than half of stray or abandoned pets in the Inland area
never find homes. Most find, inevitably, death by lethal
AM PST on Monday, December 22, 2003
A gray cat with a large head wound crouched quietly
as Kerry Collins and a co-worker clipped away his fur,
cleansed the raw area and gave him a shot of
"He's a stray, but we'll treat him while he's here,
at least," said Collins, a Redlands Animal Shelter
employee. She knew she probably would have to euthanize
the cat within a few days.
"Everyone wants kittens," she said.
No shortage of those. Cage upon cage of kittens
filled the shelter that day. Several litters nursed
their mothers; others competed for attention, thrusting
tiny paws beyond the bars of their cages amid a chorus
Talking about the killing brings Collins to tears.
"You can't save them all," she said. "We do the best
we can, but we just can't."
Collins and other Inland-area shelter workers do the
public's dirty work every day.
They scrape dead dogs and cats off the streets,
capture legions of strays, accept pets people don't want
and give lethal injections to most of them. In 2002,
Inland-area shelter workers killed about 63 percent of
the 113,955 dogs and cats that entered shelters alive.
The killing is a symptom of a vicious cycle of
irresponsible pet owners, overburdened and under-funded
shelters that must kill unwanted animals to make room
for more, and the lack of political will to make lasting
Stray, neglected and abandoned animals challenge
communities nationwide, but statistics collected and
analyzed by The Press-Enterprise show that most stray or
unwanted pets in Riverside County and southwestern San
Bernardino County fare worse than those in many
communities across the nation.
In the Inland area, about 24 to 28 cats and dogs are
killed each year per 1,000 people who live in the
region. The numbers vary from shelter to shelter and
location to location. The kill rate was 33 in Moreno
Valley and Banning and 11 in Corona and Temecula, for
example. Calculations are based on shelter statistics
and census estimates from 2002.
In San Francisco, which has aggressive public
education and spay-and-neuter efforts, about 2.5 animals
per 1,000 population die each year. The rate at San
Diego County's main shelter is 4.2. The national average
is 10 to 14 pets per 1,000 people.
Lynette A. Hart, a professor with the Center for
Companion Animal Behavior at UC Davis, reviewed some
Inland shelter statistics.
"The really shocking thing is the high number of
stray dogs," Hart said. "That would concern me much more
than the euthanasia.
"That's really a public health issue for dog bites.
... It's a threat for children, especially."
The problem here and elsewhere begins with people.
Many allow their pets to breed indiscriminately.
They let their dogs and cats roam the streets,
endangering the pets and the public's health and safety.
Some people neglect or abuse pets, and animal control
officers must confiscate them.
Other people don't have enough money to provide
And some people abandon pets when they move, or drop
them off at shelters when caring for them becomes too
It doesn't have to be this way.
Kill rates fall and the streets become safer in
communities that have far-reaching public pet education
programs, strict animal-law enforcement and an abundance
of easily accessible, free or low-cost spay-neuter
services, said Betsy McFarland, a spokeswoman with the
Humane Society of the United States.
"The focus needs to be on prevention," she said.
The challenge for Inland-area animal control
departments is finding enough funds for education and
other public outreach while taking care of all their
"Everybody agrees the number of euthanasias is high,"
said Riverside County Supervisor Bob Buster, whose
district includes the Riverside City-County Animal
Shelter. But politicians haven't provided funding for
comprehensive services, he said. The county needs to
hire more animal-control workers, improve the shelter,
provide more spay-neuter services and do more to reach
the Latino population, he said.
"We need more pressure from people with animals to
push for the funding to get the work done," Buster said.
"We need to get over the avalanche of animals that is
The problems are compounded when a shelter isn't
operating as well as it could.
The Riverside City-County Animal Shelter came under
fire earlier this month when a grand jury report cited
mismanagement, including "unnecessary" euthanasia, lack
of cooperation with pet-rescue groups and accounting
Some California communities, such as Los Angeles,
have put together short-term plans to control euthanasia
Los Angeles Mayor Jim Hahn recently announced that
within five years, his city no longer will have to kill
adoptable animals. So far, the city hasn't revealed
plans for reaching that goal.
Some, including Buster, don't believe that can happen
in the Inland area anytime soon.
Ken Childress, director of the San Bernardino's
animal control department, scoffed at his city's ability
to finance such a plan.
"Give me a break. It's good to work toward, but money
is limited," said Childress, hired this year to run the
San Bernardino shelter, where 76 percent of the 15,020
dogs and cats that came into the city's care in 2002
The San Bernardino city shelter, one of the busiest
in the Inland area, also serves Fontana, Loma Linda and
Childress said he is dealing with many maintenance
issues, including old buildings. The cat room, a
corrugated metal building with insulation falling from
the ceiling, does not have proper ventilation or
adequate space for the thousands of cats - nearly 6,000
in 2002 - that pass through the shelter each year.
