LOS ANGELES – Ulysses Sandoval desperately wanted to save his dog.
Chia needed surgery to remove a large stone from her bladder, but Sandoval had lost her job during the COVID-19 pandemic. He had sought help from family members and was willing to take out a loan and sell his car to get the $ 2,200.
Frantically calling for rescue groups, he called the LA County Animal Care Center in Downey. A staff member said he may be eligible for a $ 500 voucher.
Giving up Chia “would have been my last, last option,” said Sandoval, 25. He suffers from anxiety attacks and Chia – a mix of 10-pounder Poodles – calms him down.
The voucher, which Sandoval obtained last spring, is part of an approach called “managed admission” currently in use at the seven animal shelters operated by Los Angeles County.
People who wish to abandon their dogs or cats should make an appointment, rather than just stopping by during opening hours. Shelter workers then assess whether they can help the animal stay with its owner by providing assistance with veterinary bills, food, supplies, boarding, or training for behavioral issues.
If these options don’t work, homeowners are advised to seek another home, although shelters always accept pets as a last resort.
Those interested in adopting are also required to make an appointment.
For supporters, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the controlled admission helps pets stay in their homes while reducing the number of people in the nation’s largest shelter system.
The goal is to only accept sick, malnourished, injured, neglected or dangerous animals, as well as those whose owners are facing an emergency or have exhausted all other options.
“It was easy for us to take in animals, but it was always difficult for us to bring them home,” said Sgt. Chris Valles at the Palmdale Animal Care Center.
But critics say some pet owners are no longer willing to take care of their dogs or cats, raising concerns about the fate of these animals once they are turned away from shelters.
Requiring adoptions appointments could also reduce the number of animals finding homes, critics say.
The county switched to managed reception at the start of the pandemic, as its shelters were closed to the public, providing an opportunity to test the strategy.
Fewer than 25,000 dogs, cats and other animals were taken to shelters in LA County in fiscal 2020, up from more than 46,000 the year before – proof of the new program’s success, supporters say.
In less crowded shelters, the animals that remain are happier and less stressed, said Marcia Mayeda, director of LA County Animal Care and Control. And employees have more time to take care of them.
“We should be the last choice,” Mayeda said.
About half of shelter systems in California have moved to some form of managed admission during the pandemic, said Dr Cynthia Karsten, an outreach veterinarian in the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, which has helped the county. of LA to implement its program.
Orange County has been practicing managed admission for a few years, and LA city shelters recently switched to a hybrid version, requiring appointments while accepting all pets.
LA County officials say they see a lot of people like Sandoval who don’t want to give up their pets but can’t afford hefty vet bills.
Earlier this year, in response to job losses linked to the pandemic, the county launched the grant-funded voucher program that paid for Chia’s surgery.
“If you come to our doors and say, ‘I’m denouncing Fluffy because she has an ear infection and I can’t afford to fix it’ or ‘I’m going to get out of my house and I’ll have nowhere to go for two weeks, ”or“ I have no food, ”we can help you with all of that,” said Lanette Montez, who leads the county animal shelters outreach team . “You keep Fluffy. We don’t want Fluffy.”
Since managed admission was rolled out system-wide to LA County shelters, owner assignments have declined 58% for dogs and 68% for cats.
The euthanasia rate for cats has increased from 48% to 31%. The live cat release rate, which includes animals adopted, transferred to rescue groups or returned to their owners, increased from 54% to 68%.
The number of dogs has remained fairly stable, with euthanasia dropping from 12% to 11% and live release remaining at around 88%.
There is no official timeline for when an animal is euthanized, and “every animal is considered an individual,” said Don Belton, county animal control spokesperson.
Karsten, the UC Davis vet, said overcrowded animal shelters are a symptom of bigger issues, such as poverty and societal inequalities.
Managed admission allows staff to help people with these issues and keep their pets, while reducing euthanasia.
“Everyone will tell you how relieved it is to come to work and feel that I can do what I’m here for,” she said.
But Alison Eastwood, whose Eastwood Ranch Foundation rescues animals in shelters with high mortality, said volunteers at the county shelters had nothing good to say about managing the intake.
They fear that administrative staff, rather than animal control professionals, will decide whether or not to accept a pet and that the burden will be placed on the public to find homes for the animals.
Some animal rescue groups say owners are turning to them more and more after being rejected at the shelter.
“With COVID, everything just got worse,” said Cyndi Zacko, director of Carson Cats Rescue. “The people losing their jobs and the lack of donations have really made it difficult for us to help everyone who contacts us.
In the Antelope Valley, Paw Parent Animal Sanctuary has received four times the number of emails and calls since the county implemented a managed hospitality.
Dusti Hutchings, adoption specialist at Paw Parent, said she hates turning on her computer every day and receiving emails from people who have found cats, brought them to the shelter and been turned away.
“We’re just bombarded every day with people trying to give up animals we don’t have room for,” she said.
Lisa Avery, a lawyer and cat rescuer who has volunteered at Baldwin Park and Carson shelters for years, said she and other rescuers have seen people throwing domestic cats into wild colonies since the start of the l managed admission.
“I don’t think we should be saying, ‘Well, these newly abandoned cats will notice – the feral cats will show them the ropes,'” Avery said.
Karsten said it’s understandable to worry about these animals, but shelters aren’t the right place for them.
Other animal rescuers are protesting the appointment requirement to see animals in shelters, fearing it will reduce adoptions.
An online petition has drawn more than 5,000 signatures and the attention of animal-loving celebrities, including actress Katherine Heigl.
“The main purpose of our shelters, the reason for their existence, is to find homes for the animals that are housed there,” Heigl wrote on Facebook. “It’s not about making things as easy as possible for employees and staff.”
County officials argue that the previous open-door policy not only overloaded staff, but also stressed animals, as the public treated the shelters like a “free zoo,” Mayeda said.
Under less crowded conditions, respiratory illnesses were down 53% for dogs and 82% for cats, according to the county.
But LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn said voters called her over concerns about the nomination system.
Appointments at some shelters typically need to be made a week in advance, contributing to a 51% no-show rate. County officials are adding more slots to reduce wait times.
One recent day at the Downey Shelter, Jennifer Zavala arrived to find a mate for Bailey, her 6 year old Chihuahua and Jack Russell terrier mix.
She and her boyfriend were not on a date.
Animal control officer Scootisha Thompson borrowed Zavala’s phone to show her how to book a time, but the website was loading slowly.
The couple left but continued to try the site, securing a slot for later in the day. They took Riley, a 3 year old Jindo mix, home with them.
“I don’t like it because it’s hard to get a date, but I understand why it’s up,” said Zavala, 21.
A family with a small child entered without an appointment. There were no-shows, so Thompson let them go into the kennels to watch the dogs.
Later, Kavar McDaniel arrived at the shelter. He had booked a moment to meet a mix of yearlings brown terriers he had seen online.
It was his first dog.
In her new house, Zona walks around, greets everyone and is allowed to sleep anywhere she wants.
“It’s going amazing,” said McDaniel, a 25-year-old elementary school teacher. “She is perfect.”