The investigation was completed in October 2012, but problems persist at the shelter, as covered in the CCPA Blog, and the shelter continues to operate with the same supervisor and personnel responsible for all the appalling and in most cases illegal activities discussed on this site.
Our quantitative analysis of public data indicates that 76% of animals killed at the Stockton Animal Shelter are killed illegally. Our analysis further indicates that 40% are killed immediately, on the day of intake or on the next day, and another 35% are killed too soon, before the end of their statutory holding periods. In both cases, the citizen owners of these companion animals are harmed and denied their right to a holding period, during which they might locate and save their pets.
Stockton Animal Services ought to understand municipal law, especially since they are a division of the Police Department. Our analysis, however, points out that, with respect to statutory holding periods, there appears to be either an ignorance of the local law or a choice to ignore it. This same local law, the Stockton Municipal Code, is the authority under which Animal Services levies redemption fees and licensing fees on citizens. We don't appreciate the idea that ordinary people must obey the law, but this government agency can brush it aside.
The response to our request was disappointing. What records we did receive seemed to us almost designed to discourage public discovery of what was actually going on at the animal shelter. While we were able to extract quite a lot of information, it was only through the application of forensic analysis that would not generally be available to grassroots rescue organizations or an average member of the public.
First, the data says there is a large segment of animals that were killed immediately on intake.
Second, the data says there is another large segment of animals that were killed during their holding period, apparently because of an ignorance or repudiation of the local law.
These indications of the data analysis are illustrated in the following chart, which shows all animals killed. Forty percent are killed right away, on the day of intake or on the following day, 36% are killed somewhat later, but still during the required holding period, and 24% are killed legally, after the end of the required holding period.
California and Stockton law are quite clear that a cat or dog must be held for possible redemption or adoption, unless the cat or dog is irremediably suffering, is an unweaned infant impounded without its mother, or is a dog that has been documented as vicious prior to arriving at the shelter. There are no other exceptions. Illness, behavior, temperament, or age are not exceptions.
Stockton Animal Services impounds approximately twelve thousand dogs and cats per year, and about 67% of those are killed, amounting to roughly eight thousand dogs and cats. Based on our results, the number of those killed unlawfully is 76% or about six thousand dogs and cats. So in the past year, something like six thousand or more citizen pet owners have possibly been harmed by the actions of Stockton Animal Services.
Particularly unsettling is the number of animals that are killed on intake, pointed to by our quantitative analysis. The only way to know the true extent of the problem is to perform an investigation and full audit of Stockton Animal Services. We call for such an investigation, to be conducted by an independent team of knowledgeable outsiders.
In the meantime, we believe there is credible evidence to suggest that Stockton Animal Services’ director should be removed or placed on administrative leave, and an interim director appointed to act under a citizen oversight committee.
Ultimately, the actions of the Animal Services agency are the responsibility of the director. We believe Stockton Animal Services, under its current director, has established a longstanding pattern and practice of disregard for local and state law, and that this behavior has resulted in, and continues to result in, the unnecessary and wrongful killing of large numbers of impounded companion animals, with the attendant harm that comes to the owners of those animals, who are sometimes desperately searching at the time their pets are illegally put to death.
Be heard now. Write or call:
We received 28 Kennel Inventories covering various dates between September 19, 2011 and November 22, 2011. Each inventory contained cats and birds only and no dogs.
We received 46 Euthanasia Reports covering various dates between September 16, 2011 and November 29, 2011. Of the 46 reports, 35% were missing pages and 25% were missing more than half of their pages. If a Euthanasia Report was incomplete, it was liable to be highly incomplete.
Pentobarbital sodium (FatalPlus) is a Class II controlled substance (along with morphine and methamphetamine) subject to regulation at the federal and state levels. The purpose of the Euthanasia Log is really to keep track of this substance in order to comply with federal and state laws, and not to keep track of animals killed. (By the way, pentobarbital sodium is highly toxic to humans and to wildlife. The carcasses of euthanized animals must be disposed using a method in compliance with state and local laws, like deep burial or incineration, which is one of the reasons why killing twelve thousand animals every year is so expensive.)
As you might expect, because of its real purpose, the Euthanasia Log was the only document that appeared to be intact and complete for all 108 days.
44% of animals euthanized were euthanized with no reason given. 41% were euthanized for time and space. 19% were euthanized for being "sick." The rest were euthanized for various reasons that were each less than 4% of the total.
The Euthanasia Log indicated that 1.5% of animals (39 animals) required second doses to be killed. We do not know if this is an unusual number.
The average number of cats in a Kennel Inventory was 50, and, on average, 56% of the regular cages were occupied (36 out of 64).
