Grand jury: Antioch animal shelter needs funds to improve

An Antioch Animal Services worker checks on the condition of a cat at the Frank L. Stone Animal Facility in Antioch, Calif., on Friday, July 21, 2017. This cat is one of about 40-50 cats that were rescued from a residence in Antioch. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

ANTIOCH — The city should come up with the money to continue improving its beleaguered animal shelter as well as establish an independent group to monitor the facility.

Those were among a dozen recommendations of the 2016-17 Contra Costa County Grand Jury, which recently published its findings after reviewing Antioch Animal Services’ operations.

Residents’ concerns about chronic overcrowding at the shelter and allegations that the animals are not receiving adequate care prompted the investigation, although the report acknowledged that the city has been receiving a significant amount of help on a variety of fronts from Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation, a Walnut Creek nonprofit.

ARF signed a memorandum of understanding with the city in September to support the shelter for one year by bringing its practices and staffing up to industry standards.

ARF’s involvement is financed by Maddie’s Fund, a foundation dedicated to animal welfare that not only gave $50,000 to upgrade the shelter’s clinic but $197,500 for a host of other improvements.

The funds have paid for ARF’s expert advice as well as cleaning supplies and training the organization provided on how to properly disinfect the shelter. They also bought Antioch Animal Services a larger washing machine and dryer so staff can clean bedding faster, as well as roomier cat cages.

At ARF’s recommendation, the shelter removed the outside kennels where residents could drop off animals after hours. Instead, it now directs individuals who are considering surrendering their pet to ARF, which looks for ways to help keep the two together and thereby alleviate shelter overcrowding.

With the financial aid it’s received, Antioch Animal Services now has a full-time veterinary technician and has made the four part-time animal care attendants it hired last summer permanent employees.

What’s more, shelter Supervisor Monika Helgemo says she hopes to have a veterinarian on board next month. That individual will spend 24 hours a week at the shelter, which has been paying a veterinarian to visit the facility on much more limited basis — currently just one hour a week.

Notwithstanding this progress, the grand jury found the shelter wanting.

The report recommended that it establish evening hours once a week to make it easier for prospective pet owners to see the animals. Furthermore, Antioch Animal Services should find a way to recruit more volunteers and tap someone to coordinate their efforts as well as those of local rescue groups that foster shelter animals.

The report also advised the city hire a full-time shelter director.

In addition, it suggested that council members work out a formal agreement with the county that would have Antioch Animal Services accept all the dogs and cats brought in from outside the city; county animal control officers then would pick up those animals and take them to one of the county’s shelters in Martinez and Pinole.

In response to the report’s notation that photos of every animal should be posted on the shelter’s website within 24 hours, Helgemo pointed out that those up for adoption routinely appear on its Facebook page along with two others.

When an employee logs an animal into the shelter’s computer system, its photo automatically appears on the websites PetHarbor and ShelterMe, she added.

Helgemo also noted that, contrary to the grand jury’s findings, the shelter has a manual of policies and procedures.

Whether the city has enough money to sustain the shelter’s progress is uncertain; Mayor Sean Wright did not return calls for comment by deadline.

To read the report, go to http://bit.ly/2vRk4tv

The city must provide a written response to the grand jury’s report by Sept. 25.

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