City Manager Alan Flora told the Clearlake City Council on Thursday that city staffers are following up on numerous complaints about the Clearlake animal shelter, located at 6820 Old Highway 53 and run by North Bay Animal Services, based in Petaluma.
The situation arises as the population at the shelter in recent months has reached capacity — reported to be 70 dogs. It’s fallout from the pandemic that has been reported at shelters nationwide.
Lake County News reached out via email to North Bay Animal Services Executive Director Mark Scott after the meeting on Thursday and again by phone on Monday to ask for his comments about the situation but Scott did not respond.
The shelter facility, which is overseen by the Clearlake Police Department, underwent significant upgrades in 2020 under the leadership of then-Police Chief Andrew White, who left in December for the police chief job in Martinez.
The city awarded the contract for management of the animal shelter to North Bay Animal Services in August.
The contract term is for 10 years, at a cost of $375,000 per year.
It may be terminated without cause with six months’ written notice, and may be ended for cause with a written notice given 60 days ahead of time.
The contract requires North Bay Animal Services to provide patrol and respond to calls as dispatched; complete reports; testify in hearings; pick up animals; enforce local, state and federal laws related to animals; issue citations; investigate bite reports, animal cruelty or neglect, and public nuisance reports; oversee rabies control, including filing required reports with the county health department; and provide animal care and control services as part of disaster response.
Under the contract’s terms, there is to be one qualified animal control officer on duty from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week, excluding federally recognized holidays.
The agreement addresses the animal population and euthanasia. It states, “Contractor will endeavor to operate under the No Kill philosophy. However, Contractor and City recognize that some animals will be humanely euthanized for public safety or animal health issues. Contractor is responsible for managing the shelter population to ensure space is available for additional intake.”
Community members complain to City Council
Flora had planned to give the council an update on the situation during his usual report at the end of the Thursday meeting.
However, he ended up addressing the matter earlier in the meeting in the midst of comments from several community members who complained about North Bay Animal Services’ performance.
Community members who spoke complained to the council during the meeting’s public comment portion, alleging a refusal to let volunteers walk dogs in an attempt to cover up conditions, donated blankets and bedding being thrown away rather than laundered and animals left in freezing cold kennels.
They raised questions about what is happening with the dogs being transferred to the organization’s Petaluma facility and pointed to a general lack of oversight at the shelter.
Rita Laufer, who worked for many years with the Animal Coalition, claimed that half the food donations from Clearlake are taken to Petaluma. She added that she thought that police department staff — including Chief Tim Hobbs, who oversaw it while a lieutenant, and Lt. Martin Snyder — did a better job of managing the facility.
They also reported issues about an untreated outbreak at the shelter of giardia, an infection that can be caused by coming in contact with infected feces, or contaminated soils or water sources.
The statements at the council meeting followed comments on social media in recent weeks that reported similar issues, along with pictures of kennels covered with feces, a result of the giardia outbreak.
On April 4, North Bay Animal Services posted a message on its Facebook page addressing what it called a “misinformation campaign” spreading on Facebook that included issues related to euthanasia reports and animal care in both its Clearlake and Petaluma shelters.
“The City of Clearlake animal shelter was struggling; we answered their call for help. City leadership acknowledges that the changes in animal housing, increased vet care, increased adoptions, increased response to animal control calls have made a huge difference for the citizens of Clearlake and the pets they love. We are committed to an increased social media presence for our Clearlake shelter,” the message said.
It also said, “Do not feed into the drama. If you have a question about what you’re seeing, ask the people who can provide an answer: shelter staff. Do not spread false accusations that you do not have first hand knowledge of.”
Also on April 4, North Bay Animal Services posted a community letter on its website that addressed many of the same issues in the Facebook page but at more length.
As of Monday night, the shelter’s website, now also run by North Bay Animal Services, shows 28 adoptable dogs.
However, during the shelter and pet update at the Clearlake City Council’s March 16 meeting, shelter staff acknowledged that not all of the adoptable dogs at the shelter have been showing up on the website, a point that Councilman Russ Cremer pressed them about fixing.
At that time, it was reported that the shelter’s live release rate was 99.9%.
City directs organization to make changes
Flora said on Thursday that not all of the statements made by the public during that night’s council meeting were accurate, although he didn’t state exactly what was not true.
