Porterville Seeks Assistance in Evaluation of Animal Control Shelter

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Dogs at the Porterville Animal Control Shelter are being fed by Jill, a SWAP program participant, who specifically requested her work time be spend at the shelter. Nancy Vigran/Valley Voice

Realizing the need for a new animal control facility or the rebuilding of its current one, the City of Porterville hired the consultation of an independent study by UC Davis’ Koret Shelter Medicine Program (KSMP).

Many of the findings of the KSMP report sum up the need to require a nearly complete overhaul, or replacement of the facility. Porterville was ready to begin construction of a new one last year, on property already owned by the city next to the corporation yard, but cost bids came in at twice as high as the original projected costs, so the project was temporarily tabled, according to City Manager John Lollis.

With the idea of reopening discussion by city council and the animal control commission, KSMP was hired to evaluate the current shelter and the possibility of revamping that facility.

“One of the reasons we did the study,” said Augie Gonzalez, animal control unit supervisor, “was to get an assessment on whether we want to remodel the old facility or the feasibility of building a new one.”

A major stumbling block is that the shelter is some 10 miles north of Porterville, formerly owned by the City of Lindsay, which managed the facility. It would be much easier, and preferred, to have a local facility.

“There is a lot of political pressure to have the shelter in Porterville,” Gonzalez said. “It (the current facility) is a good shelter, it’s just that it’s old.”

Facility Does Not Meet Current Standards

The KSMP report used 2014 shelter records and three staff veterinarians visited the shelter in July of this year. The result is that the Porterville shelter “does not meet the Association of Shelter Veterinarians Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Sheltering (Guidelines), and the continued long-term use of the facility is not recommended.”

“Major limitations” in the dog area included the use of single-compartment kennels with little choice as to where a dog could spend its day, a lack of even temperatures throughout the kennels, a noisy environment, poor lighting and a lack of sealing between kennel walls and the floor.

It was noted that most of the kennels were structurally sound and maintained in safe working conditions.

Housing is provided in single-run units at Porterville Animal Control Shelter, where housing is cleaned with occupants inside leading to damp conditions for the dogs. Nancy Vigran/Valley Voice
Housing is provided in single-run units at Porterville Animal Control Shelter, where housing is cleaned with occupants inside leading to damp conditions for the dogs. Nancy Vigran/Valley Voice

For cats, it found caging that was too small with some located on the floor, inadequate ventilation, a lack of bedding and hiding places, poor lighting with no natural light and high-risk practices of unrelated kittens being housed together.

The intake/receiving area was found to have a lack of separation between cats and dogs with limited storage space.

Also found was a limited amount of storage space in the general animal care area, with a lack of food storage areas which also had unregulated temperatures allowing for the potential of food spoilage, and limited room for dish washing. There is no grooming space and no outdoor facilities for exercise and play yards as well as meet and greet areas.

From evaluation of the 2014 data provided, there is sufficient kennel spacing for dogs, but being single kennel units, which do not meet current best practice information. There is insufficient and inadequate amount of cat housing.

The report also indicated a lack of bedding in some kennels and where bedding was provided, some was found on the ground and getting wet. There were also no weight scales onsite. These problems have now been rectified, according to staff reports.

Other problems included the fact that kennels are being cleaned and hosed down with the dogs still in them leaving a damp environment for the dogs, and a lack of differential between areas where the dogs eat and eliminate.

Animal Control Short Staffed

At issue is not just the age of the shelter, but also that the shelter is short-staffed, Gonzalez said.

Compared to Tulare County and the City of Tulare animal control resources, “we are out numbered three to one,” he said.

Porterville has two animal control officers, one shelter supervisor, one office staff personnel and Gonzalez, the unit supervisor and a couple of part-time aids, Gonzalez said. The shelter houses stray pets from Porterville, Lindsay and Woodlake.

Some cat cages sit on the floor of the shelter cat room, which is ill-advised by current standards. Nancy Vigran/Valley Voice
Some cat cages sit on the floor of the shelter cat room, which is ill-advised by current standards. Nancy Vigran/Valley Voice

In addition, Tulare County Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program (SWAP) sometimes provides extra help. SWAP is a program in which non-violent offenders are offered the option of working in the community as opposed to spending time in jail. But that rate of help has declined with early release of inmates, Gonzalez said.

“We are extremely short-handed,” Gonzalez said.

With regard to staffing, the KMSP report only directly addressed the need for hiring of a live-release coordinator for the shelter.

But staff has noted that calculations of hourly requirements with the current length of stay guidelines show that current staffing levels are not adequate to meet the basic standard of care to allow for 15 minutes each for basic care for dogs and cats and 15-45 minutes of intake time for dogs and cats.

Currently on the table for city council, is the hiring of a live-release coordinator, who would oversee adoption activities, Lollis said, to which “council has spoken favorably.” The intent would be that the better or more proficient this position works out, the fewer hours would need to be afforded to the position itself.

Gonzalez has hopes for more personnel to better care for the animals and take some of the load off of those already working in animal control. While the shelter is currently seeking volunteers, there has been a lack of response, he said. One reason, he added, is because of the distance of the shelter from the city.

Needs and Recomendations

Two of the other more “strongly” recommended issues KSMP believes the Porterville Animal Control program needs to address are its practices in accepting healthy cats and a need to decrease the length-of-stay in the facility.

The shelter houses 150-200 animals pretty much year-round, Gonzalez said, with a lot more dogs than cats. He tries to keep the numbers down to 150 or so, but it is difficult. As an animal lover, Gonzalez said he still follows the old standard of keeping strays for six days prior to making them available for adoption, giving more time for owners to locate their missing pets. Current state law requires 72 hours, or three days.

Many options of proper housing for dogs and cats along with examples of intake rooms, exam areas, food prep areas and exercise yards were given along with the report. Proper management techniques were also offered.

City Council and the animal control commission held a joint study session in late October to review the KSMP findings and further discuss the impending decision on building a new facility or redesigning the old.

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