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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