Animal activists demand changes at Orange County Animal Shelter

The Orange County Pet Shelter, located at 1630 Victory Road in Tustin, has come under fire as animal activists demanded a change in practices. Activists say the restrictive appointment-based adoption model put in place in the pandemic should be lifted now, as it does more harm to animals than good and lowers adoption rates. Additionally, they demand the creation of a trap-neuter-release program for cats, a better dog enrichment program, the hiring of more staff, and the recruitment of volunteers.

What is OCAC?

Orange County Animal Care provides services for Anaheim, Brea, Cypress, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Huntington Beach, Lake Forest, Orange, Placenta, San Juan Capistrano, Tustin, Villa Park, Yorba Linda and unincorporated areas of the county. OCAC contracts with these cities to answer calls and provide redemption, license renewal, pet admission and adoption services. The 10-acre facility was newly constructed in 2018.

What is an “adopt by appointment” model?

At the start of the pandemic, like many other shelters, OCAC switched to a by-appointment adoption model. This forces people to create an appointment to see a specific animal that they have chosen from a photo on the website. Then people can go to the shelter to see the animal of their choice in a park and proceed with the adoption if it suits them.

Chairman of OC’s Supervisory Board, Doug Chaffee, said: “The appointment system retains their [the animals’] stress levels have gone down. OCAC Deputy Director Monica Schmidt added that the appointment system “has reduced the bite rate of the visiting public” and that the return rate of adopted pets has decreased as better matches are made.

The management of the shelter sticks to this model citing benefits for the animals and their staff.

Animal activists and independent rescuers dispute that this model is restrictive because it does not allow the public to walk the aisles and interact with the animals in the kennels to bond and find the right person. They find the dating model cumbersome and say picking animals from a photo does a disservice to animals that might not look attractive in photos but nevertheless deserve loving homes.

Romina Yamashiro, independent cat rescuer and animal activist, said: “This shelter has been amazingly designed; it’s so well done. And it was designed for people to walk through the shelter, through the kennels, to encourage public exploration, and that doesn’t happen. She added that dogs that are older and may not look as attractive in photos are more likely to be chosen if people are allowed to see the kennels.

Michelle Schumacher, a taxpayer advocate, said: “They are [OCAC] say animals are stressed [with] people coming in, but those people are the only ones going to get them out of there, so they need to be seen.

What is TNR?

The Trap-neuter-release (TNR) process helps control the exponential increase in the cat population. Trapping cats, neutering them, and releasing them outside or adopting them is considered the most humane way to reduce the cat population and improve the overall health of existing cats. Cats can give birth to three litters per year and each litter can contain up to six kittens. This overloads shelters, sanctuaries and communities that are overrun with feral cats and their litter full of kittens.

Currently, OCAC does not have a TNR program. Animal activists are demanding the establishment of a TNR clinic at the OCAC so independent rescuers don’t have to carry the burden of trapping and neutering cats at their own pace and expense. Debbie Hammil, a freelance cat trapper, and another trapper have spent $38,000 since 2020 trapping cats. They trapped over 398 cats on their own time and budget.

Who has the power to change the direction of the OCAC?

The restrictive nomination system and the lack of a TNR program are not the only demands of activists. The current dog enrichment program, lack of staff and volunteers, and alleged mistreatment of current staff are also areas of concern.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors has the power to create major changes. Activists made public comments and wrote emails and letters to supervisors expressing their concerns.

In response, Supervisor Katrina Foley is hosting a free adoption event and job fair on September 10 at the OCAC premises.

Activists are holding a peaceful protest the same day to demand the removal of the restrictive appointment-by-appointment model and its replacement with the previous model of letting the public roam the aisles to see the animals in person in their kennels.

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Boyd S. Abbott