OAKLAND -- Heeding the calls from animal lovers and several council members, top city officials are recommending that Oakland's animal shelter become independent of the police department.
The proposal, scheduled for the council's Public Safety Committee next week, would make Oakland's shelter a separate city department by the end of the year, following in the path of Berkeley and several other cities. Animal advocates first sought the reform nearly a decade ago.
"It looks like they're really interested in making some big changes," said Pi Piraeus, a former Oakland animal care attendant who quit last year amid frustration with turnover at the shelter. "I think it's very encouraging that the shelter is getting the attention it deserves."
The proposal aims to free Oakland's already overburdened police department of responsibility for running the shelter while allowing the shelter to increase community partnerships.
Animal control officers would remain within the police department and spend more time handling animal-related calls for service than caring for animals at the shelter. Meanwhile, the shelter would hire more part-time workers to provide animal care.
The shelter, which takes in about 6,000 animals a year, is underfunded and understaffed, which has made it highly reliant on more than 100 community volunteers to save animals from euthanasia.
While euthanasia rates are down, shelter volunteers and animal advocates last year renewed their push to move the shelter outside the police department. They cited a divide with police department workers over how best to save animals and concerns about chronic staffing turnover.
A recently hired shelter director, Gary Hendel, was dismissed in May just five months into the job. The city doesn't expect to seek a replacement until council members decide how to proceed with the shelter.
When animal advocates last pushed for an independent shelter in 2005, the city rejected the proposal, citing the benefits of having police be responsible both for the shelter and handling animal-related 911 calls.
But this time, Chief Sean Whent said he wanted police out of the shelter business and council members Libby Schaaf, Rebecca Kaplan and Noel Gallo pushed for the reform.
"I'm thrilled the administration is supporting making the shelter its own department, where it can receive the full focus that our animals and our caregivers deserve," Schaaf said.
Independence from the police wouldn't solve the shelter's biggest problem, which is lack of funding. The city estimated it would cost more than $400,000 to hire a shelter manager, veterinarian and two administrators for the shelter to function adequately as a stand-alone department. Currently, the police department lends staffing to the shelter including a lieutenant, who is temporarily running it.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.