Sutter County Animal Shelter fixes: 'Band-Aids on a festering sore'
Her findings from two paid consultations have not resulted in progress. A third would likely be a waste of time and taxpayer money.
That is the conclusion U.C. Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program Director Kate Hurley has drawn regarding the Sutter County Animal Shelter.
"I don't want to sound like I'm just attacking the (shelter) staff," she said, "but a new facility won't fix a situation like this, where there's not the proper management to maintain it."
Management, staff, and the facility itself, Hurley said, are the three basic categories she evaluates when inspecting an animal shelter.
"You can only afford, at most, to be shaky on one of those," she said. "Otherwise, you're just putting Band-Aids on a festering sore."
The fact that officials from Yuba City, Live Oak, and the county appear ready to work together on constructing a new shelter, Hurley said, does not solve the problems she and other U.C. Davis veterinarians detailed in March while inspecting the troubled Second Street facility.
Hurley said last week she believes the system of animal shelter oversight is broken, as evidenced by an official response to the grand jury report, which she called, "defensive" in tone.
"The staff and people associated with the shelter say, 'the animals have plenty to eat and we always make sure everything's fine,'" Hurley said. "All the focus has gone to defending this idea that things are OK, when I have seen otherwise."
A former animal control officer and shelter worker, Hurley has inspected the Sutter County shelter twice — once in 2010 at the request of the county and again in March at the request of the county's grand jury.
That second inspection, which had been scheduled in advance with shelter management, produced dozens of pages of graphically detailed criticism that became the crux of a grand jury report issued in April.
In the wake of its release, Sutter County Community Services Director Randy Cagle recently contacted Hurley and asked that her U.C. Davis team return to the shelter and make recommendations for improvement.
But a continuing inability to face facts regarding mismanagement, and a history of inaction during years of political infighting over plans for a replacement shelter, Hurley said, do not bode well, regardless of best intentions for the new facility.
Cagle did not respond to requests from the Appeal-Democrat for comment on this story.
Yuba City and Sutter County officials have said they hope to have the new shelter finished in 18 to 24 months.
Officials from those governments, and from Live Oak, have agreed to spend roughly $140,000 on improvements to the existing facility in the interim.
Hurley said that what she saw during her last inspection, including fresh rat droppings in cat food dishes — evidence that the rodent problem she had witnessed the previous year had not been mitigated — revealed blind spots in management.
"They haven't been successful in responding in an appropriate way," she said.
An absence of bleach and hot water in the laundry area, in spite of the knowledge that an inspection would be taking place, Hurley said, was further evidence that very real problems were not being recognized.
"This indicates a breakdown in the overall structure (of oversight)," she said.
A new hot water heater, as well as additional temporary space on the facility's grounds to more safely house animals, are among the improvements planned for the Second Street shelter.
Hurley admits that her contribution to the grand jury report had been scathing and unrelenting in its details.
"I didn't hold back, and I didn't exaggerate," she said.
Hurley is recognized across the country as one of the world's chief pioneers in animal shelter medicine and animal shelter health protocols. Her U.C. Davis program veterinarians conduct research and publish frequently in animal health journals. They act as consultants to dozens of private and public animal shelters each year.
"It was unusual just to criticize without making recommendations," Hurley said of the report. "I wanted to help shed light and not just attack people. But nothing had changed from the previous year."
Several county supervisors spoke out at a recent board of supervisors meeting in support of this response.
They praised work performed by Cagle and Shelter Supervisor Cheryl Bohannan, who both signed the official response document.
CONTACT reporter Nancy Pasternack at 749-4781.