Merger brings changes for Humane Society

OCEANSIDE — The January merger of the Oceanside North County Humane Society and SPCA and the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA has elicited both kudos and questions.
The merger renames the Oceanside facility the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA North Campus and allows the site that serves Oceanside and Vista to access specialized veterinarian treatment and extra space to house animals at the San Diego Gaines Street and Sherman Street campuses.
“Technically we have more resources, staff and equipment,” Elkie Wills, communications coordinator for the North Campus, said.
The San Diego Humane Society runs on a $14 million budget with 85 percent of the budget used for animal care, pet owner education, medical care, animal training, and pet and owner matchmaking, Laura Maloney, senior vice president of strategic initiatives and communication for the San Diego Humane Society, said.
While the additional resources are welcome, the merger has also brought up questions about operational practices that had 45 animals that had been OK’d for adoption prior to the merger transferred from Oceanside to San Diego for re-evaluation and five of them were euthanized.
Elaine Godzak worked as a volunteer for the North County Humane Society for nine years, but resigned in February after the merger. “The policies seemed to change radically,” Godzak said.
Godzak said she felt procedures to assess, treat and place dogs in suitable homes were working fine at the North Campus prior to the merger. “Then dogs available for adoption were taken to the San Diego Humane Society and never seen again,” Godzak said. “An inordinate number of animals were found unfit for adoption.”
The San Diego Humane Society and former North County Humane Society use the same medical and behavior assessments for animals, but the evaluation results that found five retested dogs unfit for adoption caused Godzak and other volunteers concern.
Shelter animals are given a medical examination to determine health risks and weigh if medical conditions are reasonably treatable. “Our medical intervention is high,” Maloney said. The Oceanside site has service agreements with local veterinarians and the San Diego Gaines Street site houses a full medical suite with surgery and X-ray facilities. “We have four veterinarians (on site) and do everything we can,” Maloney said.
Animals are also given behavior assessments that evaluate their interaction with strangers, and dogs are given prey response tests that gauge their friendliness toward cats. “Our goal is to find homes for them,” Maloney said.
The behavior assessments give a picture of an animal’s personality in real-life scenarios, Candice Eley, a spokesperson for the San Diego Humane Society, said. “What do they do if food is taken away?” Eley said. “What if a stranger comes into room? What type of home would be best for that dog or cat? We never want to adopt out a pet that threatens a member of the public or itself.”
Maloney said out of the 45 animals from the Oceanside site that were re-evaluated, five dogs were euthanized because of concerns for the community. Behavior assessment proved the dogs to be a potential danger to people or a significant danger to animals.
“The process is not taken lightly,” Maloney said. Four trained specialists need to reach consensus and sign off that the animal is unfit to be released to the community. The behavior, health and age of the animal are considered in the evaluation. “We are focused on saving and re-homing animals,” Maloney said. “Sometimes we need to make tough choices. No one wants to see animals put down. Our goal is to end euthanizing animals here.”
The merger presents some new challenges. It is the first time the San Diego Humane Society has worked with strays. The animal population at the Oceanside site is a mix of owner surrenders and strays, while the San Diego campuses have owner-surrendered animals only.
Stray animals arrive at the Oceanside site with no reference to their history. It is unknown how long the stray animals have roamed without a home and if they have any training. “We don’t know anything about their background,” Maloney said.
The fact that animals are strays raises more questions about them, but does not determine their adoptability. “It’s not a black and white issue,” said Dan DeSousa, lieutenant deputy for San Diego County Animal Services, which works with strays and owner relinquished animals. “There are very good dogs and aggressive dogs that are surrendered and very good dogs and aggressive dogs that are out on the streets. It depends on the dog and the training it has received, if any.”
During the transition phase of the merger community events and training previously held at the Oceanside site are on hold. “We’re one organization now,” Wills said. “The North Campus will benefit from the Fur Ball, Walk for Animals, and telethon (events held in San Diego). During the transition and planning phase we will determine what we can do in North County. We should begin training and programs here in six months.”
Currently Oceanside and Vista residents can participate in events and training programs held at the San Diego sites.

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  1. fishfry says:

    This is a better resource for SAFER test info:
    http://www.hsmo.org/m_joinus/documents/SAFERTestSummary.pdf

  2. BethDW says:

    The SDSH has, unfortunately, decided to embrace the test developed by Sue Sternberg. Having participated in temperament testing as a dog trainer I have come to the conclusion that this test is unscientific and terrifically unfair to the dogs tested. Keep in mind that these dogs are stressed out to the max – now, give them the best treat imaginable (raw hide, pigs ear) and try to take it away from them (you, a stranger to the dog) and YES, of course many of the dogs growl. Dogs who would never do this after being in the calm setting of a home with its owners.

    Sad, but true situation that the SDHS has bought into this testing and euthanizes many, many dogs. The public really should demand the numbers. Sue Sternberg, herself, told the SDHS that they should be euthanizing 95% of the dogs that come through the doors.

  3. Doggie Hitler says:

    The SDHS is the biggest crock going. They say they want to reduce animal euthanasia, but kill any dog that fails this preposterous test. There is no scientific proof that this behavioral test can predict future behavior at all. It’s a way to justify killing animals that the staff doesn’t like, especially Pits and large dogs. This Sternberg lady who created the test even calls herself “doggie Hitler” and has this plan where she says that 75% of all dogs in shelter should be euthanized. This is the model they are following. People should call in on their telethon tomorrow and start asking questions. I hope someone sues this place and exposes them once and for all.

  4. lop. says:

    For far too long, those running our animal shelters – agencies funded by the philanthropic donations and tax dollars of an animal loving American public – have refused to mirror our progressive values. For far too long, they have assumed a power and authority to act independent of public opinion, and the will of the people who have entrusted them to do their jobs with compassion, dedication and integrity. In betraying this trust, they have proven that they can’t be trusted, and that we must regulate them in the same way we regulate other agencies which hold the power of life and death: by removing the discretion which has for too long allowed them to thwart the public’s will and to kill animals who should be saved.

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