Sheriff promises probe into Sutter County Animal Shelter
In the wake of a scathing grand jury report, Yuba City, the biggest player in what had been a pending three-way joint powers authority, washed its hands last week of Sutter County's animal control problems.
The "deplorable conditions," under which the grand jury says dogs, cats and other domestic animals are currently housed at the county's shelter on Second Street, now have no end in sight.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Paul Parker has promised, "a protracted investigation."
The grand jury alleges that ongoing neglect at the shelter violates several laws, including those concerning veterinary care, euthanasia and general failure to provide humane conditions.
"We will be looking into all the allegations. There's quite a litany," Parker said. "We want to know is there deliberate indifference, or is it that people are doing the best with what they have."
During a presentation of the grand jury's final report, UC Davis Shelter Medicine Director Dr. Kate Hurley was asked where she would rate conditions and management at the Sutter County shelter on a scale of 1 to 100. She responded that the facility would fall in the bottom five percent of such a scale.
Hurley's team found that animal control officers prescribed and administered treatment to animals without veterinary supervision "using donated drugs prescribed for other animals in the shelter."
Some medications were ob-served being administered in incorrect doses and expired medications were being used. Treatment records, according to the report, were not being recorded properly. "A veterinary technician and a formal relationship with a local veterinarian are required to provide for medical care of shelter animals," reads the report, which asserts that Sutter County's shelter has no such relationship.
According to the report, 66 percent of cats euthanized at the shelter in 2010 were killed for medical reasons, and that only 13 percent had been sick or injured when they arrived at the shelter.
"More cats died in their cages than were adopted (273 versus 248)," the report reads. "Overall, in 2010, 1,243 dogs and cats were either euthanized or died in their cages of a shelter-acquired illness or injury."
Some of the problems at the shelter, including a rat infestation, already have been addressed and mitigated, said Shelter Supervisor Cheryl Bohannan.
But the overcrowded conditions, she said, have caused a variety of problems that would not have been there otherwise.
Among them is the lack of a volunteer program, which could help alleviate staffing shortages, and enhance animals' chances of survival and adoption. The more personal attention the animals receive, the better off they are, Bohannan said.
But the size and design of the Sutter County facility are far outdated because of Yuba City's population growth since its construction in 1986, and dramatic changes in standards for animal shelters.
In a consultant's report issued in 2007, such changes — and shortcomings of the Sutter County shelter model — were detailed.
Today's animal shelters, it notes, are in much more conspicuous locales, and have a less institutional regimen of care and presentation. They are no longer the "pound" that kept unwanted cats and dogs in a prison-like building, out of sight, sound and smell of residential neighborhoods or downtown centers, the report points out.
All such information in the 2007 report, according to the grand jury, was wasted.
"It's been at least six years we've been back and forth on this," said Bohannan of the talks between Yuba City and Sutter County and Live Oak about plans for a new shelter.
But public officials have balked repeatedly at their share of the $4.5 million estimated cost.
Plans were finally scrapped at a meeting last Wednesday between Yuba City, Sutter County and Live Oak officials, after Steve Jepsen, city manager of Yuba City, finally declared that he and his city would do better on their own.
Bohannan voiced concerns about a mentality that seeks bargains over adequacy.
"We're building a special building and that's why it costs so much," she said. "It's not a house, it's not an office building. This is something closer to a hospital or a laboratory."
"It has to safely keep the animals, and you have to be able to keep it clean," she said.