When the public hears Riverside County Department of Animal Services (RCDAS), what flashes through their minds is often “the pound,” “animal killers,” or “big brother sticking its nose in our lives.”
Foster Army Animal Rescue decided it was time to go to the top to get answers to questions we’ve heard people ask, to clear up confusion and misconceptions. We sat down for a one-on-one with Rob Miller, director of RCDAS.
Top of mind with many people is euthanasia. We’ve seen the shocking headlines, national and local, and heard the outcries. The fact is in the first 10 months of fiscal year 2017 from July 1, 1016, through April 30, 2017, there were 11,904 animals euthanized by our county’s Department of Animal Services.
This figure accounts for the department’s entire jurisdiction which includes all unincorporated areas of Riverside County, including the unincorporated areas of southwest county where Animal Friends of the Valleys has animal services contracts with six cities. RCDAS also has contracts with 15 cities including Colton and Fontana in San Bernardino County.
The 11,904 encompasses both untreatable animals (5,752) – those so ill or injured their quality of life is negligible – and treatable animals (6,152) – those which are healthy or have treatable illnesses or injuries.
Treatable animals lose their lives because the department can’t find adopters or rescue organizations to take them. In those 10 months, RCDAS took in more than 33, 000 live animals: cats, dogs and others. The department’s four shelters are not intended to be sanctuaries where animals may live out their lives. So, in large part, until communities embrace the pet overpopulation problem, shelter staff has to make tough decisions.
Treatable animals include underage kittens and puppies. California law states that shelters cannot house or adopt out puppies and kittens under eight weeks of age. Therefore, rescues and people who do fostering are the little ones’ only hope for survival.
While Miller says they have more work to do to reduce euthanasia, he points out that when he started with the department 12 1/2 years ago, 58% of the dogs entering the county’s shelters were euthanized. That figure is down to 20% the past couple years.
So what about reducing euthanasia of cats? (8,570 cats were euthanized during the 10-month period as compared with 2,692 dogs.) Miller explains the reason for the emphasis on dogs was “because the public was screaming about dogs, not cats.”
However, RCDAS is working to change this grim statistic. Miller says RCDAS is now, and will continue for the next 12 months, putting emphasis on reducing the cat population in its jurisdiction.
Here’s what the department’s doing:
- Increasing the number of spay/neuter surgeries at the department’s two clinics and via their mobile unit.
- Increasing the number of cats and kittens transferred to rescue organizations and shelters around the country.
- Working with Best Friends Animal Society to reduce the cat population in the Coachella Valley. With a three-year community grant from Best Friends, RCDAS is providing 500 free spay/neuter surgeries, as well as vaccinations and rabies shots, for community cats.
- Established a working cat program. Community and feral cats that cannot be returned to the locations where they were trapped are transferred to TNR Riverside in Riverside, Forever Meow in Palm Desert, and other cat rescue organizations for placement on ranches, at vineyards and orchards, in warehouses and at other locations in need of rodent control where property owners agree to provide food and shelter.
- Set an example for the working cat program with cat condos in the barn areas of the county shelter campuses in Jurupa Valley and San Jacinto for feral/community cats that not long ago would have been euthanized.
Another bone of contention with the public is the department’s fees – the fee to relinquish pets when people feel the need to give them up and the fees to get back their pets picked up as strays.
People who don’t want to pay relinquishment fees will go to other shelters that don’t impose a fee, try to rehome the pet, or abandon the animal expecting it will survive on its own (not likely) or to become someone else’s problem.
Those people who want to retrieve their wanderlust pets from the shelters face fees which can put a dent in their bank accounts. In response to this issue, Miller points out that the department’s shelters are public shelters working with a set budget funded by taxpayers. Somebody has to pay for the pick up, medical and daily care, and housing of the animals, he adds. If not the owners, then the burden is on taxpayers. He says they try to save taxpayers money citing as an example that they go after owners of impounded animals if they’re identified. They can garnish their tax refunds.
The fact is, with 28,166 live strays impounded in the first 10 months of fiscal year 2017 and only 3,722 returned to owners, taxpayers are footing a hefty bill.
Miller explains that they try to work with pet owners who want their pets back but can’t pay the entire cost up front by offering a payment plan.
A controversial issue is Pitbulls and even ‘powerhouse’ breeds such as Rottweilers, Staffordshire Terriers and German Shepherds which are considered by many to be dangerous. Riverside County and the city of Riverside require all Pitbulls to be spayed/neutered, but not other large-breed dogs.
Miller says 20% (1 in 5) of the dogs impounded in their shelters are Pitbulls, adding that if a Pitbull does get adopted, it happens within three days of them becoming available. After three days? They may increase the euthanized-treatable statistic if not rescued.
On the topic of adoptions… In order to save as many lives as possible, county shelters often have low-cost and free adoption events for cats and dogs which includes spay/neuter, vaccinations and microchips. This practice raises concerns among some people who believe if people can’t afford an adoption fee, then they can’t afford to properly provide food and medical care. Also, stories abound that when animals are free or low-cost, they’re acquired by people who resell them to labs to be used in experiments or to anyone without taking care to be sure the animal’s going to a good home.
Miller states that as far as the department’s adoptions are concerned, whether the fees are standard rates or zero, the staff vets the adopters as best as possible, looking for key signs and red flags. He says studies have shown that fewer animals adopted at low- or no-cost are returned to the shelters than those for which adopters pay higher fees. While he
admits they don’t know what happens to the animals after they’re adopted, they haven’t seen that the people who take advantage of the promotions turn up as hoarders or abusers.
Looking ahead to the next fiscal year, Miller reveals that in addition to focusing on cats and increasing the spay/neuter program, the department will focus on dog licensing through its Canine Integrated Licensing Program, more public safety services by their animal control officers, community education, and providing transportation of people’s pets to and from the department’s spay/neuter clinics.
We residents have to hope these programs and services will be realized, but available funding could be an issue. Miller says that he’s been notified that his department budget could be slashed at least 6 1/2% for fiscal year 2018 which starts July 1, 2017.
NOTE: For the latest statistics from RCDAS see “About Us – Statistics” on the department’s website: www.rcdas.org.
Did You Know?
- Stray animals are held for 72 hours after the day of impound before they’re available for adoption or transfer, or euthanized if need be.
- Stray animals are held for 10 days if the owner is known (i.e., microchips, ID tags). However, cats may be held for as few as 4 days.
- When selling or giving away a dog, the owner is suppose to complete a transfer of license for the animal. If the dog goes to a new owner outside of the area, the owner is suppose to notify RCDAS as well as the animal control agency covering the new location.
- It is unlawful for a person to set or maintain an operating trap for a cat unless a sign is posted on the property stating that a trap is in use on the property. For more information on this, see county ordinance 6.08.150 – Cat Trapping.
Courtesy of Rob Miller, director, Riverside County Dept. of Animal Services
Editor’s note: This article was written by Jean Clement for Foster Army Animal Rescue‘s newsletter, “The Wet Nose News.”