San Bernardino City Officials Vote to Outsource Animal Shelter to Riverside County, Prompting Outcry

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More than 100 animal advocates and rescue volunteers held a protest near the San Bernardino city shelter Wednesday afternoon to voice their opposition to the recent decision by the San Bernardino City Council to outsource the city’s animal control operations to Riverside County Animal Services.

The San Bernardino city shelter, at 333 Chandler Place, is currently run by the San Bernardino Police Department, an arrangement that has prompted scrutiny from animal activists in the area. Many have accused shelter management of neglect for not providing all dogs in the shelter with beds and blankets, and another group of activists started an online petition to remove Lt. Frank Macomber, who is currently in charge of operations.

“When Mayor John Valdivia took over last year, we were hopeful for change,” said Alice Chow, founder of San Bernardino Animal Care Foundation. “We were more hopeful when City Council voted to let us help fix the shelter in February.”

Council members voted Feb. 10 to allow nonprofits to submit proposals for providing some kind of animal services in the city. Chow said they were given until June to submit proposals.

But then, on March 20, the council voted to seek a contract instead with Riverside County.

The mayor's chief of staff, Bill Essayli, said the council's February action had left some ambiguity and the March 20 vote worked to "clarify their intention."

Essayli said council members decided they wanted to shut down the current city shelter and open an adoption center to be operated in partnership with a local nonprofit rescue group.

Shutting down the shelter means the city can now employ seven full-time animal control officers and finally start doing enforcement and compliance services, he said.

The city doesn't currently have the staff to make sure pet owners are properly licensing their animals, Essayli said.

“The shelter we currently have is over 50 years old. It hasn’t been well maintained. It’s dilapidated, the ceiling is falling in, it’s not a good place for our animals," Essayli said.

In February 2017, a distemper outbreak was blamed on poor conditions at the rundown shelter.

"The primary goal of the mayor’s office and the council was to find a better facility for the animals – and that’s what we are able to do by partnering up with Riverside County," Essayli said. "They have a brand new state-of-the-art $30 million animal shelter."

He said now the city will also be able to offer more local services to San Bernardino residents such as low-cost spay and neuter and vaccinations.

City officials estimate a new shelter within San Bernardino would cost $18 million. Advocates, who want the shelter to remain in San Bernardino, said the city has more than $640,000 in an animal shelter improvement fund that should be used to start renovations in phases.

There has been loud opposition to the plan to shut down the shelter, and on Wednesday, dozens of locals flooded the evening City Council meeting to let city officials know they will not give up their fight to keep the San Bernardino city shelter open.

“The city of San Bernardino does not need an adoption center. We need a shelter that intakes injured animals, stray animals, and owner surrenders,” said Chow.

Angela Halfman, vice chairwoman of the city's Animal Control Commission, defending the adoption center plan.

“The proposed adoption center would be more than just a place where community members and rescues can adopt or pull an animal,” Halfman said.

It should work as a local intake center where owner surrenders and people who find stray animals could drop them off in case they can’t drive to the Riverside County shelter in Jurupa Valley, she said.

“The city hopes to work with Riverside on a three-way partnership of the city of San Bernardino, Riverside County Animal Services, and the nonprofit chosen by the City Council," Halfman said. "The rescue community has a great opportunity for a local 501(c)(3) to start something small and manageable and watch it grow over time."

Riverside County Animal Services spokesman John Welsh said the department currently has contracts with the cities of Colton, Rialto and Fontana.

He noted there has recently been a lot of negative attention focused on Riverside County Animal Services from those who don’t want the San Bernardino shelter to close. He wanted to assure the public that –  although many question whether the department can handle the intake of thousands of animals every year from San Bernardino – Riverside County has the space. The county's live release rate for dogs is 85%, Welsh said.

“We are able to do 85% for our dogs because we’ve got about 400 active rescue partner organizations. And we are certainly always willing to take on more rescue partners, and might include some of the folks in San Bernardino,” Welsh said.

Seven animal control officers could assist with pick-ups and drop-offs for San Bernardino city residents who might struggle to get transportation to the Riverside County Animal Services' Jurupa Valley location. The San Bernardino city shelter location is about 16 miles northeast of the Jurupa Valley shelter.

City official still have to work out a contract with Riverside County Animal Services before the animals are relocated. Once that happens, it will be 30 to 60 days before the animals are moved and the shelter is closed, Essayli said.

City officials would love to have a new shelter in the future – and when funds allow it they will consider that as an option, Essayli added.

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