Oakland Animal Shelter has a full house
on April 15, 2009
At the intersection of Fruitvale Blvd. and the railway tracks, despite the traffic noise, there’s another noise that stands out —the barking of dogs in the big fenced back yard of the Oakland Animal Shelter.
The dogs bark over the sounds of trucks, cars, and freeway, over the railway track’s light signals, and are an early, outside indication that the shelter is totally packed.
Inside the shelter’s main lobby, there is an open wooden box to donate toys and cans of pet food. Facing the front desk is a long wide hallway, and on each side there are alleys of animal cages: cats on the right, dogs on the left. Though the place looks clean, the smell of the animals’ skin and urine, and of leftover food in their cages, permeates the place. Volunteers and staff in green aprons and pants walk in and out the building with dogs and cats to get food, or give vaccinations, or to play.
The Oakland Animal Shelter is completely full, and more dogs and cats arrive every day. The shelter‘s policy is to not reject any animal, according to the law. Director Adam Parascandola said that the shelter gets two or three calls each week about abandoned pets. “I think that 50 percent of that is due to the economic reason that people give away their pets because their houses are foreclosed,” Parascandola said.
Most of the abandoned pets are found in fine condition — owners leaving foreclosed homes try to leave their pets in the yard most of the time. The shelter’s policy is to accept all the pets even if there is no space. The shelter tries to keep as many animals as they can, but sometimes the staff has to make tough decisions.
Parascandola talks as he sits in one of the shelter’s rooms holding a light brown cat. The cat walks up his shoulder and he passes his hand over her back gently, her tail touching across his face. He says he’s concerned about the pets, and that he tries to contact animal rescue groups and other shelters, but that sometimes there’s no choice but to put some down. “We have to put down some animals which cannot be adopted, like injured or hostile dogs,” he said. “We usually take hostile dogs for five days and check if they can be tamed. They will be evaluated, then we make the decision.”
The East Oakland shelter opened in 1999. It’s part of the Oakland Police Department, and funded by the city. The abandoned pets have increased noticeably in the past two years, from 250 cats and 400 dogs in 2007 to 490 cats and 710 dogs in 2008. The shelter, though, is struggling in the current economy to find more space for the growing number of pets, and to fund medical services for injured pets because of the high costs of treatment. “We do not have enough staff, so the control officers do the front desk and feed the animals [in addition to] their original job, which is be on the street to pick up stray animals,” Parascandola said. “We do not have full time cleaners, we only have part -time, and then the volunteers have to help with cleaning.”
Parascandola said he’s concerned about the economic situation in Oakland, which may result in more cuts in the city’s budget. The shelter is doing fine now, he said, but it will be tougher if the city, which is facing an $80 million budget shortfall, decides to make cuts, which would lead to an increased staff shortage, fewer services and more tough decisions. “If the City of Oakland decides to have more cuts in the budgets, services will be affected one way or another,” Parascandola said. “The control officer will not be able to pick up dead or hostile animals. We will give priority to live pets, not to dead or hostile dogs on streets.”
Though some people are giving away their pets, there are many who still come to the shelter to adopt a pet or vaccinate them. There just aren’t enough adopters to make up for the increase in abandoned animals. On the way out, the smell of the animals from the shelter still sticks in the clothes and the noise of a volunteer doing dog training carries back out over the street.
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