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Action Is Expected on Animal Shelter

Riverside County may form a task force to review Humane Society recommendations.

August 10, 2004|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

A Humane Society inspection of a Riverside County animal shelter last spring found animals without food or water, cages caked with feces and a euthanized dog that was later found to have a heartbeat, according to a new report.

The Board of Supervisors contracted with the Humane Society of the United States to conduct the audit after a scathing grand jury report about the conditions at the county-run shelter in Riverside. The board is expected to create a task force today to review those recommendations.

The Humane Society's most serious concerns about euthanasia, drug storage and air-conditioning in shelter vans are already being addressed by the county, the audit found. But the 174-page report contains scores of other recommendations.

"For a shelter that is the size and the scope of the Riverside shelter, we would have liked to have seen conditions better than they were," said Kim Intino, manager of the Animal Services Consultation Program with the Humane Society, based in Washington.

Among the problems Humane Society officials witnessed during their April visit included improper administration of euthanasia medication, dirty cages, improper drainage, animals being left without food or water for hours, and sloppily dressed employees.

County officials said they were not surprised by the findings. But they note that the county has begun correcting some of the problems.

"Overall, I think it's a good snapshot of the shelter during the period of time they were here," said Roger Uminski, interim director of the county's Department of Animal Services. "They point out some very good things that we're going to be taking a hard look at and figuring out how to make improvements. A number of things they talk about in here we already have done or are implementing."

He noted that the county had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars improving conditions, including the purchase of an air-circulation system for the shelter and air-conditioning for the shelter vans. Workers spent June cleaning the shelter, and the county has developed a new procedure to ensure that euthanasia is administered effectively. More than 20,400 cats and dogs were killed at the shelter during the 2002-03 fiscal year.

In December, the grand jury condemned the management of the shelter, charging that animals were routinely euthanized without attempts to contact owners or rescue groups, and that animals sometimes went more than a day without food.

Janis McLaughlin, director of the department at the time, contested many of the findings, but the Board of Supervisors hired the Humane Society to study the issue for $25,000. McLaughlin resigned in June, citing budgetary constraints and a lack of support from her superiors.

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