Riverside County animal shelters have resumed euthanizing animals after a temporary suspension that was ordered when county officials learned that the shelters lacked the federal licenses to administer the lethal drugs.
The county ban came after federal drug agents in late June raided a private Lake Elsinore animal hospital and shelter, saying it was administering narcotics without the license. Under federal law, shelters can possess drugs needed to euthanize animals only if they have a license or a staff veterinarian.
County shelters in Riverside, Indio and Blythe have been without a veterinarian since county veterinarian Don Popa resigned in May. Roger Uminski, acting director of animal services, said he was unaware that the shelters needed the licenses until after the raid. The county stopped euthanizing animals for about 10 days starting just before the Fourth of July weekend.
"When it appeared we were not in compliance, we locked the medications up," Uminski said.
The county Animal Control Services Department has faced controversy since December when a Riverside County Grand Jury report accused the agency of cruelty to animals. The report concluded that animals received inadequate care and that some were being unnecessarily euthanized.
Popa and Janis McLaughlin, the animal services director, have since resigned. The Board of Supervisors also has commissioned the Humane Society of the United States to investigate the allegations.
The most recent problem followed the Drug Enforcement Administration raid on the Animal Friends of the Valleys shelter in Lake Elsinore on June 22. The private shelter provides animal control for four cities and has a county contract to provide shelter space for the unincorporated parts of southwest Riverside County.
The shelter's drugs also were seized.
After the Lake Elsinore incident, Supervisor Bob Buster requested an inquiry to determine if the county met the federal requirements -- resulting in the temporary ban on the use of euthanizing drugs and some regulated tranquilizers.
By working with the DEA, the county and Lake Elsinore shelters were able to get federal approval, said Uminski, who is also the administrative director of the county's Community Health Agency.
Before resuming services July 12, the county shelters took animals to local veterinary clinics to be euthanized.
Other Southland counties said they have the licenses. San Bernardino County has a veterinarian who oversees county shelters and has DEA licenses at each location. Los Angeles and Orange county shelters have on-site veterinarians who provide access to the drugs.
To oversee the care of the animals and help bring Riverside County's three shelters up to standards, the county recently hired veterinarian Grace Rios, who accepted the position in early July and will begin full duties Aug. 23.
Until Rios begins, however, the county won't operate at full pace and some animals are being sent to local clinics for treatment.
The county is making improvements to the shelters, including installing better air conditioning at the Riverside shelter.
Uminski said that since he took over last month, the department began a thorough analysis of problems.