HESPERIA — The City Council recently received the Hesperia Animal Shelter Evaluation about a year after the city called for a criminal investigation over an incident with a dog in the shelter’s care.
Animal Shelter Services, an independent full-service consulting company from Arizona, made multiple recommendations after they evaluated the physical facility, operations, animal care, marketing and public relations, volunteers and field operations associated with the shelter.
“We don’t have a dog and cat problem, we have a people problem,” Hesperia Director of Development Services Mike Blay told the Daily Press. “We have a hard working staff that’s stretched to the limit and there’s been a lack of leadership over the years that has affected our staff. But we’re moving in the right direction now.”
Blay did not sugarcoat his presentation when he told the Council on June 7 the 8,000 square-feet shelter, in an industrial park-type building on Santa Fe Avenue, is in major need of an upgrade or a new facility.
Calling for an “organizational restructuring” of the shelter, Blay said the current staff of 10 is working “admirably” despite the aging facility, an outdated procedural manual and lack of strong leadership.
After listening to Blay’s presentation, the Council agreed the shelter needed an overhaul or a new facility, which would cost nearly $8 million. The Council said they’ll have to find a way to fund a possible new shelter without raising taxes.
Some evaluation recommendations include immediate action to address several issues such as adding shade coverings for outdoor kennels, the installation of barriers between kennels to prevent dogs from spreading disease or aggressive contact, and the installation of an outdoor surveillance system.
The 121-page document also stated that some cats are housed in cages that use wire-mesh bottoms, and some dogs are housed in kennels that are too small, which are both “unacceptable by animal sheltering standards.”
Rodent waste and urine was found in various places throughout the shelter’s small dog room, with the evaluation saying, “This room may be a very serious health hazard. Staff, volunteers and the public may be exposed to something as deadly as the hantavirus.”
The document noted several concerns such as cracked floors, broken tile, peeling paint, insufficient ambient and humidity levels, with the document remarking, “It is worth mentioning that although many of these issues are a result of a facility not designed to be a shelter, some of these issues should have been addressed long ago by management.”
The evaluation said animal cage/kennel locks must be replaced with a secure latch in case of emergency, such as a fire. It also suggests the installation of an interior surveillance system to deter theft of animals, and to monitor staff and volunteers working in high-risk areas of the shelter.
The evaluation suggested closing to the public on Tuesdays so that shelter staff can conduct a deep cleaning and perform other administrative and operational tasks, opening on Saturdays and eliminating being closed for lunch. It also said the shelter should expand the number of rescue groups it partners with.
The evaluators observed “kennel staff stretched far beyond any reasonable capacity to provide care to the animals” and workers “violating numerous basic cleaning, sanitation and disinfecting protocols that seriously jeopardize the health and well-being of animals in the shelter’s care and put the facility at high risk for an outbreak.”
The documents said the shelter should Immediately discontinue the use of Glen Helen court workers and WEX workers to provide care to the animals until the city can provide proper oversight of these workers. The evaluation said the shelter can address this by creating a new position to oversee the court workers and WEX workers. In addition to managing the workers, this position can also manage volunteers, work with rescue groups and do media/outreach work.
The evaluation said animal control officers were well trained and offered “professionalism and good customer service,” citing acceptable response times and the humane handling of animals.
The documents said it’s “quite obvious that the department does not invest any resources into its public image,” stating that shelter “has allowed the public to control the brand and reputation of the animal shelter and animal control.”
The evaluation cites the “overwhelming majority” of online hits related to one of five primary issues: February 2015 “dragging video”, the May 2015 “bloody photo” story, treatment of animals, poor condition of facility and customer service.
The City Council called for two separate investigations by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department last year after a video and photo of a sheltered dog went viral and received national attention, the Daily Press reported.
An online video showed a Hesperia shelter worker dragging a dog by its leash on a linoleum floor inside a hallway while fellow workers looked away. After the investigation, officials announced that two shelter workers were no long longer employed by the city.
The city said the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing regarding an online photo of a bloody dog. The Hesperia Sheriff's Station, which conducted the investigation of possible animal cruelty at the shelter, determined that the photo had been taken in 2013, with the dog already euthanized prior to the photo being taken by a shelter employee.
For more information on the evaluation, contact Tim Crum of Animal Shelter Services at 623-975- 1234 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or the city of Hesperia at 760-946-1000.
Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227, RDeLa Cruz@VVDailyPress.com or on Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz.