Animal Care and Control officials say they have a live release rate of more than 90 percent and only euthanize animals that fall below the adoption criteria for behavior or medical issues and have been declined by rescue groups. (Shutterstock)

Commission rejects proposal to require social media alerts before SF shelter euthanizes animals

After months of debate, a city commission rejected a proposal to require San Francisco’s animal shelter to announce on social media when it would euthanize an animal.

The Animal Care and Welfare Commission voted 4-to-2 Thursday evening despite advocates urging them to give rescuers one last chance to save animal lives. A majority of the commission sided with San Francisco Animal Care and Control, which argued it was unnecessary to issue social media alerts for a municipal shelter that has a live release rate in excess of 90 percent.

Virginia Donohue, executive director of the San Francisco Animal Care and Control, said in a letter to the commission that “while it is commendable that the commission would seek to improve the outcomes of animals at SFACC, we do not believe that this measure would do so.” She also said that any additional requirements would “not be manageable” given The City’s budget deficit and the need to make cuts.

“I’m obviously quite disappointed,” Russell Tenofsky, the commission vice chair who pushed the idea, told the San Francisco Examiner Friday. “It is a very simple and easy step to take just to ensure that we can try and save every last animal that we can.”

Tenofsky voted for the proposal along with commissioner Michael Angelo Torres. Commissioners Annemarie Fortier, Bunny Rosenberg, Jane Tobin and Brian Van Horn opposed it.

Nina Irani, commission chair, did not vote but was against the proposal. “We are trying to tell ACC how to operate, not just what to do but exactly how to do it, so we are not leaving any deference to their expertise here,” she said.

The proposal would require the social media posting 48 hours before an animal was euthanized, but only if the animal met certain criteria that could make it adoptable or suitable for placement in a rescue. And it would require notification of rescue partners as well as of the person who may have surrendered the animal to the shelter.

The notification would not be required for an animal that would be euthanized for irremediable suffering, whose release to a rescue organization would violate a court order or an animal with a history of unprovoked biting that severely injured a person.

The proposal would also have enshrined into law a euthanasia policy.

But Donohue said in her letter that “SFACC does not euthanize any adoptable animal.”

“We do not euthanize because we are out of space or time,” she wrote in the June 9 letter to the commission. “The animals at risk for euthanasia fall below the adoption criteria for behavior, medical, or a combination of both and either are of too great a risk for further placement or have been declined by approved partners who have the resources available to take on that type of animal.”

She noted that in fiscal year 2019 there were 198 cats and 175 dogs “who were not adoptable and who were euthanized for medical and or behavior reasons” out of an intake of 5,831 cats and dogs.

“These dogs and cats would not have been candidates for a 48 hour alert,” John Skeel, SFACC’s deputy director, told the commission.

The data shows for that year there were also 826 animals other than dogs and cats that were also euthanized.

Last month at the commission meeting, it was stated that 75 percent of the approximate 1,200 animals euthanized last year could potentially meet the criteria for notification. But at the Thursday meeting, the commission acknowledged that was an inaccurate statement.

Tenofsky, who provided the estimate, told the Examiner that he was going off of a statement on ACC’s website that said: “In every community there are a number of pets (approx. 25 percent of the pet population in any community) that will not be candidates for rehoming due to major medical issues or aggression.”

“I was just trying to get an estimate of how many animals we were dealing with just because they seemed to be bogged down on how much extra work it would be,” he said.

Tenofsky said he has no reason to disbelieve Donohue. “However, for the past year we have heard from people, from members of the public, members of the rescue community telling us otherwise, that they have euthanized adoptable animals,” he said.

Cindy Arnold, an ACC volunteer, opposed the measure. “If I thought that life and death decisions were made there in a cavalier way, I wouldn’t have remained as a volunteer for 16 years,” she said. “There are people out there who are just against euthanasia period.”

But others argued there was a need for greater transparency.

“We are just saying let people know. Let organizations know,” said Luke Montgomery, co-founder of Adopt-a-Pet.com, a pet adoption web service. “It can’t hurt. If it saves one animal, that’s great.”

Tenofsky said he was still deciding what to do next, but may directly ask a member of the Board of Supervisors to introduce the proposal. He said other cities may also be interested in it.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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