The Oakland City Council passed legislation last week to reform Oakland Animal Services and make it independent from the Oakland Police Department.
Council President Pro Tem Rebecca Kaplan (At Large), Councilmember Noel Gallo, and Councilmember Libby Schaaf made a collaborative effort to create an implementation plan for OAS, which they introduced in late April. The plan lays out recommendations for the city administration regarding improved operations, collaborations with community groups and external agencies, a timeline to fill funded positions such as Shelter Director, Shelter Manager, and Rescue Coordinator, and an animal services advisory committee to review shelter practices.
Along with almost one third of vacant staff positions, the shelter’s limited hours were also hindering operations, and dedicated volunteers were being turned away and animals were being unnecessarily euthanized, according to a Tuesday press release from Kaplan’s office.
On May 6, a report came in that a dead dog was on the corner of 92nd Avenue and International Boulevard in East Oakland. It continued to lie on the street for a week despite calls from the community. Such an incident served as an example as to why OAS needed reform, Jason Overman, communications director for Kaplan’s office, said in an email.
According to Overman, the new changes will not only ensure that the shelter is properly managed, it will also allow police officers to focus on fighting violent crime in the community, thus becoming a “legislative win-win” that will help public safety in Oakland.
“As much as the police department did their very best, it will be a better cultural fit to have a Shelter Manager and Director of Animal Services whose sole focus is animal welfare,” Schaaf said. She added: “Animal control officers will continue to play public safety and law enforcement roles.”
The next concrete step will be a council vote on July 1 on a proposal in the budget that will add positions needed to affect the transfer of OAS becoming independent. The proposal involves some officers and civilian staff returning back to the police department, according to Schaaf.
Karen Boyd, citywide communications director for the City Administrator’s office, said that the advisory committee will be meeting early next month on how to improve shelter operations through the development of policies and procedures. The advisory will be made up of around seven to nine members, with backgrounds ranging from shelter experience, cat and dog rescue experience, and volunteer and veterinary experience.
“We’re very hopeful that the transition is a very good first step,” Boyd said. “The shelter has long been understaffed and underfunded.”
Although the transitional advisory committee is only being asked for a sixth-month commitment, the council is asking that the committee convene and establish legislation for permanent committee members in the fall, according to Schaaf.
Schaaf, an owner of two rescued cats from OAS, found that the shelter’s volunteers really know the animals and their dispositions, providing them the unique ability to match families with compatible pets.
“The heart of the animal shelter is its volunteers,” Schaaf said. “They really drove this very important move — the credit really belongs to them.”