Riverside Animal control agency faulted and charged with 28 felonies.

Grand jury finds poor management and pets being destroyed needlessly

07:15 AM PST on Thursday, December 11, 2003

By BONNIE STEWART / The Press-Enterprise

The grand jury's 28 findings about the Riverside County/City Animal Shelter and county Department of Animal Services include:

- Lack of administrative leadership.

- Allowing animals to go as long as 33 hours without food.

- Faulty accounting practices and misdirection of revenue and donations.

- Workers assigned to destroy animals for as long as six hours a day for a 30-day period, causing emotional stress. Lack of communication with animal-rescue groups, resulting in excessive numbers of animals being destroyed.

- Complacency in promoting adoptions.

- Negligence in contacting the owners of strays.

A grand jury has found widespread mismanagement of the Riverside County Animal Services Department that resulted in needless killing of dogs and cats at its Riverside shelter, according to a report released Wednesday.  Among 28 findings, the Riverside County grand jury cited one day in which some of the 80 animals destroyed died due to "arbitrary carelessness" and "indifference" to the shelter's own policies, including failure to contact animal owners, "complacency" in promoting adoptions and "disregard" for rescue organizations.

This is the very agency that was chasing and hounding Randy Warner of Dalmatian ResQ for so many years for not having the proper kennel permits. No signs of neglect nor abuse towards his animals at all - quite the opposite.  Friends and neighbors came to his defense, as did several judges from multiple counties' jurisdictions. He was a dedicated and loving care giver for each and every Dalmatian that came into his care but the 8 year long battle took it's toll.  Ultimately he was found not guilty of all charges, leading to the grand jury's initial investigations into Riverside Animal Control and Riverside County Board of Supervisor Bob Buster for his role in the Dalmatian ResQ 'Double Jeopardy'.

The grand jury, a volunteer body that investigates complaints about local government and makes recommendations to the Board of Supervisors, found deficient accounting practices such as a failure to track donations earmarked for spay-neutering programs and the mishandling of checks and cash received from the public for licenses and other fees. Inadequate staffing has resulted in animals going without food for 33 hours or longer, even though state law requires that animals to be fed at least every 12 hours, the panel found.

County officials disputed parts of the report. "The grand jury apparently received incorrect information that led to many inaccurate findings," said Janis McLaughlin, who heads the county's Animal Services Department. Paul Alvarez / The Press-Enterprise These dogs awaited homes at the Riverside County Animal Shelter in Riverside in August, but records show that a majority of pets don't leave the shelter alive.

The grand jury issued a scathing report Wednesday on the county's Animal Services Department's management. She and other county officials disputed the grand jury's finding that management is "severely deficient" in keeping staff members current on local and state laws and is not responsive to employees' complaints. "Employees are encouraged to talk to me," McLaughlin said by phone. "The door is always open."

One county supervisor called for closer scrutiny of the operation. "I think we need a managerial audit of the Riverside shelter," said county Supervisor Bob Buster, in whose district the shelter lies. He said he plans to seek a review by an outside firm that specializes in shelter management..

Buster was the one who headed up the fiasco against Warner of Dalmatian ResQ. It was partially due to Buster's ongoing demand that Warner be charged over and over for the exact same charges to prove a point that the 'Double Jeopardy' defense set Warner free.

Buster said he wants to find out whether the operation is underfunded or if the problem lies mostly with leadership. The grand jury recommended that shelter management follow its own policies, comply with state and local laws, use proper accounting methods, hire or appoint someone to apply for grants and seek donations, and schedule enough staff to properly care for the animals. "In general, the grand jury has offered some good suggestions, and we plan to implement them,"

McLaughlin said. The Animal Services Department employs about 100 people, including animal control officers and shelter workers. It also manages shelters in Hemet, Indio, Blythe and Riverside and pays shelters in San Jacinto and Lake Elsinore to care for animals in those areas. Many cities within the county handle their own animal services.

The county's animal care and control budget for the 2003-04 fiscal is $5.6 million, including $1.3 million for the Riverside shelter, county spokesman Ray Smith said About 59 percent of the 21,092 animals that entered the shelter during the 2002-2003 fiscal year were killed. That compares with the approximately 63 percent of dogs and cats that Inland shelters in general destroyed, according to 2002 data collected and analyzed by The Press-Enterprise.

Other problems The grand jury also found: Numerous accounting problems that made it hard to track how money was used. Roger Uminski, a spokesman for the county's health department, which oversees animal control, said nothing in the grand jury's report shows that funds were misused.

Hypodermic syringes were not secured, resulting in possible abuse or theft. Smith said the syringes will be locked up until a policy is adopted. Shelter management doesn't actively seek grants and other help. Smith said the shelter has sought grants in the past, but the person who would apply for grants left, and the position has not been filled.

Communication with rescue groups is sporadic, resulting in cats and dogs being killed unnecessarily. The shelter recently assigned someone to coordinate with rescue groups. Several rescuers and would-be volunteers have said they've had trouble getting cooperation from shelter management. Smith said the shelter's volunteer coordinator has been updating training programs. The shelter's chief of operations, Adam Colebrook, estimated that the shelter has 12 active volunteers.

Supervisor Buster and 2 of the Animal Control officials will each serve 6 months in prison.

Reach Bonnie Stewart at (909) 368-9475 or bstewart@pe.com