However, Flora told the council, and Lake County News in a follow-up email, that he and Chief Hobbs — whose department oversees the animal shelter — met with Scott on March 29 to discuss issues at the shelter.
Flora said he made directives to staff regarding how to proceed.
Regarding the specific actions being taken, Flora said he directed Hobbs to start an investigation into the allegations about shelter conditions.
Ryan Peterson, a highly regarded detective who recently was promoted to lieutenant in the Clearlake Police Department, has been assigned to conduct that investigation, which Flora said has already started.
Flora said he ordered that the investigation be completed within 30 days.
In addition, Flora said he gave North Bay Animal Services two weeks to remove animals from the public workshop area at the Public Works building next to the shelter.
He said it was never the city’s intention to have animals housed long-term in that portion of the building, and that they need to be adopted out or other accommodations found.
Flora said that Hobbs can approve temporary housing there. Such was the case a few weeks ago, when the police department had an arrest warrant for someone with more than 20 dogs, which had to be accommodated. He said they also can’t use temporary kennels except for transport.
There will be a change in access to the facilities, as Flora said there are areas that unauthorized people shouldn’t be wandering around in.
He said the issues with the shelter’s laundry and washers have been resolved. A heavier duty washing machine was needed and he said the city is looking into what they can do to accommodate more reliable laundry services.
Flora pointed to the requirement in the city’s contract that North Bay Animal Services follow the UC Davis Shelter Medicine care and cleaning protocol while operating the shelter. He said the city is asking North Bay Animal Services for its cleaning policy.
The organization also will be required to provide monthly reports that will be submitted to the City Council. Flora said the city is asking for additional information relating to the number of veterinary visits and spay/neuter surgeries performed.
Lt. Peterson’s new role in oversight of the shelter will include a monthly meeting with North Bay Animal Services and a walk-through of the shelter, Flora said.
Flora said he can’t direct it, but he’s recommending that North Bay Animal Services appoint a lead worker or supervisor at the shelter.
That’s in response to complaints he’s received that volunteers and others don’t have anyone at the site to turn to for directions.
Flora said the investigation is ongoing and more follow-up is planned.
On Monday, Flora told Lake County News that he and Hobbs went over with Scott the issues at the shelter and that they expect North Bay Animal Services to comply with the city’s requirements.
Regarding the contract, Flora said the city is less than one year into the 10-year contract with North Bay Animal Services.
“We have plenty of flexibility to terminate if needed but our focus is straightening things out and moving forward together,” Flora said.
North Bay’s full Facebook post from April 4 is published below.
“There is a misinformation campaign spreading on facebook that we would like to clear up. We’d like to address 2 areas: euthanasia records, and animal care in our Petaluma shelter and our Clearlake shelter.
“There are questions about our euthanasia numbers. Our vet clinics serve our many jurisdictions, not just Petaluma. For that reason it’s not possible to compare their reported numbers against a smaller (understandably) number that we report to the City of Petaluma. For more details, see this web post: https://northbayanimalservices.org/community-letter/
“Questions have been asked about the increased pet population at the Petaluma shelter, and the level of care at the Clearlake shelter. Since assuming the Petaluma contract, the human population of our city has increased, so has the pet population. We have added pet housing, play yards and storage facilities to accommodate that need. What’s more, every shelter across the nation is facing this increase in animal shelter population. For more information, check the details on the website: https://northbayanimalservices.org/community-letter/
“The City of Clearlake animal shelter was struggling; we answered their call for help. City leadership acknowledges that the changes in animal housing, increased vet care, increased adoptions, increased response to animal control calls have made a huge difference for the citizens of Clearlake and the pets they love. We are committed to an increased social media presence for our Clearlake shelter.
“What can you do?
“Do not feed into the drama. If you have a question about what you’re seeing, ask the people who can provide an answer: shelter staff.
“Do not spread false accusations that you do not have first hand knowledge of.
“Come visit either shelter at any time. We are open to all. You can easily walk in and view the animals for yourself. No appointment necessary.
“Come volunteer at the shelter! We have plenty of tasks that need to be done, from laundry to dog walking to cuddling cats. Everyone is welcome!”