The Redlands Animal Shelter remains closed to all walk-in visitors due to the pandemic and a staff shortage, and the department has suspended its volunteer program, leading animal enthusiasts to voice their concerns as that other municipal services opened earlier this year.
In May, Police Chief Chris Catren told City Council that staff at the shelter had suffered a “deluge of online hate from some members of the community”.
Despite all of this, the number of Redlands Animal Control euthanasias has dropped dramatically.
From 2015 to 2019, an average of 402 cats and 124 dogs were killed each year, according to figures provided by city spokesman Carl Baker. In 2020 the number dropped to 225 cats and 71 dogs, and in 2021 it dropped to 108 cats and 44 dogs. As of Tuesday, June 28, the shelter is on track to see another decrease in euthanasia with 36 cats and 24 dogs having been euthanized so far this year.
Nationally, the number of animals killed in shelters rose from 2 million in 2015 to 347,000 in 2020, according to advocacy group Best Friends Animal Society, but the number rose slightly in 2021.
“It’s a difficult situation right now for shelters across the United States,” said Holly Sizemore, mission manager at the national nonprofit. “Staff shortages are real.
Her group promotes non-killing rescue efforts and helps shelters provide adoption grants and adoption events.
“We’re seeing animals across the country staying longer in shelters right now than they were during the pandemic and before,” Sizemore said. “We really see that the animals are in danger. If the shelter (Redlands) is able to reduce the number of euthanasias in this environment, congratulations to them because it is a difficult environment.
Redlands resident Tabetha Johnson was one of many to implore the city to scrap its date-only policy.
“Pets are very unlikely to be adopted when the shelter is closed to the public,” she posted on Facebook in May. “If you make it difficult to adopt a pet when someone is ready, they’ll look elsewhere, and there’s no shortage.”
Appointment-only policies can be a barrier for people, Sizemore said, but it can also work if the number of animals coming in is balanced with the number of people finding homes.
“If you managed it in a way where you also looked at how you handle your admissions, you could do appointments and that can be successful,” she said. In general, however, “the more animals people can adopt, the better.”
Some shelters allow interested parties to view animals online; Redlands does. Others are stepping it up and offering virtual dating, online adoption, and even delivering animals to homes.
“(The success) has a lot to do with the other alternatives you’ve put in place,” Sizemore said.
A month ago, the Redlands Police Department, which was then in charge of the shelter, said on Facebook that the staffing shortage was also affecting its ability to use volunteers to fill in the gaps.
“In order to run a volunteer program that involves successfully handling animals of all sizes, breeds and species, it is imperative that a member of staff be on hand at all times to mitigate any accidents and/or injuries,” reads -on partly in the message.
Johnson, a former volunteer coordinator for the city, called the system ineffective and inefficient, and said there are ways to safely use volunteers to fill the gaps and reopen the facility to people without an appointment.
“They have turned away volunteers who are trained vet techs and familiar with the Redlands Animal Shelter facility from having volunteered there for over a decade,” she said.
Despite this, the number of slaughtered animals has decreased.
Baker attributes the decrease to several factors:
- A feral cat trap, repair and return program that was implemented in 2019.
- The creation of a nursery that provides a safe environment for the kittens.
- Networking with various rescues.
- Police department employees encourage litters, which helps socialize the puppies.
- Employees bringing animals home to give them breaks out of the shelter.
- Stop euthanizing animals because of their age — in one case, the shelter adopted a dog that had been there for over a year.
- Exercise dogs on a regular basis.
Sizemore said “trap, spay and return” programs can help reduce the number of euthanasias significantly.
“When a (stray) cat enters a shelter healthy and happy, and everything indicates that it has managed to live outside, the best thing to do is to sterilize it, give it its injections and to put it back where it came from,” Sizemore said.
The city is also working to hire more department staff, but the process will take time, Baker said. He had no estimate of when the shelter will reopen for walk-in visits, but said officials were “working on it.”