"The cat room is in really bad shape and really
overcrowded, and upper respiratory is a constant
battle," said Childress, referring to the infections
that almost always become a death sentence for shelter
animals. The city has allocated some money for a new cat
room, but the funds have been in the budget before and
then were taken away, he said.
San Bernardino's shelter has 10 full-time positions
for animal control officers, but the jobs aren't always
filled, making it hard for officers to take time to
educate the public.
Volunteers are needed. Only a few people help out at
the shelter, he said, and not on a regular basis.
Volunteers could help with adoptions, walk the dogs and
groom the animals to make them more adoptable, he said.
"When you have a bare-bones operation, you do the
best you can," he said.
Money does help.
Corona's shelter, which serves a population of about
138,000, has a $1.2 million budget and kills about 11
animals per 1,000 population. The numbers for San
Bernardino city, which serves a population of almost
405,000, are $1.5 million and a kill rate of 28. For
Riverside city, the shelter serves a population of about
274,000, has a $1.3 million budget and a kill rate of
Childress, of the San Bernardino shelter, said people
tend to blame shelters for killing pets.
"When people see euthanasia, they equate that with a
shelter that doesn't care," he said. "They won't look in
the mirror and say, 'You're responsible.'
"People get dogs and don't train them, and they end
up on a chain in the back yard," he said. "They don't
integrate it into the family."
And, too often, they end up on the street.
Straying into trouble
Thousands of stray dogs and cats crowd shelters
across the Inland area.
About 75 percent of the 20,000 dogs and cats that
wound up at the Riverside City-County Animal Shelter in
2002 were strays.
Another 12,000 strays entered San Bernardino County's
Devore, Rancho Cucamonga and Big Bear shelters that
Inland-area shelters have a higher percentage of
strays than shelters in areas that have more affluent
residents and more visible campaigns to control animal
population. For example, in the 2001-02 fiscal year San
Francisco's shelter took in one unwanted animal for
every 109 people who lived in the city. San Diego took
in one per 42 people. In the cities of Riverside and San
Bernardino, it was one animal per 26 people.
Typically, a stray is held five or six days, unless
it is injured or ill. An owner-surrendered animal can be
Most strays never find homes, despite the efforts of
pet-rescue groups and shelter adoption programs.
Temecula resident and self-proclaimed "dog magnet"
Tracey Stovall had hope for a black and brown shepherd
mix she found wandering near her home in October. She
caught the healthy young dog and showed him around the
neighborhood, but nobody claimed him. So she called
"Somebody's got to be missing him," she said. The
shepherd wagged his tail and leaned into her leg,
looking up for a pat on the head.
"He's a lap dog," she told the animal control
officer. "I hope he finds his mommy."
For 17 days, the nameless shepherd mix waited for his
owner or an adoptive family to find him at the Animal
Friends of the Valley shelter in Lake Elsinore. But no
one came for him, and the dog was killed to make room
To reduce the number of dogs and cats whose owners
dump them along roadsides, some shelters have set up
after-hours kennels where people can drop off animals
A sick puppy
sits quietly as
it is killed
63 percent of
the dogs and
At the Ramona Animal Shelter in San Jacinto,
executive director Jeff Sheppard said he has mixed
feelings about the after-hours service. Good for the
pets, maybe, but too easy for the people, he said. "They
don't have to look anyone in the eyes when they turn
Ramona's after-hours cages fill up almost every
night. Most of the pets will die, Sheppard said, but
killing them with a needle is kinder than leaving them
on the streets.
"They may only be here for six days at the most, but
they've got plenty of food, they've got plenty of water
... They've got a blanket to lie on. Someone's petting
them all day long," he said. "And if they do have to be
put to sleep, it's with loving arms. It's not with a
semi-truck out in the middle of the road."
Poverty and pets
Suzanne Fletcher, who has lived in Riverside for 16
years, said stray animals constantly show up in her
neighborhood and the hills beyond.
"People dump them often," she said. "Or people move
and leave their animals."
During the summer, she found three Chihuahuas, a
flea-infested Pomeranian, a mother cat, a kitten in the
gutter and an injured pit bull on the street.
Pets aren't like part of the family to some people,
she said. "They're like livestock or something."
Poorer communities tend to have more stray, abandoned
and unwanted animals, national humane experts say. Spay
and neuter costs can be out of reach, meaning that
animals can reproduce and contribute to overpopulation.
Veterinary care also may be beyond a family's means.
"A vet visit can be as much as $200 to $250," said
Carlos Velez-Ibanez, an anthropology professor at UC
Riverside. "For folks earning $400 a week with two or
three kids, it is simply not rational to treat Fido like
one of the kids.
"Therefore, cultural attitudes toward dogs emerge out
of necessity: for privileged sectors, out of the need
for contact with a warm body; for working-class folks in
general, out of the need to protect property and keep
the kiddies occupied."
Cultural influences also can contribute to the way
animals are viewed, Velez-Ibanez said.
