The animal shelter in Redlands remains closed to all walk-ins due to the pandemic and a staffing shortage, and the department has paused its volunteer program, leading passionate pet lovers to voice their concerns as other city services opened up earlier this year.
In May, police Chief Chris Catren told the City Council that shelter staff have suffered through a “barrage of online hatred from some members of the community.”
Despite all this, Redlands Animal Control’s euthanasia numbers have been decreasing, dramatically.
From 2015 to 2019, an average of 402 cats and 124 dogs were killed each year, according to numbers provided by city spokesman Carl Baker. In 2020 the number went down 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 has been heading down from 2 million in 2015 to 347,000 in 2020, according to advocacy group Best Friends Animal Society, but the number ticked up slightly in 2021.
“It’s a hard situation right now for shelters all across the US,” said Holly Sizemore, chief mission officer at the national nonprofit. “Staffing shortages are real.”
Her group promotes no-kill rescue efforts and helps shelters offer adoption subsidies and adoption events.
“We are seeing animals across the country staying longer in shelters right now than they were during the pandemic and before,” Sizemore said. “We’re really seeing that animals are at risk. If the (Redlands) shelter is able to reduce their euthanasia numbers in this environment, kudos to them because it’s a tough environment.”
Redlands resident Tabetha Johnson was one of many who implored the city to do away with its appointment-only policy.
“Pets have very little chance of being adopted when the shelter is closed to the public viewing,” she posted on Facebook in May. “If you make it hard to adopt a pet when someone is ready, they will look elsewhere, and there is no shortage.”
Appointment-only policies can be a barrier to people, Sizemore said, but it can also work if the number of animals coming in is balanced with the number finding homes.
“If you were managing it in a way where you are also looking at how you’re managing your intakes, you could do by-appointment and it can be successful,” she said. In general, though, “the more ways people can adopt animals, the better.”
Some shelters let interested parties view animals online; Redlands does this. Others step it up and offer virtual meet-and-greets, online adoption, and even deliver animals to homes.
“(Success) has a lot to do with what other alternatives have you put in place,” Sizemore said.
A month ago the Redlands Police Department, which was in charge of the shelter at the time, said on Facebook that the staffing shortage also affects its ability to use volunteers to fill gaps.
“In order to run a volunteer program that involves handling animals of all sizes, breeds and species successfully, it is imperative a staff member is on-site at all times to mitigate any accidents and/or injuries,” the post reads in part.
Johnson, a former volunteer coordinator with the city, called the system inefficient and ineffective, and said there are ways to utilize volunteers safely to fill the gaps and reopen the facility to walk-ins.
“They have turned away volunteers who are trained vet techs and know the Redlands Animal Shelter facility from having volunteered there for over a decade,” she said.
Despite this, the numbers of animals that are put down have decreased.
Baker attributes the decrease to several factors:
- A feral cat trap, fix-and-return program that was implemented in 2019.
- The creation of a nursery that provides a safe environment for kittens.
- Networking with various rescues.
- Police Department employees fostering litters, which helps to socialize puppies.
- Employees taking animals home to give them breaks from the shelter.
- No longer euthanizing animals because of age — in one case, the shelter adopted a dog that had been there for more than a year.
- Exercising dogs on a regular basis.
Sizemore said “trap, neuter and return” programs can help dramatically reduce euthanasia numbers.
“When a (stray) cat comes into a shelter looking healthy and happy, and there’s all indication that it’s been successfully living outdoors, then the best thing to do is to neuter it and give it its shots and put it back where it came from ,” Sizemore said.
The city is also working on hiring more department staff, but the process will take time, Baker said. He had no estimate on when the shelter would reopen for walk-ins, but said officials are “working on it.”