Of all animals appearing on a Euthanasia Report, 67% were killed on the date of the last report on which they appeared, 23% were killed after that date, and 10% were killed before that date, meaning that they appeared on a Euthanasia Report after they were already dead.
Once we filtered out animals with intake dates before September 1, 2011, birds and wild animals, and animals with out-of-sequence ID numbers, because they were re-impounded, we ended up with a data set of 504 animals from the Kennel Inventories. These animals had intake dates running from September 1, 2011 to November 21, 2011 (remember, we were given no Kennel Inventories for the month of December).
70% of these animals were killed (351 out of 504). 41% of these animals were killed in violation of the holding periods described in the Stockton Municipal Code (207 out of 504). In this table, the violations are highlighted in orange.
This histogram (also below) shows when animals were killed: on the same day as intake (day 0), on the first day after intake, on the second day after intake, and so on. You can readily see that some animals are killed early, but the bulk of the killing happens on days five, six, and seven, indicating the shelter's idea of when the holding periods end.
The animal ID numbers are issued by a case-management system, Chameleon/CMS, that is used by the Stockton Animal Shelter, and that is in wide use by animal shelters all across the country.
Chameleon/CMS issues animal IDs in sequential order, independent of the kind of animal. Consequently, animal IDs are serial numbers that order all taken-up animals chronologically. We verified this fact by talking with the manufacturer of Chameleon/CMS, HLP, Inc., by talking with staff at the Sacramento City Animal Shelter, which also uses Chameleon/CMS, and by analyzing blocks of animal IDs on Animal Intake reports from other time periods generated by the Stockton Animal Shelter itself.
Because the animal IDs are serial numbers, any particular intake date will have a range of animal IDs associated with it. Conversely, any particular animal ID will have the intake date of the range into which it falls.
Since we have a sampling of documented intake dates from the Kennel Inventories, we can infer an intake date for any animal ID we have, if it falls anywhere between the first and last documented intake dates. For example, in the sequence of animal IDs shown below, the animal ID marked with an asterisk has an intake date that is inferred. It falls between two animal IDs that have known intake dates. Whenever an animal ID falls between two IDs with different intake dates, we always give the benefit of the doubt to the animal shelter by assigning the earlier intake date.
The Euthanasia Reports added 793 unique animals that were not in any Kennel Report, resulting in a mix that was, more or less, two parts Kennel Inventory animals and three parts Euthanasia Report animals. In this expanded data set, 59% of the animals were killed (763 out of 1297). Adding the Euthanasia Report animals, which were mostly dogs, improved the save rate, which is not too surprising since we know that almost half of the animals that appear on Euthanasia Reports are never actually killed.
27% of animals in the expanded data set were killed in violation of the holding periods described in the Stockton Municipal Code (351 out of 1297). In this table, the violations are highlighted in orange, and the same-day violations (animals killed on their intake day) are highlighted in red.
There are three same-day violations: two are cats, labeled as "sick," and the third is a dog, a Pit Bull Rottweiler mix, that was surrendered by its owner, who said he was returning to Mexico (Row 446 of the table). The dog was apparently killed immediately, but continued to appear on Euthanasia Reports for two days after it was already dead. Under state law, owner surrendered animals must be held for three days, even when the owner requests euthanasia of the animal. (Also of note, this animal was apparently under-dosed, and required a second dose, as noted in the Euthanasia Log, to be killed.)
This histogram (also below) shows the number of animals killed on days after intake. You can see that this histogram has the same shape as the histogram for the Kennel Inventory data set, which suggests that our method of inferring intake dates for animal IDs is valid and robust.
We started calling these undocumented animals the "ghosts," because they were only faintly present in the record available to the public.
The Euthanasia Log added 929 unique animals, creating an expanded data set that was roughly two parts Kennel Inventory animals, three parts Euthanasia Report animals, and four parts Euthanasia Log animals. In this data set, 76% of animals were killed (1692 out of 2226). 52% were killed in violation of the holding periods described in the Stockton Municipal Code (1156 out of 2226). In this table, the violations are highlighted in orange, and the same-day violations (animals killed on their intake day) are highlighted in red.
Inclusion of the ghost animals from the Euthanasia Log completely changed the computed data profile of when the killing was happening at the shelter.
First, many animals seem to be killed before the end of their holding periods because the shelter is miscalculating holding periods. The correct periods are shown in this chart. The data pattern of intake dates, shelter-assigned out dates, and euthanasia dates suggests that the shelter is simply counting four days from the day the animal is processed. This would correspond to the state-level three-day holding period, plus one day for good measure, but would show a complete ignorance of the actual Stockton Municipal Code.
