Dogs behind bars - Page 3

A shake-up at the Alameda Animal Shelter has left its charges locked up 23 hours a day
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At least one visitor observed that the paperwork showed no walks for any dogs on the day she visited.

Vicky Smith, a 55-year-old schoolteacher, visited the shelter recently to offer her services as a volunteer. She said Barrett told her the shelter needed no more volunteers.

Equally troubling were the conditions that Smith observed in the cat area two weeks ago: empty water bowls, crusted-over remnants of canned food dried in the food bowls, a terrible stench from dirty litter in several cages, all against the background din of a multitude of cats yowling for attention. The one volunteer on duty seemed completely overwhelmed and, Smith said, apologized, saying, "There are hardly any volunteers anymore."

WHO'S WATCHING?

The situation at the Alameda shelter might not have reached this point had there been effective oversight. The city lacks an animal-welfare commission, and Scott told us repeatedly that nobody at the Police Department has specific expertise in animal welfare. Scott is so unfamiliar with the shelter that he was literally unable to answer a single question about its daily operations. He repeated, "That's animal stuff, that's beyond me," "I wouldn't know," "That's a question of animal law," and variations thereof a total of 11 times.

We asked Scott how, without such knowledge, he could be certain that Barrett was making the wisest possible decisions. "We work closely with the Humane Society of Alameda," he assured us.

While that statement is technically true, it is profoundly misleading. The Police Department does receive grants from the HSA, but the bulk of the funds received do not go to the shelter; instead, for instance, last year the department spent $15,000 in HSA funds to purchase two police dogs and thousands more on bulletproof vests for the dogs.

When asked about Scott's assertion that the HSA provides the animal knowledge that the police lack, HSA president Carmen Lasar denied it fiercely, repeating several times with increasing agitation, "Our only role is helping them financially."

Discussing the nature of municipal shelters in general, Carl Friedman, director of San Francisco Animal Care and Control, told us, "Most of the successful agencies are independent, not part of any other department, and either report directly to their city administrator or have oversight from a commission that includes members of the public. Politically, the independent departments are usually free to fight for the resources and funding they need."

In response to the recent burst of publicity about the issues at the Alameda Animal Shelter, Police Chief Walter Tibbet publicly pledged to conduct "a full investigation" into those issues. After we made numerous Public Records Act requests of the city of Alameda, the investigation was upgraded and is now being conducted by Internal Affairs. The investigating officer, Sgt. Robert Frankland, is on vacation through Oct. 10 and does not expect to finish his report until early November.

"Volunteering at the shelter is the best thing I've ever done, one of the most satisfying things, and I love it, and I miss it," Mosso said. "But if this is my legacy, so be it: that they'll never let me come back, but at least the dogs will get walked and get proper care."

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