Passionate cat lovers – and there really is no other way – say it’s like a grueling game of emotional blackmail.
You drive past needy animal shelters in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino to “pull” animals from the state-of-the-art Orange County’s animal shelter in Tustin. Why? Because the OC animals are on what is called the “euth” list – meaning they are at risk of euthanasia, often with what volunteers consider to be easily treatable diseases like ringworm and respiratory infections. Animals in other shelters, they say, have more time.
“I couldn’t rescue cats from any shelter other than Orange County because they euthanize them so quickly,” said Leslie Weiss, managing director of Surfcat Rescue and Adoptions in Ventura County.
An online petition against Orange County’s management and practices – targeting both dog and cat policies – has garnered nearly 51,000 signatures, and a protest is at on Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Orange County Animal Care planned in Tustin. June 5th.
“As animal rescuers, we are drowning in one of the worst kitten seasons in years,” wrote Romina Yamashiro of Santa Ana in an appeal to district officials.
“We don’t have enough foster homes, vets are overbooked to help us, funds are running low, and cats are being euthanized by OC Animal Care because of very simple and easily treatable diseases.
“OC Animal Care is not helping any of our rescue organizations like they did in the past before COVID,” she wrote. “What to do with our taxpayers’ money?”
The core of the cat conflict can be traced back to a freezing of the “Wilde Freiheit” program, in which wildcats were neutered and neutered, given gunshots and basic medical care, and then released back to their old turf.
Fixated feral cats cannot reproduce, and this can save thousands of kittens from the euthanasia needle over a period of years.
OC Animal Care started a pilot program in 2013. Within a single year, the euthanasia rate of cats rose from 74% of live seizures to 49.5%, according to the district data at the time.
A volunteer bathes a dirty feral kitten hoping for a better life. (Courtesy photo by Romina Yamashiro)
Countless studies have found that the practice significantly reduces death. Over an 8-year period, cat euthanasia at Louisville Metro Animal Services decreased 94.1% – and cat intake decreased 42.8% – according to a study published in Animals magazine. A total of 24,697 cats were captured, spayed, vaccinated and returned to their lawns.
Robust programs like this exist in Riverside County and the cities of Garden Grove, Long Beach, and San Diego. Kris Watson, director of San Bernardino Animal Services, hopes to get one up and running there too.
In Orange County, however, the program was controversial and resulted in legal action. It is inhumane to let service animals out on the streets to fend for themselves, accused critics, saying the shelter has put hundreds of healthy, adoptable, non-feral kittens on the street to increase its live release rates.
A cease and desist declaration was issued in autumn 2019. When the pandemic broke in spring 2020, the practice was discontinued. It is unclear if it will restart.
“This is a leading topic of discussion among animal welfare authorities here and across the country,” said Monica Schmidt, deputy director of Orange County Animal Care Release of animals’ is considered and prohibited. “
The county is not taking in healthy animals, instead focusing on those most in need – young kittens and sick, injured, and / or unhealthy animals, she said.
“We have hundreds of rescue partners and we look to them when animals need additional care that we may not be able to provide or when they have behavioral needs,” she said. “National groups say that if you don’t have a robust TNR (Trap Neuter Release Program) or are legally unable to do so, they recommend avoiding healthy stray cats. One reason is that most of them are not true strays. They belong to someone and tend to find their way home. “
However, this is not the experience of at least some of those trying to fill the void.
Feeding time for a cat colony in Santa Ana. (Courtesy photo by Romina Yamashiro)
There is a cadre of volunteers who capture, neuter, and release cats at their own discretion.
One, on property across the Santa Ana River, looked after more than 50 cats and kittens this week alone – an endeavor that devours dozens of hours and hundreds of dollars every week. Volunteers feed them, socialize them, clean up after them, and pay to have them fixed because the county is no longer doing the operations. Kittens are adopted through rescues; sterilized mothers are returned to their territory.
Without the help of the county, it’s like trying to empty the ocean with a juice glass, they say.
“Volunteers who spend their free time and energy catching the common good should NOT ALSO be responsible for applying for (correction) vouchers AND for the additional finances of vaccines and other basics that every cat should have access to, Have to pay, ”Del Gato Rescue’s Jen Knight wrote in an email.
“(T) he County of Orange is actively burdening the NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS, which lack the means and resources to provide the amount of vouchers required by the public rescuers to bring about real and lasting change.”
The handful of vets helping rescuers are overwhelmed and there are long waits to fix feral cats, Yamashiro said.
This spring – the “kitten season” – is the worst one can remember as people throw boxes of kittens on the curbs because the shelter is not accepting them and they do not know what to do with them should.
(Courtesy photo by Romina Yamashiro)
“If you think the kitten season has been bad so far, I guarantee you will see this Consequences for the next season, ”said Erika Rasmussen. “So many little lives are born only to be put to sleep because there won’t be enough space or home for everyone! Disgusting.”
Animal Care has an annual budget of about $ 23 million and takes in fewer animals, volunteers say. Some want the operating room to be reopened for rescues. Others say the county should at least offer a mobile clinic on hotspots and get the job done. More financial aid for private spay and neuter surgery would also help, others said.
“THIS IS A PUBLIC SAFETY / HEALTH ISSUE,” wrote Knight. “IT IS NOT ACCEPTED THAT THE COUNTY TAKES NO RESPONSIBILITY.”
Changes are coming
Many colony kittens have eye infections and problems like these. (Courtesy photo by Romina Yamashiro)
Many operational changes are expected in the wake of the pandemic, Schmidt said, including perhaps maintaining some sort of scheduling system for adoptions that offers more individualized attention and can lead to better matches.
The county doesn’t have the budget to absorb millions of dollars on operations, but it hopes to reach common ground with critics.
“We continue to examine our possibilities of what we can offer the community,” said Schmidt. “We are open to exploring what we can do in the future. This can include working with nonprofits that have different programs. I think we need time to get out of the pandemic, to consider the legal advice that weighs what we can and can’t do and our budget.
The county’s statistics are still pretty good – an overall savings rate of 96% for dogs and 81% for cats in 2020, she said.
Critics say it’s easier when you accept so few animals and rely so heavily on rescues.
In San Bernardino, Watson outlined how she could set up a program for the freedom of the savage there. It would be different from what OC had there during her tenure, she said: She can focus on a single city rather than the 14 in orbit of OC Animal Care, which lends itself to greater coverage and connection with individual neighborhoods. The nonprofits in OC that focus on community cats have a lot more to do, she said.
OC’s Schmidt said the county has hundreds of rescue partners with as many opinions on how things should work.
“Of course, animal welfare attracts really passionate people,” said Schmidt. “Some want to come to the table and find a way to work together. Some come to the table and say, ‘You will do XYZ or we will never be happy with you.’ We focus on those who want to work with us and find the right programming for the future. “