Second, many more animals are seemingly being killed on the day of intake or within a couple of days of intake, which would be illegal under any applicable law.
What the data indicates about these two classes of violations is shown in the following pie chart of all animals killed (1692 animals). The killed-on-intake class includes animals that our analysis says were killed on their intake day or on the next day. The killed-during-holding-period class includes animals that our analysis says were killed on any day between the third day after intake and the end of the statutory holding period.
Dog A175163 is an example of the first class of violation. This normal, healthy, adoptable dog was taken in on a Tuesday and should have been held for six days, through the following Monday. Instead, this dog was held for only two days and was killed four days early.
Cat A175650 is an example of the second class of violation. This normal, healthy, adoptable cat was taken in on a Monday and should have been held for five days, through the following Saturday. Instead, this cat was killed immediately on intake, within fifteen minutes of arriving at the shelter.
Subsequent to the original publication of this analysis, we have pursued additional public records requests that have shown not only the correctness of the original analysis, but patterns of behavior at the Stockton Animal Shelter.
For example, the reason why the ghosts do not show up on any daily report is simply because they are killed so quickly, often within minutes, taken directly from the receiving cages to the euthanasia room. Preliminary sampling indicates that 80% of the animals killed immediately on intake are turned in by citizens over the counter. Only 20% come in by way of Animal Control Officers in the field. The animals turned in by citizens and killed immediately are split evenly between strays and owner-surrenders. For some reason, animals impounded by Animal Control Officers are safer, and more likely to be given a holding period, than animals turned in by citizens, independent of whether the animal is stray or owned.
The second purpose of a holding period is to allow time for rescue groups to discover animals and place a rescue hold on them in order to save them from being killed. By disregarding holding periods, a shelter not only violates the established rights of access of rescue groups but also kills animals unnecessarily.
In no other case may a dog or cat be killed lawfully without a holding period. Old age, temperament, behavior, illness or injury that is not severe, or any other attribute of the animal or its circumstances of entry into the shelter are irrelevant. The animal must be held and cared for so that it has the chance to be reunited with its owner or placed into a new home. California law clearly mandates that this is the shelter's duty.
Citizens are permitted to own a grumpy cat or a fearful dog or an aggressive dog. It is not against the law. A sick dog or cat may have been ill and in treatment when it escaped its home, or may have become sick while lost and fending for itself. An aggressive dog that is an actual threat to public safety must be declared dangerous through an adjudication process that respects the rights of the owner.
Temperament, observed behavior, illness (when not irremediably suffering), and age are not a factor in determining whether an animal receives a holding period. Animals with these characteristics when they are taken up may still be someone's pet, and that person's rights under the law must be protected. This is true whether the animal is taken up as a stray or is turned in over the counter. In the latter case, the rights of the true owner must be protected from the actions of any individual claiming to be the true owner. As well, the the rights of rescue groups to discover animals in the shelter and save the them from destruction must be protected.
“Irremediable suffering” may include: end-stage renal failure, panleukopenia (feline distemper) in kittens, canine parvovirus in puppies, severe blood loss, unconsciousness, severe head trauma, and unmanageable pain.
None of the following symptoms, standing alone, constitute “irremediable suffering”: diarrhea, vomiting, skin conditions such as ringworm or mange, ocular infection or conjunctivitis, nasal discharge, coughing or gagging, labored respiration that can be stabilized, and arthritis or weakness. A combination of any of these symptoms is not necessarily “irremediable suffering” unless the animal cannot live without severe, unremitting pain despite necessary veterinary care.
The actual holding period depends on whether the owner of the animal is known or unknown. When the owner is known, the holding period is seven calendar days. When the owner is unknown, the holding period is based on a formula that, since the Stockton Animal Shelter is closed on Sundays and weekday evenings, calculates four business days when an intervening day is a Saturday, and six business days otherwise, as described in this chart.
An owner-surrendered animal may not be killed without a holding period, even when the owner requests euthanasia (Food and Agriculture Code Section 31754), unless it is one of the exceptional cases allowed by law (and listed above).
The law says an owner-surrendered animal must be given the opportunity to find a new home or be reclaimed by its owner. Sometimes owners have a change of heart. A far more common situation, though, is when the purported owner is actually an angry neighbor, family member, or roommate turning in an animal against the wishes of the true owner. (The civil suit A Dog's Life Rescue v. Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control was sparked by an incident in which a mother turned in two dogs that were in foster care with her daughter, but still owned by a rescue organization. The dogs were killed immediately by the shelter, and the true owner, the rescue organization, was unable to claim them back. In the settlement of the case, the City was required to cease its unlawful practice of denying owner-surrendered animals their statutory holding periods.)
