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Pets In The Recession: New Shelter Grappling With Economy

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, November 29, 2010

by James Morrison

The Sacramento County Animal Shelter is barely a year old.  Just inside the facility you'll find comfortable, well-lighted cat and dog habitats that house the more "adoptable" pets.  But, in the back of the shelter, there's row after row of caged kennels full of dogs and cats . . . and even rabbits.

[sound from the shelter]

Carl Simpson is the director of the $22 million, 50,000 square foot shelter.  He says the shelter's problems are growing.  Not only is the county providing less money to support the shelter, but the number of animals being surrendered is increasing. 

"A young African American gentleman pulled his car up in our circle there.  And he said that he had just lost his job and he was about to be evicted from his house and as he was talking the tears were welling up in his eyes." 

Stories like this are common for Simpson.  About 30 animals a day are coming into the facility.   Last week the shelter had 450 animals in 311 kennels.  
"So sometimes we're doubling up in kennels. And in shelter medicine what I've learned so far is that's not a good scenario.  The larger your population is the more susceptible they are to disease.  We've had several outbreaks of Parvo here.  That's a deadly disease for dogs." 
And when diseases break out in the shelter all the exposed animals have to be killed.  All the affected areas have to be thoroughly cleaned too.  There are only four kennel attendants assigned to feeding and cleaning up after the animals.
Simpson says there should be at least three times that many, but the staff here has been cut in half in the past year, from 57 to 28.  Now everyone helps out with the cleaning.  Simpson points out that radio dispatcher Laura Badeker is talking on a walkie talkie as she sprays out a kennel with a hose. 
"And so she's in contact with the officers in the field even though she's in the kennel actually cleaning the kennels."

Animal control officers also help clean kennels and feed animals, which Simpson says is a strain because there is usually only one animal control officer in the field for each shift. 

"So what that means is that that officer has 900 square miles of responsibility."

And that officer is usually backlogged with up to 150 calls before he starts his shift. 
Simpson says he doesn't expect the shelter's funding problems to get better anytime soon.  He's been successfully fundraising for the past year, but the shelter is still struggling financially.
"We have 15,000 animals that come through here a year.  And if we fail, if this shelter fails, then the SPCA and the city are somehow going to have to absorb those animals that aren't coming to the county anymore."
But the other shelters are also overwhelmed with animals.  And that's bad news for pets.  For every 100 animals that come into the county shelter, only 35 leave alive. 
[Barking dogs out]
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