Money problems plaguing animal shelter

The county animal shelter would be better off with a full-time, paid volunteer coordinator and paid employees replacing Honor Farm trustees, but it can’t afford either, the Board of Supervisors was told Tuesday.

Health Department Director Jeff Hamm told the board the animal services division manager, Eric Anderson, had “pleaded” for a volunteer coordinator, but “I took it upon myself not to submit that request” during budget deliberations.

He said the shelter’s managers are “doing the best we can with the resources we have.”

Hamm’s remarks came during a status report from animal services describing progress on implementation of more than 500 suggestions made by the Humane Society of the United States after it analyzed the local shelter’s operation in 2008.

The county subsequently organized its own task force, which last year set priorities for the 538 Humane Society recommendations. It declared 108 of them “high priority.” Sixty-one are in place, and eight more are being implemented, Anderson wrote in a staff report.

Among them:

Hiring a full-time veterinary technician;

Creating shelter supervisor and animal control supervising officer positions; and

Implementing early spay/neuter programs for sheltered animals.

In addition, there have been success stories. Volunteer Karen Kaufman told the Board of Supervisors the shelter adopted out nearly 600 kittens last year.

But there’s a laundry list of changes that cannot be made because there simply isn’t enough money, according to Anderson and Hamm.

The problems have been exacerbated by an increasing shelter population brought about by “continued economic hardships across the community,” Anderson wrote.

Kaufman and four other volunteers asked supervisors to give Anderson and the shelter more help.

They were especially critical of using Honor Farm trustees as volunteers because of turnover and the lack of training the inmates receive.

“Free labor is wonderful,” volunteer Eve Good said, but the trustees need more instruction. “We desperately need to create a training program for these guys.”

Volunteer Gail Gresham said the trustees aren’t supervised and are sometimes ineffective.

“We (volunteers) are cleaning kennels,” Gresham said, and it’s “not uncommon” to find an animal with no food and water.

Volunteer Tony Steward, who described himself as a former Silicon Valley executive, said the problems are broader.

“There is no accountability there, at almost all levels,” Steward said. “As a business person, I see a lack of any sense that there’s a customer.”

Supervisor Jim Patterson acknowledged the problems with Honor Farm trustees, but said “we can’t afford to not use them.”

Supervisor Paul Teixeira suggested also reaching out for volunteer labor to the California Men’s Colony, the National Guard and even Cuesta College.