Dogs behind bars - Page 2

A shake-up at the Alameda Animal Shelter has left its charges locked up 23 hours a day

Scott defended the changes as allowing "increased efficiency and supervision." Asked about the reduction in the volunteer hours — formerly 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., now 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. — Scott said, "We can do more now in three hours than we could before in five," but he could not explain how, nor which tasks are being accomplished more quickly.

Scott insisted that the volunteers who were most recently let go were dismissed for cumulative histories of infractions. A June 27 memo from Barrett outlined the problems, some of which seem to be a bit of a stretch.

One volunteer, Jim Gotelli, was cited for "tampering with city property" — because, according to Gotelli, he bought and attached a new hose nozzle to replace a broken one.

Gotelli was also given a written reprimand for contacting a law professor at UCLA who is an animal-law expert and asking if the Alameda shelter was complying with the Hayden Bill, a state law that sets minimum standards for care in California animal shelters. Barrett informed Gotelli that as an agent of the city, he was barred from seeking outside legal advice. Gotelli was dismissed in July after writing a letter to the city attorney seeking policy clarification.

Another charge cited by Barrett — "feeding the dogs unauthorized food and causing them gastric distress" — apparently refers to Dan Mosso, who for 18 months paid out of his own pocket for premium-quality food for the dogs, with Barrett's consent, until she suddenly withdrew permission. Mosso was also terminated in July, for questioning shelter policy.

Scott also made dark hints to us about a "subgroup that needed to be broken up," apparently referring to a group of long-term core volunteers — Gotelli, Mosso, and Donna McCaskey — who suggested to Barrett that the shelter might not be in compliance with the law. Scott suggested that a public organizing campaign by the terminated volunteers — which includes an online petition — is a vendetta against Barrett. But each volunteer we interviewed praised Barrett for some of her work. "It's not about us, and it's not really about Diana Barrett — we're worried about the dogs," Mosso said.

Okorie Okorocha, a lawyer and expert in animal law, wrote an Aug. 17 letter to the city of Alameda charging that the shelter is vioutf8g the Hayden Bill. In the letter, Okorocha stated that several Alameda residents "have first-hand knowledge that animals in your shelter are kept in cages or kennels for periods of 10 to 20 consecutive days without receiving any exercise."

Mohammed Hill, a deputy city attorney, stated in an Aug. 29 response that it's perfectly legal to keep dogs in their kennels without exercise as long as the cages are big enough for the animals to walk around in. The cages at the shelter are 12 feet long, seven feet wide, and four feet high. But the cages are divided, so that much of the day the dogs are in a six-foot space.

Some animals — those who have been claimed by owners but not yet picked up — are kept caged all the time "for liability reasons," Hill's letter states.

However, it adds, "The shelter has a current staff level of approximately 40 dedicated volunteers who on average walk each dog for a period of 20 minutes three times a day, six days a week." But the shelter is only open five days a week, and the volunteer statistics Hill cites are almost certainly inflated. Since the volunteers can only work from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., it's unlikely that the dogs are getting three walks a day.

In fact, that could only happen under perfectly optimal conditions — a factory-line approach to dog walking, with no more than five dogs and two volunteers per hour, the last of which, several observers say, has not been the case.

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