[Calaveras County] Grand Jury Report sparks controversy surrounding Animal Control

Animal Control Services (ACS) has been a hot topic in Calaveras County Grand Jury Reports for over 18 years, with juries demanding an updated facility nearly every year since 1999. This year, the ACS shelter in San Andreas was investigated not only by choice of the jury, but also due to a citizen’s complaint.

As a result of the ongoing shortfalls, the 2018-19 Grand Jury made some hefty recommendations, including either the funding for relocation or development of a new facility, or the elimination of Calaveras County ACS and outsourcing to other counties within the 2019-20 fiscal year. It was also recommended that the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office take over operations at the ACS shelter within that same time frame.

Current director of ACS, Evan Jacobs, says he “respectfully disagrees” with those recommendations.

Regarding the potential outsourcing of animal services in Calaveras County, Jacobs referenced the “unique challenges” in other counties such as ordinance variations and limited space. Additionally, he said, the lengthened transportation distance would increase costs for county residents.

Jacobs also disagrees with the potential transfer of ACS to law enforcement, citing increased euthanasia rates at the shelter while under the Sheriff’s Office’s jurisdiction.

In Calaveras County, ACS has been managed by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) since October of 2012, after previous Sheriff Gary Kuntz decided to let go of the department.

In 2015, the Grand Jury Report found that the shelter was run “more efficiently” under the Sheriff’s Office. This year’s report echoed that sentiment.

“Under the administration of the Sheriff’s Office, an ACS officer would command more respect and authority within the community, have the authority to issue citations, make arrests and enforce codes and licensing laws,” the report reads.

Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio agreed that the department had “better success” when it was run by the Sheriff’s Office.

“The problem was that they keep pulling funding from us, and I think that’s why Sheriff Kuntz gave it back,” DiBasilio told the Enterprise on Tuesday. “If they give us the funding for it, I’m OK with it, but if they don’t allow us to hire the Animal Services officers, then it does no good.”

In addition to laying out a number of initiatives addressing the funding and staffing shortages at the Sheriff’s Office, the 2018-19 Grand Jury Report recommended adequate funding for the Sheriff’s Office to take over ACS operations.

However, current management and volunteers at the county-run shelter have expressed concerns regarding the potential takeover.

In 2005, while operating under the Sheriff’s Office, the ACS total live-release rate was 37.5%, according to Jacobs, with roughly 27% of all dogs and 86% of all cats euthanized at the shelter within the fiscal year. Jacobs noted that it is undetermined if those figures include owner-requested euthanasias, which is a service that the shelter continues to provide.

In 2018 – not factoring in owner-requested euthanasias – the live release rate was 92.4%, with roughly 6% of dogs and 10% of cats euthanized.

Jacobs credits Friends of Calaveras Animal Services (FOCAS) and a change in the industry’s common practice with the significant drop in euthanasia rates, despite minimal improvements to the facility.

“The industry strives for a 90% live-release rate. In some instances, that is considered ‘no kill,’” said Jacobs, who held a similar position in Austin, Texas, prior to joining Calaveras ACS last year.

“My personal stance is, I don’t really believe in the ‘no kill’ movement,” Jacobs said. “I do believe in socially conscious animal sheltering. If an animal is truly aggressive, we will not adopt it out or potentially get it out to a rescue. Sick and injured animals will be taken care of as quickly as possible, whether going through FOCAS or a rescue … We will always strive for the highest live-release rate. It may fluctuate, but we always continue to make sure every available animal gets out and try not to euthanize for time and space.”

FOCAS Chairwoman Debby Beaufort has volunteered at the shelter under both Sheriff’s Office and EMA management. Although she observed a number of physical improvements to the shelter under the Sheriff’s Office, she maintains that ACS and law enforcement are not a “good mix.”

“What the shelter needs, and what they have currently in Evan, is an animal person,” Beaufort said. “To be very honest, I doubt the people on the grand jury are professional animal people. I don’t know that they have the wherewithal to make the suggestion that it goes to the Sheriff’s Office.”

Beaufort added, “(The Sheriff’s Office) didn’t want to deal with it anymore. It was too much. They have a lot on their plate.”

Beaufort and Jacobs both agree with past and present grand jury reports that ACS is underfunded, and that the current 60-year-old facility is “old, outdated and insufficient to care for and house animals.”

“The Board of Supervisors has to step up and pay attention,” Beaufort said. “I’m sure (the shelter is) out of compliance with a lot of state code. It’s such an antiquated system.”

Although Jacobs says he would like to see a new facility “sooner than later,” he recognizes the limitations of the county budget. In recent months, he said, the board has supported ACS with the approval of two new vehicles, with one already purchased and one pending the finalization of the county budget in September.

The addition of two vehicles addresses a recommendation made by this year’s grand jury for one new ACS vehicle. Jacobs says other recommendations are also currently being implemented, including the development of defined policies and procedures for staff.

The parties addressed in the 2018-19 Grand Jury Report, including DiBasilio, Jacobs and the Board of Supervisors, are required to respond to the jury’s findings within the next two months.

July 2, 2019

Calaveras Enterprise

By Dakota Morlan

County: