The Fate of San Bernardino City’s Shelter Animals Is In Voters’ Hands

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This Tuesday, November 6th, as voters nationwide decide the future of healthcare, “dreamers” and the federal tax code, one California community may be deciding the fate of its shelter animals.

Residents of the city of San Bernardino, California, have two choices for mayor. One has pledged to work with a coalition* of animal advocates including networkers, rescuers and volunteers to keep the city’s shelter open and make desperately-needed upgrades. The other has made no overtures to change the status quo - potentially leading to the accelerated destruction of adoptable animals.

Coalition members met with mayoral candidate, John Valdivia, last Monday regarding the future of its city animal shelter. Valdivia was reportedly receptive to the coalition’s proposal to partner with the city to run the shelter which has been operated by the police department after the city filed for bankruptcy in 2012. Animal advocates report that the shelter has fallen into disrepair and is woefully understaffed.

Last June, animal advocates spearheaded a last-minute drive to stave off a bid by Riverside’s city shelter to take over San Bernardino’s failing shelter. Throngs of volunteers, networkers, rescuers and residents crowded into city hall chambers to voice their concerns that a takeover would put local animals at-risk. After hearing from both sides, the San Bernardino City Council voted to keep the city’s animal shelter afloat for another year.

But the victors didn’t have long to celebrate. In September, the outside administrator overseeing the shelter was placed on administrative leave and the San Bernardino Police Department filled the job with one of its own: Lt. Frank Macomber. Immediately thereafter, animal advocates say, administrative collaboration with volunteers, networkers and rescuers was severely curtailed. These individuals and groups are widely regarded as the life blood of the shelter.

Previously, networkers were given a daily list of “red-tagged” (soon to be euthanized) animals. They were also granted access to all shelter areas to photograph at-risk animals and interview staff about an animal’s history and personality. Networkers then flung these animals’ profiles over social media, alerting rescuers and others who could directly intervene. Under Lt. Macomber’s tenure, the daily lists of “red-tagged” animals reportedly disappeared. Now, few networkers gain behind-the-scenes access (and only with an escort); some have been banned altogether.

Soon after Lt. Macomber took over, the chain-link fence surrounding the shelter’s exterior was lined with a green, opaque material obscuring the view of any outsiders, including anxious pet parents looking for their lost babies. As a result, 28 isolation kennels and 14 receiving kennels are hidden from the public. When asked by the coalition about the fencing addition, Macomber reportedly said that it was mandated by the Veterinary Medical Board of the State of California. In a written response to a coalition query, the Board replied, “The Board does not regulate the construction or maintenance of animal shelters in the state of California.”

The fencing addition has fueled speculation among animal advocates that San Bernardino’s shelter is being steered away from the “pet harbor” model rescuers favor and molded into the “holding facility” model of Riverside’s city shelter - with dire consequences for companion animals. Between 9/1/18 and 9/30/18 Riverside’s city shelter euthanized 296 “treatable” animals. Over the same time period, San Bernardino’s city shelter euthanized 31 animals for “contagious diseases.” ** Animal advocates say that more animals at San Bernardino’s city shelter are being killed for treatable conditions such as kennel cough.

Limiting access to the very people who can expedite animal rescue. Spending limited funds to draw curtains around the shelter’s perimeter while animals suffer in substandard conditions without temperature control. More animals reportedly killed for treatable conditions. These observations raise the question of whether San Bernardino’s animal shelter is devolving from protect and serve into conceal and destroy.

The fate of San Bernardino’s abused, neglected and abandoned animals is in the voters’ hands this Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, anyone who did not who cast a ballot for the candidate pledging shelter reform will have to live with themselves - no matter how tightly they draw the curtain around the voting booth.

And, if elected, John Valdivia will have a shelter-sized promise to keep.

* Coalition members and other individuals have not been named so as to protect their work.

** Public records available upon request.