Charlotte Laws, Ph.D.
Member of the
 Greater Valley Glen Council
21781 Ventura Blvd., Suite 633
WH, CA 91364
Tel.  818.346.5280
Fax.  818.985.1690

Dr. Charlotte Laws - Councilperson Valley Glen

Article about Lawsuit Against Animal Shelter Abuses
(Potentially Landmark Case)

BAKERSFIELD, CALIFORNIA November 10, 2004: Today, Wednesday, November 10, 2004 Ventura, California attorney returns to Kern County Superior Court to take on Kern County Animal Control in the violation of some of the County’s shelter violations.

The lawsuit is considered “groundbreaking” because this is the first time a lawsuit has been filed against an animal shelter since the Hayden Law and Vincent Law became laws.  Should this case be tried in an Appellate Court, the case would set a precedent and could be considered a “landmark” case.

The Hayden Law, named after former California State Senator Tom Hayden who sponsored the bill in 1998.  Hayden Law requires public animal shelters to be more accountable to the public, to work with rescue groups, and try to place more animals instead of euthanizing them. Likewise, The Vincent Law, also a 1998 law, is named after former California State Assemblymember Edward Vincent who is now a California State Senator.  The Vincent Law requires shelters and rescue groups in California to spay or neuter animals before adoption.

“These laws were passed years ago with the goal of lessening the amount of unwanted animals through spay and neuter, and recommendations for shelters to follow to be more humane, and to allow for more adoptions of animals,” expressed Patricia Lock, Plaintiff. “No one expected the shelters to be able to be 100% overnight, but the Kern County shelters have actually made things much worse for the animals as time has gone by,” stated Lock.

“Because this is the first lawsuit filed on this subject, other animal control agencies across the state are watching to see what happens,” says attorney for Plaintiff, Kate Neiswender and former consultant to former California Senator Tom Hayden.  “Other shelters are also violating parts of the Hayden Law, but not to the extent that this shelter is,” Neiswender
remarked recently.

Patricia Lock made the comment that “Rather than fostering relationships with rescue organizations that can take some of the burden off the County for veterinary and other expenses, the shelters have intimidated and actually impeded attempts by such groups that could and would find new homes for many of the animals.”

Two of the most egregious violations are the County shelters euthanizing feral cats or cats deemed feral immediately, and not holding owner-surrendered animals for adoption for the proper time.  Both feral and owner-surrendered animals are routinely killed immediately or within 24 hours.  Both actions are against the law.

“How many people have taken a beloved pet to the shelter due to circumstances for which the animal had no part in, expecting that dog or cat would find another home?  Then, come to find out that most of those animals were killed the same day with no chance for adoption, is an absolute betrayal of trust,” Plaintiff, Patricia Lock said.

Feral cats are mandated by law to be held for three business days not including the day of impoundment.  Upon the expiration of the holding period, if shelters want to euthanize these cats, they are required to temperament test the cats deemed feral by “standardized protocol.”  The shelter is not doing this.

Since animal control isn’t required legally to accept owner-surrendered animals, this is an optional service they offer their patrons.  Many California shelters do not accept owner-relinquished animals because they lack the resources needed to handle the extra impounded animals.

If shelters choose to accept owner-surrendered animals, they are required by law to keep animals for four business days, not including the day of impoundment.  Pursuant to the law, the animal automatically goes up for adoption.  This also is not happening at the shelters in Bakersfield and Mojave.  In Bakersfield, animals are placed in cages behind locked gates and the vast majority are dead within 24 hours.  Most are never seen for
adoption, and don’t have a chance.

Kern County Animal Shelter allows only people who have lost a pet, and there is a found pet in the shelter’s computer to be admitted behind the locked gates to see the lost and found dogs.  Before being admitted to the locked areas, shelter personnel make people show ID and sign a form.  Then, the person looking for their lost pet is escorted by employees and told not to look at any other pets than their lost pet.

“By erecting locked gates that keep out the public and the rescue community, the shelters have insured that they can operate without public oversight,” Patricia Lock said. “This is actually a fairly new change in the Bakersfield Shelter that is further indication that they are not moving toward compliance with these laws, but toward secrecy and more animal deaths,” Patricia Lock, Plaintiff in the lawsuit said.

The remaining issues in the lawsuit will be heard at the trial which has not been set yet.  Some issues include the shelter not treating medical problems, not allowing the public and rescuers behind the locked gates unless they’ve lost a pet, not allowing rescue to purchase dogs and cats they are going to euthanize, the shelters not taking “last resort” holds on pets the shelter deems unadoptable.  Often, these could include animals
with medical problems and behavior problems.

Pets’ behavior problems often improve once the animal is out of a shelter environment.  Rescuers try to place animals in homes that revolved around the pets’ needs.  Examples are small dogs not going to a home with small children, cats that need to be the only cat in the household, dogs that are afraid of being alone are placed with someone who works from home, etc.

The issues already heard and ruled on include that the animal shelter will send their employees to an eight hour class in humane euthanasia, the night drop bins at Mojave Shelter are permanently closed, and Mojave Shelter is no longer adopting intact animals until they find a veterinarian to spay or neuter the pets prior to adoption by the public.  Nonprofit rescues are currently the only ones who can adopt from the Mojave Shelter.

A website has been set up to collect information from the public on their experiences with the Kern County shelters: