The 1994-95 Grand Jury has reviewed the 1993-94 Grand Jury Report, "Problems at the Animal Shelters", an extensive investigation into the Animal Health and Regulation (AH&R) facilities of Santa Barbara County, which included an audit by the Santa Barbara County Auditor-Controller. There was considerable publicity, both pro and con, as a result of the report, which pointed out a myriad of discrepancies in the overall operation of the facilities and raised doubts concerning the effectiveness of the AH&R in meeting its responsibilities to the citizens of the County. Letters received by the 1994-95 Grand Jury raised further questions whether or not there had been a significant improvement in the agency's operations. Since last year's report was published, a re-organization has been effected which places AH&R under the supervision of the Health Care Services Department.
Conduct a follow-up investigation to ensure that AH&R personnel are providing appropriate services to the County in an effective and efficient manner.
After the Grand Jury reviewed the responses to the 1993-94 Grand Jury report, all AH&R sites in the County were visited (Santa Maria, Lompoc and Santa Barbara). During these visits interviews were held at length with many members of the staff, including Site Coordinators, Animal Control Officers (ACO), and office personnel. In addition, interviews were conducted with volunteers, management personnel, the Director of AH&R, and the Director of the Health Care Services Department. A review was conducted of relevant documents, departmental Memoranda of Understanding (MOU), hiring and training practices, and data provided by volunteer groups. The forthright and candid testimony that was evident throughout the investigation was appreciated.
As the initial interviews with site personnel progressed, it became clear that the discrepancies reported by last year's Grand Jury were valid and that some action had been taken to correct them:
* Attempts were being made to correct the haphazard manner in which the daily census of animals on site was being recorded. New computer equipment is now in place linking the three sites and consequently figures are more accurate.
* The "spay/neuter" program has been pursued and has, particularly in the South County, resulted in a significant decrease in the number of stray animals running loose.
* A limited training program has been instituted and plans are being made for additional training, particularly for ACO's. It was noted that the program was made possible by an item in the 1994-95 County Final Budget as approved by the Board of Supervisors.
* The over-crowding of animals at the various sites was not as evident as indicated in previous reports. A new "state of the art" building at the Santa Barbara site designed for the housing and care of cats was noteworthy. The building was made possible by a volunteer group, the Animal Shelter Assistance Program (ASAP), including the cost of construction and the subsequent operation of the facility. Also at the Santa Barbara facility a new building designed for the housing and care of rabbits has been provided by volunteers.
* The Grand Jury observed some effort to improve the material condition of the facilities; however, there is still more to be done. It was reported at one site that the absence of Public Works personnel to undertake building maintenance makes it difficult for site personnel to perform their regular duties and still have time to perform additional maintenance.
* A significant finding of the 1993-94 Grand Jury was that "the director of Animal Health and Regulation has demonstrated that he does not provide the leadership capabilities needed to adequately perform the job." Since the re-organization of AH&R within the Health Services Department in February 1995, personnel changes have been made.
The 1994-95 Grand Jury learned during its tours of the AH&R facilities that a significant portion of the revenue generated by AH&R comes from the licensing of dogs. Cats are not licensed in Santa Barbara County. If cats were required to be licensed, as they are in some other counties, increased revenues would result. At present almost all costs are covered by volunteer groups. This additional non-recoverable expense could be alleviated by the licensing of cats, similar to the licensing of dogs.
Generous County employee policies with regard to vacation time, sick leave and other legal compensatory time away from work often leave a work force which is not sufficient to complete normal assignments. The twenty per cent reduction in personnel which was effected a few years ago has resulted in a significant decrease in the number of trained and qualified personnel to carry out the duties of the AH&R. The lack of personnel has a negative impact on the
effectiveness of the organization and subsequently a negative effect on the morale of the staff.
Sites are closed at mid-day and there are limited hours on weekends. When and where they are open on weekends, the services of volunteers make it possible. The lack of "user friendly" hours makes it difficult for many citizens to avail themselves of the services.
The lack of adequate staff results in inconsistent or at times non-existent response to citizens' calls relative to problems with stray animals. There are no longer routine patrols to help reduce the number of stray animals roaming in communities.
There is no evidence of on-going training to up-grade the proficiencies of Kennel Attendants (KA) so as to ensure they may be adequately trained to fill in for ACO's when required. In the past KA's have been used to work outside their job description because of inadequate staffing, which is forbidden by AH&R regulations.
Site Coordinators are not officially recognized as Supervisors and therefore do not have the authority to complete evaluations of their own staff. In the past evaluations have been completed by Administrative Office personnel who are not familiar with the employee's day to day performance, and often are without the benefit of any information from the Site Coordinators. This practice does not comply with Civil Service Rule 15, paragraph 1503.
VOLUNTEERS WORKING IN CONJUNCTION WITH PUBLIC OFFICIALS
The AH&R is aided in its work at the three sites by volunteer organizations. Many compassionate individuals who have a genuine concern with the health and welfare of homeless pets contribute significantly to this worthwhile enterprise. Their contributions of both time and money make it possible for many County residents to obtain care for their pets that would not otherwise be available. The services, provided on a purely volunteer basis, help ensure that many animals, which would otherwise be euthanized, are cared for and made available to their owners or to other citizens looking for pets. The care and well being of animals is by its very nature an emotional issue, and volunteers deserve all the positive recognition that they get. However, in the normal day-to-day operations of the dog kennels, rabbit hutches and cat facilities, it must not be over-looked that the officials who are ultimately responsible to the public for the successful operation of AH&R are the final authority.
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
FINDING #1: The number of staff personnel at the various sites is insufficient to accomplish the mission of the Animal Health and Regulation Division.
RECOMMENDATION #1: Immediate steps should be taken by the AH&R to increase the number of qualified personnel at each of the three sites.
FINDING #2: The Grand Jury finds the "spay/neuter" program has been eminently successful, particularly in the South County.
RECOMMENDATION #2: The AH&R should continue the "spay/neuter" program and take more aggressive action in the North County to promote this worthwhile program.
FINDING #3: Site Coordinators do not have the necessary authority to evaluate the personnel for whose performance they are responsible.
RECOMMENDATION #3: Site Coordinators should be considered as Supervisors of their locations with all attendant authority.
FINDING #4: An on-going training program which is specifically designed for the professional competency of Animal Control Officers and for the advancement of Kennel Attendants is not being pursued as aggressively as it should be.
RECOMMENDATION #4: The AH&R should conduct on-going training programs for ACO's and KA's.
FINDING #5: It is unfortunate that the AH&R Division is not able to recover any of the cost of policing and handling of stray cats.
RECOMMENDATION #5: The AH&R Division should actively pursue the licensing of cats.
AFFECTED AGENCIES: (California Penal Code Section 933c requires that comments to Findings and Recommendations be made in writing within 60 days by all affected agencies except governing bodies, which are allowed 90 days.)
1. Department of Health Care Services - response
2. Director, Animal Health and Regulation Division - (see introduction in the response to 1.) - no response