Advocates want more public notice before SF euthanizes an animal

Animal control officials say web posting proposal would eat up resources, change few outcomes

Whether San Francisco’s municipal shelter should alert the public on social media at least two days before it will euthanize an animal has become a divisive issue for a city commission overseeing the facility.

“We are just trying to provide another tool for a chance of rescue,” Russell Tenofsky, vice chair of the Commission of Animal Control and Welfare, said during a meeting last week on his proposed “euthanasia alert policy.” “Just broaden the bandwidth out there, let more people know that there are these animals that need to be rescued.”

Tenofsky said the proposal would codify existing protocol used by San Francisco’s Animal Care and Control when trying to find places for the animals in their shelter and expand transparency around decisions to euthanize animals.

“If it helps one animal, then it is doing a good thing,” Tenofsky said.

But the ACC opposes the proposal.

“We are not in favor of this change. There are a number of reasons for that,” said John Skeel, deputy Director of Animal Care and Control.

Among them, Skeel said, “We don’t believe it would really improve outcomes.”

“Over the last few years, SFACC has slowly brought up the live release rate,” Skeel said. “It is greater than 90 percent right now.”

And he said it would be a costly burden to have to do the social media posts and manage the responses.

“We believe it would require additional staff resources to do that,” Skeel told the commission. He noted that The City is asking departments to make 10 percent and possibly 15 percent cuts next fiscal year, which would result in an almost $700,000 cut to the ACC.

“If we were to reduce the staff or services even more this would make it completely impossible to do anything like this,” Skeel said.

Tenofsky suggested the impact was being overstated and noted the agency already is active on Facebook showing animals in need of adoption. “All I am asking in a sense is that they post this information online prior to 48 hours within euthanasia of the animal so that there’s every chance available that these animals can be adopted or saved somehow,” he said.

It’s not exactly clear how many postings would occur annually. The posting requirement, for example, wouldn’t apply to animals “with a documented history of unprovoked biting that has resulted in severe injury to a person.”

Tenofsky said about 1,200 animals were euthanized last year by ACC, of which they said 25 percent were not adoptable for various reasons. “So it knocks down to about 900 animals,” he said.

Skeel said they have 122 adoption partners “that we actively seek out when we have animals that need specific care” and that euthanization is done in cases such as when an animal poses a risk to the public or staff, has a severe bite history and when not safely placeable due to aggression.

“It’s not a decision that’s easily made,” Skeel said, adding that “we got a responsibility to the animals in our care and I think we do a really good job in making sure we do everything possible for them.”

Tenofsky said “no one’s questioning ACC’s commitment to animals,” but “the whole reason we want to do this is that we can do better.”

Maria Conlon, of the cat rescue program Give Me Shelter, was one of five people who called into the virtual meeting to support the policy.

“We often take cats that bite and yet we find them appropriate homes,” Conlon said. “These kinds of animals deserve chances. I find it extremely frustrating that the ACC has such resistance to having transparency.”

But some commissioners saw no need for the change.

“What I have seen ACC doing over the last several years has been helping to find the best outcome for these animals,” said Animal Care and Control commissioner Bunny Rosenberg. “I think that this proposal is suggesting that it is not doing the best and that it needs to be fixed.”

Roenberg also echoed Skeel’s concerns of cost. “We are talking about another at least full time job for someone,” she said.

The commission ended up postponing a decision on the policy until next month, as the majority of the members said they needed more information about the impacts it would have.

Since it is an advisory body for the Board of Supervisors, an approval would only recommend that the board adopt legislation enacting it.

Annemarie Fortier, an Animal Care and Control commissioner, opposed the delay.

“It is clear to me that it is an issue within our community and I do feel we have a duty to bring it to the Board of Supervisors,” she said.

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