“This is not a dog-friendly town,” said Adriana Figueroa, Director of the Friends of Orange Cove Animal Shelter (FOCAS).
On October 9 the Orange Cove City Council voted to terminate FOCAS’ contract to care for stray or lost dogs at the city’s animal shelter.
Orange Cove Mayor Victor Lopez and city staff have been trying to terminate FOCAS’ contact since last year, first questioning their non-profit status, and then because they no longer turned in monthly reports. The last straw was when FOCAS volunteers complained about animal abuse by city workers.
According to comments by city staff at the November 13 city council meeting, FOCAS will be removed before the city has a qualified animal control officer to take its place. A staffer also said that the city has yet to develop ordinances on how it plans to care for these dogs.
The city’s shelter, with the addition of FOCAS’ kennels, can accommodate 50 dogs. Under the care of FOCAS this has been a no-kill shelter. FOCAS will be taking its kennels when it leaves December 10 and the city has indicated that it will euthanize dogs that overstay their hold.
In 2014 the then city manager asked the group of volunteers helping at the animal shelter to incorporate and to form a non-profit organization. They were asked to do so because the city had received multiple complaints about the treatment of the dogs and the rate of dogs being put down. By FOCAS taking on these tasks, the volunteers were able to relieve the city of the burden of feeding, caring and finding homes for the dogs.
FOCAS believes the organization has fulfilled, if not exceeded, every part of its contract with the city of Orange Cove.
Beginning of the end for FOCAS’ contract
Besides its non-profit status and monthly reports, Figueroa said another impetus for the city council wanting to cancel FOCAS’ contract was when the mayor’s grandson got bitten by a stray dog. Lopez blamed the incident on FOCAS, citing several incidents of “stray dogs all over the city.”
But during the November 13 meeting staff acknowledged that Animal Control is in fact the responsibility of the city. It has a staff person, the equipment, and an animal control vehicle in which to use to round up the city’s stray dogs.
Figueroa sad that the city is responsible for picking the dogs up, getting them to the shelter, and paying the vet bills. According to its contract, it is FOCAS’ responsibility to take care of the dogs once they get to the shelter.
Sheila Lindquist, a FOCAS volunteer, stated at the November meeting, “Because of this false premise, I move that the city council reinstate the contract with FOCAS to care for the dogs. If you’re concerned with the dogs roaming at large, fund the Orange Cove Police Department to hire a qualified Animal Control Officer.”
Injured dog left to die in animal control truck
The last straw for the city, said Lindquist, was when a kennel attendant documented alleged animal abuse at the hands of a city worker. On August 12 a dog was badly injured in a fire at a home located at 185 9th Street. The Orange Cove Police Department called the city to pick up the dog. The dog had suffered severe burns but was nonetheless still alive.
A FOCAS volunteer discovered the dog’s body in the city’s animal control vehicle two days later, on August 14.
“He was never taken to a vet to be humanely euthanized. He suffered a horrible death. This dog was not forgotten in the truck; he was purposely left there to avoid a vet cost to humanely put him down,” said FOCAS’ facebook page.
Lindquist said that there were feces in the dog’s enclosure, proving he was alive, and asked the mayor what were the repercussion to the city worker who left the injured dog in the vehicle for two days. The Orange Cove Police Department responded, saying that according to the police report the dog was very weak and was deceased by the time the city worker placed the dog in the truck.
Lindquist has requested a copy of the police report but has not yet received it. She said she has doubts a police report was ever filed.
Mayor Lopez countered that a relative of the dog’s owner picked the dog up from the burned residence, thus no abuse happened. Lindquist said it is immaterial that a relative was involved in picking up the injured dog. Animal abuse is still illegal.
Denise Salazar, a member of FOCAS, also spoke during the November 13 meeting. She said that she doubts the city has the money in its budget to pay for all the services FOCAS provided for free. FOCAS volunteers care for the dogs, provide quality dog food, network to find lost dogs’ homes and adopt out strays even if it means sending them out of state.
Salazar was especially concerned about what would happen to the 14 dogs still left in the shelter under the care of FOCAS once it vacates.
According to the FOCAS facebook page, “The mayor of Orange Cove, Victor Lopez, stated that from now on, ‘all strays will serve their stray hold, then be euthanized.’”
Salazar, who was directly across from Lopez, said, “I see you can’t look at me, Mr. Mayor, but the animals do not have a voice so we have to keep talking for them.”
“Are you happy that once you take over the shelter the dogs will be euthanized? I am sorry to annoy you, you seem very annoyed,” Salazar said to Lopez.
Lopez responded by complaining that Salazar repeats the same thing over and over. Salazar countered that is because “I hope it’s getting through your head.”
“I have it through my head. You don’t know what you are talking about. Are you finished?” said Lopez.
Not an isolated incidence
FOCAS has been a vocal critic of other city incidences involving animal abuse. Figueroa said the mayor and city staff were tired of her complaining about dogs being injured when caught with a catch pole and delivered to the shelter bloody. She said dogs were often delivered injured and that the city had a responsibility to first take them to a veterinarian.
Figueroa said, “If these things were happening while FOCAS was there to document these horrifying incidents, one can only imagine how horrifying the future stray dogs’ fate will be when city has removed FOCAS completely from witnessing such criminal injustice.”
FOCAS’ contract was terminated October 10 and the organization has been packing up its kennels. It has 60 days to vacate completely and will be gone by December 10.
FOCAS has not been in charge of dogs coming in since October 10, and problems have already surfaced. Figueroa said that now a city worker is handing stray dogs out to anyone. “There is no paperwork done and the dogs’ chips are not being scanned. The city is committing so many violations and not being held accountable for it.”
A call to action
For those wanting to help the shelter dogs, FOCAS’ facebook states, “If you’re angry, direct that anger where it belongs: Call City Hall: 559-626-4488. Ask to speak with David Lopez (The mayor’s son) – ask how he’s going to prevent this kind of cruelty from happening again.
“Call the Mayor and City Manager Rudy Hernandez and ask them how this happened on their watch.
FOCAS is a small group that has been battling this attitude for years. They can’t do everything on their own. Help them!!”
Anyone wanting to help FOCAS until it has to leave the shelter can call 559-425-3101 to volunteer, help find a home for the remaining dogs, or foster a dog until a rescue home can be found.