The Tracy animal shelter is due for changes, with city leaders looking for solutions that would reduce the number of animals that end up at the shelter and ensure better care for those that are housed there.
The Tracy City Council’s discussion of the issue on Tuesday began with interim Tracy Police Department Chief Alex Neicu’s report on proposed changes, including a consultant’s suggestions that could make the shelter at Grant Line and Paradise roads into an example of how a modern animal shelter should function.
The 1-hour, 40-minute discussion also included public criticism of the shelter, sparked by two cases this month where dogs were euthanized after the city declared them to be vicious and unsuitable for release back to their owners.
Neicu started off by reviewing a report from veterinarian Sarah Pizano of Team Shelter USA. Her recommendations included an upgrade of shelter management, from the title of animal services supervisor to animal services manager.
The position change would add $25,000 per year to the city’s personnel costs and give the shelter manager a higher community presence, more decision-making authority when it comes to creating partnerships with outside animal rescue groups, and knowledge of the latest practices in animal shelter management.
Pizano also recommended that the city hire a part-time veterinarian at an estimated annual cost of $100,000 and budget for standard medical treatment for all animals housed at the shelter, as well as vaccinations, deworming, and spaying or neutering for animals that are adopted from the shelter, at a cost of another $100,000 per year.
She said the city is also due to update its policies as they relate to admission of animals into the shelter, moving from “unconditional admission” of all animals to “managed admission,” where the shelter would not take animals until the owners or local rescue groups had made efforts to find new homes for them.
Those policies would include “return to field” for feral cats, making trap-neuter-release the rule for those cats instead of keeping them at the shelter.
The goal is to reduce the number of animals euthanized at the shelter. Pizano reported that the city is already on a positive trend in that regard. She reported that 89% of all dogs and 80% of all cats taken into the shelter last year were either released to owners or adopted out. That’s an improvement over 2016, when 83% of all dogs and just 43% of all cats were saved after being admitted to the shelter.
When it was the public’s turn to comment, the concerns were not with Pizano’s report or recommendations but instead focused on recent cases of dogs that were euthanized over the objections of their owners after the dogs reportedly attacked people.
Christine McGovern told the council that her dog was put down Aug. 7 after reportedly biting a man. The case is related to a July 30 incident. According to the Tracy Police Department dispatch log from that day, a dog attacked an elderly man at Sixth and D streets, and the person who called police said the man had a wound that required medical attention. Police called an ambulance and then impounded two dogs.
“When they came to get him they made me feel like I had no other choice to surrender him over,” McGovern said.
The city took her two dogs for a 10-day quarantine. She said she tried to communicate with the shelter staff as to when she could get her dogs back, but only one was returned while the other was euthanized.
She told the council that she lost a beloved family member.
“We’re at a loss for words and are unable to fathom what has happened to us. We are confused and beside ourselves. Our home is no longer the same without him,” she said.
“He was always very loving towards us and the family. He was always very playful and lovable. He never once showed any signs of wanting to harm his family, or anyone for that matter.”
Sarah Heinrich supported McGovern and said she recovered a report that stated that the dog ripped the man’s jeans but there were no puncture wounds.
“It’s so heartbreaking when you see dogs like this get killed for no reason,” she said. “When I found out he died, I was disgusted, disgusted with what the city of Tracy animal services is doing to these dogs.”
Anger directed at the Tracy Animal Shelter also dominated comment threads on the Facebook page Tracy Animals Deserve Better. Another recent case highlights a dog that was put down Friday after reportedly biting a man April 19 on Hollywood Avenue.
The dog owner took the city to court to try to save the dog. On Aug. 1, a judge rejected the dog owner’s assertion that the bite victim was trespassing.
The court record from that hearing notes that the victim was a handyman who knocked on the front door of the house after noticing the front yard picket fence was in need of repair.
The dog owner said — and the judge noted that her account was in dispute — that the man had opened the screen door, and though the woman had opened the door only wide enough to talk to the man, he started to push it open to see her better. That’s when the dog lunged at him.
The police dispatch log from that day noted that the man was taken to Sutter Tracy Community Hospital. The court record stated that he had at least two severe lacerations and required 200 stitches.
The judge said the man’s actions before the attack could not be considered trespassing because the man went to the front door to offer his handyman services and did not take any actions that would provoke the dog.
Up until Friday afternoon, when the dog was scheduled to be euthanized, the thread on the Tracy Animals Deserve Better page was dominated by calls for protests against the animal shelter and disparaging remarks directed at the shelter staff.
While people holding pictures of the dogs stood at the back of Tuesday’s council meeting, the council also heard from shelter supporters, including Michelle Jimmerson, who said the Facebook page was linked to East of Eden Animal Rescue and the thread was full of menacing statements, amounting to a smear campaign against shelter workers.
“There should be zero tolerance for hateful, violent rhetoric in today’s climate, and recent events make these threats very credible,” Jimmerson told the council. “They have deterred people generally interested in helping, rescuing, and potential adopters from visiting the shelter because of fanatical antics and harassment of anyone supportive of the shelter.”
Sheri Savage from East of Eden Animal Rescue said her group did not condone the hateful or disparaging comments on the Facebook thread.
She also said the shelter staff had rejected her group’s efforts to help the shelter save animals.
“As we were helping more, it became evident that that’s not what the shelter staff wanted,” she said. “Things just got worse and worse because we were the voice of the animals and we started letting the public know. If that’s translated to, we’re passionate people and we’re angry and horrible activists, that’s absolutely not the case.
“We’re very passionate people, but we can’t control the all of public’s views,” she said. “People don’t like it when animals are killed unnecessarily, and we truly feel that is the case. We feel there’s something seriously wrong at the shelter.”
When it was the council’s turn to comment, Councilwoman Veronica Vargas supported the animal shelter staff.
“It’s not easy to be the rule enforcer. It’s not easy to sometimes make the difficult decisions,” she said.
Vargas added that she and her 8-year-old son witnessed the July 30 incident at Sixth and D streets.
“I was the 911 caller in the incident where two dogs were surrendered and an elderly man was being attacked by two dogs,” she said. “No, it wasn’t just a rip on the jeans. The man ended up going to the hospital and both of his legs had — there were puncture wounds and he was bleeding. It was not pleasant. It was very scary.”
She added that the point of Tuesday’s agenda item was to make the shelter more effective in how it deals with animals and how it interacts with the public.
“We care. We have had many, many meetings,” she said. “We’re trying to figure out how to have better policy for the pets and the dogs that come in. More importantly, we have to make sure our citizens are safe.”
City Manager Jenny Haruyama said the next step was to present the council with a new job description for the shelter manager, policy changes regarding medical care of animals admitted to the shelter, and a proposal to seek out part-time veterinary services. She said that would be done in a few weeks.