requisite forms that government agencies love so. We went to every advisory council meeting so that WHEN the city figured out their job description for the new shelter manager it would include things like “you don’t get to kill every animal that comes through the door” etc. I applied for the job but didn’t make it past the second round. That was OK, I was volunteering and working with the community and still had my eye on my home shelter.

    Finally, a year later, the shelter director at CCAS retired. The county posted the job through a job search agency and I, and a couple of my class mates, applied. We were never called because we stated very clearly that we refused to kill for convenience or space or any one of a number of reasons that don’t include saving every life possible. Round One of their national job search produced nothing. They reposted the job after 4 months and we all applied again. Finally, after a YEAR, they announced earlier this year that they had hired a woman who was committed to the No Kill model. We were cautiously optimistic.

    The first thing she did was close the shelter to all incoming animals for a month, to get a handle on what was going on. This wasn’t the terrible idea that those with pitchforks behind a keyboard wanted it to be. She started running promotions to get cats out, to get older dogs out, to get pit bulls out, from my vantage point things did seem to be getting better but there were a few core people that still needed to go (like one guy who does the “temperament tests” and fails most of the dogs he meets because, again duh, he’s a asshat and they know it). And now you see the shelter manager, who is NOT the shelter director, who still has a hard on for killing all that she can. The fact that she’s in violation of Hayden’s law is inconsequential to her because she’s been doing it for YEARS. And she has those who think she is wonderful, loves animals, blah blah blah. There’s a lot of hand wringing going on right now. Rescues are angry, trust has evaporated, and the community is what? Complacent. When it first came out that the manager had done exactly what she wanted to do I suggested someone go to the Board of Supervisors meeting with their photos and videos and at least tell the story. If you drag the issue out in public it WILL be examined. There is a specific supervisor that works with the shelter, they could have made an appointment with her as well but no, no one wants to come forward.

    Yes, Hayden’s law is still in effect in California. The funding part was suspended years ago, but the part saying if an animal has a rescue willing to pick it up then the shelter HAS to let the animal go is still in place. This county has a long way to go, I was hoping it would be further along than it is now. This just sets everything waaaayyyy back.

    1. If anyone who has photos, videos or other evidence of wrongdoing at this (or any) shelter wants to have the information made public without having their name attached to it, they can email me: eiderdown@yesbiscuit.com. I will keep your name confidential.

  3. Just in case you missed the memo- all across the US and in all the Federal Government Agencies- all upholding of laws have been suspended unless the enforcement agency wants “to get ya”. Including the FBI, DOJ, and even to the exhaulted (not) Supremes. We are an official criminal enterprise –

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