The Orange County Animal Care Shelter, located at 1630 Victory Road in Tustin, has come under fire as animal activists have demanded a change in practices. Activists claim that the restrictive appointment-based adoption model implemented in the pandemic should be lifted by now, as it does more harm than good to the animals and reduces adoption rates. Furthermore, they demand creating a trap-neuter-release program for cats, a better dog enrichment program, hiring more staff, and recruiting volunteers.
What is OCAC?
The Orange County Animal Care provides services for Anaheim, Brea, Cypress, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Huntington Beach, Lake Forest, Orange, Placenta, San Juan Capistrano, Tustin, Villa Park, Yorba Linda, and unincorporated County areas. OCAC contracts with these cities to field calls, and provide redemption, license renewal, pet intake, and adoption services. The 10-acre facility was newly built in 2018.
What is an ‘adoption by appointment’ model?
At the beginning of the pandemic, like many other shelters, OCAC moved to an adoption by appointment model. This requires people to create an appointment to see a specific animal that they have picked out from a photo on the website. Then people can go to the shelter to see their animal of choice in a playpen and proceed with the adoption if it is a right fit.
OC Board of Supervisors Chairman Doug Chaffee said, “The appointment system keeps their [the animals’] stress levels down.” OCAC’s Assistant Director Monica Schmidt added that the appointment system “has decreased the bite rate to the public that are visiting” and that the adopted pet return rate has lowered as better matches are made.
The shelter’s management stands by this model as they cite benefits for the animals and their staff.
Animal activists and independent rescuers dispute that this model is restrictive as it does not allow the public to walk through the aisles and interact with animals in the kennels to bond and find the right fit. They find the appointment model cumbersome and assert that picking animals from a photo does a disservice to the animals that might not look appealing in photos, but deserve loving homes, nonetheless.
Romina Yamashiro, an independent cat rescuer and animal activist, said, “This shelter was designed amazingly; it is so well done. And it was designed for people to walk through the shelter, to walk through the kennels, to encourage public exploration, and it is not being done.” She added that dogs that are older and perhaps do not look as appealing in the photos have a better chance of being picked if people are allowed to see the kennels.
Michelle Schumacher, a taxpayer advocate, said, “They’re [OCAC] saying that the animals get stressed [with] people coming in, but those people are the only ones who are going to get them out of there, so they do need to be seen.”
What is TNR?
The Trap-neuter-release (TNR) process is for controlling the exponentially increasing cat population. Trapping cats, neutering them, and releasing them back into the outdoors or getting them adopted is understood as the most humane way of decreasing the cat population and bettering the existing cats’ overall health. Cats can give birth to three litters in a year and each litter can have up to six kittens in it. This overburdens shelters, rescues, and communities that are overrun with feral cats and their litter full of kittens.
Currently, OCAC does not have a TNR program. Animal activists demand a TNR clinic to be created at OCAC so that independent rescuers do not have to carry the burden of trapping and neutering cats at their own time and expense. Debbie Hammil, an independent cat trapper, and another trapper have spent $38,000 since 2020 trapping cats. They have trapped over 398 cats on their own time and budget.
Who has the power to change OCAC’s management?
The restrictive appointment system and a lack of a TNR program are not the only demands of activists. The current dog enrichment program, lack of staffing and volunteers, and alleged mistreatment of the current staff are also areas of concern.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors has the authority to create major changes. Activists have made public comments and written emails and letters to supervisors expressing their concerns.
In response, Supervisor Katrina Foley is hosting a free adoption event and job fair on September 10, at the OCAC facility.
Activists are organizing a peaceful protest on the same day to demand getting rid of the restrictive adoption by appointment model and replacing it with the previous model of letting the public walk the aisles to see animals in person in their kennels.