Dozens of dog lovers took to the steps of City Hall on Tuesday evening to demand that the City Council strip police of control over the city's animal shelter -- a move Oakland's top cop has said he would welcome.
The shelter, which takes in about 6,000 animals a year, is by all accounts underfunded and understaffed, which makes it highly reliant on community volunteers to help save animals from euthanasia.
While euthanasia rates are down, shelter volunteers are concerned by the city's struggle over the past year to fill key jobs such as the shelter's veterinarian and volunteer coordinator. A recently-hired shelter director, Gary Hendel, was placed on paid leave two months ago; sources have said that he was accused of using a racial slur while on the job.
Shelter volunteers have also accused management of lacking consistent standards for when to euthanize animals.
"They're killing animals that people have said could be adopted and calling it euthanasia," shelter volunteer Claire Kilpatrick said.
Many people active with the shelter see a cultural divide between the police department, which strives to follow protocols, and volunteers who seek more flexibility to save animals.
While past attempts to wrest the shelter from police control have failed -- the most recent coming in 2005 after a former animal control officer accused the shelter of mistakenly euthanizing adoptable dogs -- it appears increasingly likely that the city will comply with the volunteers' demands.
Next month, council members are scheduled to review a proposal first suggested by Councilwoman Libby Schaaf to make the shelter a stand-alone department within the city. Councilmembers Noel Gallo and Rebecca Kaplan made a similar proposal last week.
And, unlike several of his predecessors, Interim Police Chief Sean Whent has backed proposals to remove the shelter from police control, while keeping animal control officers under department oversight.
"We would be happy to hand over the keys," Whent said during a December interview. "It occupies too much time for me and my executive team that could be better spent focusing on crime issues here in town."
The city released a report Tuesday that touted the shelter's declining euthanasia rate and announced that a new volunteer coordinator was expected to start work this month and that the shelter would seek outside experts to address protocols.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.