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    County chooses status quo at OC Animal Care
    • May 29, 2024

    Orange County residents who had expected transformational change at the animal-care facility were surely disappointed at the county’s selection in April of a new director, Monica Schmidt. She has the requisite experience and appears open to public input, but she comes from within an agency that has been failing OC residents and animals for years. Schmidt had been serving as interim director and previously as assistant director.

    The shelter situation has been abysmal for decades, with OC Animal Care the subject of six grand-jury reports. The latest one released last year is particularly scathing. It pointed to “the shelter’s unresponsiveness to community needs, restricted public access to the shelter’s kennels (and) restricted opportunities to walk through the kennels and engage with adoptable animals.” It also highlighted unacceptably high euthanasia rates.

    Instead of vowing to improve the long-troubled agency, the Board of Supervisors largely rebutted the detailed criticisms. In past years, officials blamed funding and facilities problems, but in 2018 the county opened a state-of-the-art $35-million facility in Tustin. There’s no longer a valid excuse.

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    During COVID-19, the shelter moved to an appointment system for public viewing of adoptable pets. After the pandemic ended, OC Animal Care continued to limit access. By not allowing people to wander through the kennels, this policy almost certainly boosted kill rates. Meanwhile, the appointment-setting process was frustrating. Although other shelters in the state re-opened, the county insisted that these policies protected public safety.

    In January, the county finally – and after much public anger – reinstated viewing hours, but it’s only from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The county’s animal-care system seems designed to make life easier for its employees rather than maximize opportunities to find homes for cats and dogs. Schmidt has spoken about finding “commonalities” within the community, but Animal Care needs less pabulum and more action.

    A good starting point would be to open visiting hours significantly throughout the week. Until the shelter adopts that commonsense approach, we’ll just assume county officials are more interested in protecting the status quo than finding homes for neglected pets.

    ​ Orange County Register