Save our shelter

County hopes residents will register their pets, spare animal services

County code enforcement chief Carl Simpson now does double duty as director of the animal shelter, too, due to budget cuts.

County code enforcement chief Carl Simpson now does double duty as director of the animal shelter, too, due to budget cuts.

Photo By Larry dalton

You may license your pet with the county one of two ways: in person, 3839 Bradshaw Road, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays and 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; or go online at
To license your pet within the city of Sacramento, go to the shelter at 2127 Front Street, Tuesdays-Fridays noon-5:30 p.m. and Saturdays 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Cash, check, debit, Visa and Mastercard accepted. Or attend the city Animal Care Services low-cost vaccination clinic held at the shelter the first Wednesday of each month, 5:30-7 p.m.

A little black dog named Sweetie wags her tail excitedly as a visitor looks in at the Sacramento County Animal Shelter on Bradshaw Road.

Then, there’s Beefcake, a 100-pound pit bull with a neck the size of a wrestler’s; and Snowball, a black cat, a nod to fictional TV character Maggie Simpson’s pet; and Sly, a black-and-white border collie mix.

Cool tones color the facility, and artwork commissioned from noted artists adorn the walls. There’s calming music playing in the background. This is a full-service shelter and a far cry from your basic concrete-and-wire-fence nightmare that it inhabited for decades just down the street, until opening at its new location at 3839 Bradshaw Road in November 2009.

At the old location, a cacophony of barks and howls, crying and meows would greet visitors, there to secure a lost pet or adopt a new one. It was sad; it was depressing.

Here, the cats and smaller dogs are kept in glass-enclosed rooms—not wire cages—decorated to resemble someone’s home living room or den, complete with oversized chairs, couches, throw pillows, blankets and rugs.

But this gleaming new facility just lost its director of six years, thanks to a $1.9 million funding gap for fiscal year 2010-11. Further cuts threaten to close the shelter doors to the public.

If the cuts go through, shelter hours would be reduced to four hours per day, four days per week, dropping the adoption program down to 30 percent of capacity, and the county would eliminate owner-requested euthanasia, and the rescue and foster care programs. The county also says that animal-control response may only be provided to the “most severe” animal issues in the county, and the “volunteer program would be eliminated.”

Former director Pat Claerbout will be officially laid off effective July 3. She was making $119,620 annually.

The county has decided to instead “job share” Claerbout’s duties, tapping Carl Simpson, the county’s chief of code enforcement, to take over. Happy to take the reins of animal services, Simpson said, “First of all, I love animals, I own animals, I have a respect for animals,” adding that as a child, he worked for the town veterinarian—the father of a close friend—who put him to work in the kennel. The 47-year-old Simpson’s current salary for his code-enforcement post is $112,704 annually, and he will receive a 10 percent bump in pay for taking on the extra job.

But that still leaves county shelter services about $1.8 million in the red.

Of course, Sacramento County residents could save their animal shelter by getting their dogs and cats licensed, as required by law. Of the 173,000 households with pets in Sacramento County, only 14 percent are currently license-compliant, according to county officials. If those households were to register their animals—at a cost of $15 per year—the department would be able to raise $2.5 million.

Just 12 percent of the shelter’s budget comes from licensing and stays with the shelter’s general fund budget to pay for shelter operations.

In a joint county/city effort, both shelters are running an “amnesty” program for anyone who has yet to register their cat or dog or is behind on renewing their registration. If done by June 30, each jurisdiction will waive the normal $100 penalty, and residents will be charged only the $15 licensing fee.

To license your pet, you will need a current rabies certificate and proof that your pet is spayed/neutered. (If your pet is not current on their rabies vaccine, both the city and the county have low-cost vaccine clinics available on a weekly and monthly basis.)

The amnesty program dovetails with the county shelter’s “Save Our Shelter” campaign, or SOS as it’s known, where the county is pushing hard for people to come in and license their pets.

For $15, pet owners get some bang for their buck. First, if your licensed pet becomes lost and is found by animal control, an officer will make every attempt to reunite your pet with you before taking it to the shelter—saving you time, money and heartache. Second, if your licensed pet does end up at the shelter, it will be held for up to 10 days—not the required five for pets without a license. Next, if your pet is found sick or injured, shelter workers will contact your vet for you. Also, if your pet is found, you will be contacted immediately and will not have to pay the $40 impound fee to retrieve your animal. Additionally, at the time when your pet dies or is in need of final arrangements, the shelter will assist with free to low-cost services.

Simpson says the county hasn’t done a very good job of telling people what they get for their $15, or that the money goes to help with low-cost animal clinics and to help the shelter’s homeless animals.

The shelter takes in nearly 15,000 dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, parrots, and even a llama or two each year—many of them in poor shape, having been abused; others left to fend for themselves in a collapsed housing market when their owners moved and did not take them with them.

They have to be tended to, brought back to wellness where possible and resocialized before being made suitable for adoption—the ultimate goal of the shelter, after connecting lost animals with their owners.

And adoptions are up 10 percent since moving into the new shelter last year, records show, yielding $398,026 in revenue for fiscal year 2009-10 from licensing fees, which go directly to support the shelter’s general fund.

For Esther Kay, a 15-year volunteer veteran, the Sacramento County Animal Shelter adoption services come down to one thing: expanding families.

“I like enlarging people’s families,” said Kay, “and that’s what you do when you adopt from the shelter.”

Although only on the job three days when SN&R spoke to him, Simpson said his first order of business would be to build on existing relationships, both in the city and county, to see where services can be consolidated to “create a more regional approach to animal care.”

In the next two weeks, for example, officials from the city animal shelter and Simpson are scheduled to discuss the wisdom of having a single license for all pets within the county—rather than separate licenses based on whether you live in an incorporated city, or unincorporated area of the county, and their separate fee schedules and penalties.