Working-class people who have recently moved to the
area from Mexico may view dogs more as part of the
natural landscape than as private property, he said.
In rural areas of Mexico, dogs are allowed to run,
but they also are gatekeepers. In Mexico's urban areas,
loose dogs are a problem, but they also serve as garbage
collectors, eating just about anything, Velez-Ibanez
Some shelters provide bilingual fliers and have
Spanish-speaking officers. But not all have full-time
education officers who can spend time teaching people
about their community's animal-control laws.
Parting with pets
On West 14th Street in San Bernardino, a man walked a
10-year-old black spaniel to an animal control truck
waiting at the curb.
"I tried to find him a home," the man told animal
control officer Susan Estrada on that September day. He
was moving and couldn't take the dog along, he said.
"I don't want to turn him loose," he said. "That
would be too cruel."
Estrada loaded the dog onto her truck. The man
turned, crying, and carried the dog's leash back into
For a $10 fee, his problem was solved. Pet owners
turned in more than 15,000 dogs and cats at Inland-area
animal shelters in 2002.
Some people give up sick or injured pets to be
Others, however, use shelters as a way to rid
themselves of animals they can't or don't want to keep.
"In some communities, the disposable-pet attitude is
very strong," said Annette Rauch, a veterinarian and
research professor at Tufts University's Center for
Animals and Public Policy in Massachusetts.
To some people, pets are like clothing, cars, other
consumer goods, she said. "When their jobs change, they
move, they have a baby, or income change, rather than
struggling to keep a pet, they relinquish it (to a
Like a shelter mantra, the words "Moving, can't
keep," "Moving, can't keep," can be found scrawled on
kennel cards in shelters across the Inland area.
Nationally, moving is the No. 1 reason people take
dogs to shelters, according to the National Council on
Pet Population Study and Policy in Minnesota. Landlord
issues are second, followed by cost and lack of time.
For cats, "too many in house," is first on the
rejection list, followed by allergies, moving and cost.
People aren't just giving up mixed breed animals.
Purebred pets live and die in Inland-area shelters, too.
On Sept. 26, the Riverside County-City shelter housed
two German shepherds, a Jack Russell terrier, a Doberman
pinscher, a Belgian Tervuren, a great Pyrenees, and two
On nearly any day in just about every Inland shelter,
visitors will find Chihuahuas, cocker spaniels and the
dogs Walt Disney made popular, Dalmatians.
"No time for this dog," was penned atop the card
posted on a Dalmatian's kennel at the Riverside
City-County shelter recently.
"Dalmatians need a high fence and someone who jogs
every morning," said Carol Joob, director of the
Benevolent Animal Rescue Committee, or BARC, a pet
rescue organization that covers San Bernardino and
"If people researched the breeds before they adopt
them, there wouldn't be so many (owner) turn-ins," she
Divorce and lack of time are two common reasons
people get rid of their pets, Joob said.
Different breeds have different needs and behaviors.
A large number of Jack Russell terriers, popularized by
the TV series "Frasier," end up in shelters because
people don't realize what "little busybodies" they are,
Inland shelters also see a large number of pit bulls,
German shepherds, chow chows and other dogs used to
"One of the biggest problems people have is they get
pets and they don't socialize them," said San Bernardino
city's Childress. "They get a dog, and they put it on
the property, and they don't ever take it out and
socialize it with other animals.
"They are simply watchdogs."
End of the road
Almost every day is a killing day at Inland-area
Workers load syringes with pentobarbital and inject
it into the veins of sick and old dogs and cats. The
young and the healthy also must die to make room for
"It's not a violent death at all, when done
properly," said Chris Springer, supervising animal
control officer at the Devore shelter in San Bernardino
"It's quick, efficient, relatively painless - just a
few seconds to be knocked out, just a minute or so to
stop the heart."
A boxer mix and several other dogs died without a
struggle one afternoon at the shelter.
Tail wagging, the boxer sat on the cement floor. Juan
Reyes wrapped a strap around its mouth, and Springer
guided a needle into a vein in the dog's leg.
"Good baby," Springer said as the dog slumped to the
floor, eyes still open.
A Rottweiler mix and a pit bull mix died next. Then a
small black and white rat terrier whose owner gave him
up because he snapped at someone.
A Springer spaniel died, too, minutes after it was
left at the shelter. The dog had become aggressive, the
A droopy-eyed, sick brown puppy found abandoned in a
field died quickly.
After their hearts stopped, the dogs were stacked in
blue 55-gallon drums. The drums went into a freezer. A
truck took them to Los Angeles.
Rendering company president Bill Gorman explained
what happened next.
A machine mixed the bodies with 8,500 pounds of other
dead animals, then heated them to 260 degrees for 30
minutes to sterilize their tissue. Next, they were
shipped to China, Vietnam or Thailand, where they are
used to fertilize the soil or feed shrimp, which are fed
to eels, which become sushi.
Their market value: $120 per ton.
Reach Bonnie Stewart at (909) 368-9475