Mendocino County was sued in 2007 because of a local ordinance permitting voluntary surrender of animals for euthanasia, which contradicted state law (McLellan v. Mendocino County, May 2007). Before the case went to trial, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors repealed the local ordinance (more).
Feral cats are defined in both state law and Stockton law as cats that are like wild animals (Food and Agricultural Code Section 31752.5). Accordingly, a cat that has been living in an abandoned school bus or in the woods for six months, but that is socialized to humans, is not a feral cat.
The case history information we requested included date of intake, circumstances of intake (e.g., stray or owner-surrender), names of personnel that dealt with the animal, records of medical diagnoses and treatments, records of temperament tests, records of holds placed on the animal, and final disposition (e.g., euthanized, rescued, or adopted).
Though the records we received were delivered on a DVD-ROM, none of the records were electronic records. For those interested, the details of what we received are given here.
The Chameleon/CMS server stores all of its data in an industry-standard Microsoft SQL database server, thus all of the digital information about the animal shelter and the animals is collected together in one accessible repository.
As you might guess, Chameleon/CMS has a powerful and flexible report-generation capability. In fact, Chameleon/CMS makes use of another industry-standard component, Crystal Reports, to perform report generation. Crystal Reports is designed to be easy to use for the average person, and there is even a For Dummies book written about it. The Euthanasia Reports and Kennel Inventory Reports that the Stockton Animal Shelter utilizes are both generated by Crystal Reports.
Perplexingly, the response to our public records request seems to indicate that the Stockton Animal Shelter does not use Chameleon/CMS in the way it was designed, and in the way it can provide the most help. Rather, the Stockton shelter appears to print out reports and then annotate them, thus turning digital records into paper records, and it is these fragmentary paper records that are served up to the public whenever a CPRA request comes over the transom.
Furthermore, the process to prepare these records for delivery was astonishingly labor-intensive, involving manual redaction of over 800 pages with Sharpie pens and strips of paper, photocopying, review by the Assistant City Attorney, and meetings and phone calls between the attorney and the shelter director.
In the end, the records provided did not include much of what we requested. All of the following were absent for each animal:
The statement that "the City has no stand-alone record in response to the request" came up so often, appearing six times in the cover letter alone, that it started to become humorous, along the lines of Al Gore's infamous overuse of the "no controlling legal authority" excuse.
The idea that computerization and the use of digital databases might make records formerly visible to the public suddenly opaque is one that was anticipated by the authors of the CPRA. Consequently, while the CPRA does not in general require agencies to construct lists or reports that do not already exist, an exception is made when the data originates in an electronic database. The only catch is that the cost of "programming" to extract the desired information from the database and into a single record must be borne by the requester.
We believe the City's response to withhold information was improper, and that the broad interpretation of the CPRA's exemption of documents that do not already exist was incorrect.
We discovered there is a report named "animal history.rpt" that is in use by a number of other animal shelters. This report produces, for each animal, a record that looks like this, and can be run for all animals taken up between two dates. The report output, in PDF form, consumes 24 kilobytes of disk space per animal. For the 3,816 animals taken up between the dates of our particular public records request, the report would produce a 92 megabyte output file that could be transmitted digitally over a typical enterprise internet connection in 37 seconds.
When asked for all animal records between a pair of dates, or between a pair of animal IDs, they say they have "no stand-alone record" containing the requested information, and provide instead the kinds of documents that we received, which conceal the true activites of the agency. While they will provide an individual record when given an individual animal ID, in order to request the records for all animals taken up in a given time period you would have to impossibly know and list the relevant animal IDs. Even then, the entire request could be rejected legitimately under the CPRA because it would be unreasonable to ask the agency to retrieve hundreds or thousands of individual records by typing in animal IDs one at a time.
As a result, there is no way for the public to observe the handling by the agency of all animals taken in over a given period of time, and Stockton Animal Services is able to operate largely free from public scrutiny, which is exactly what the CPRA was intended to prevent.
I declined to put away my cameras (still and video) and again requested to see the records. Staff called the police and two officers responded. Lynne Prater also made phone calls, with the result that Stockton City Councilman Dale Fritchen came to the shelter. He was allowed to see the records, ascertained that none of the apparently injured animals had received veterinary care, and directed staff to make sure they did receive care.
Over the weekend, one of the injured dogs we saw, A180611, was killed. We placed “rescue holds” on two others, A180643 and A180587.
On Monday, March 5, Lynne Prater and April Cruz-Ryckman went to Stockton Animal Services. Staff again called the police. After responding and seeing that there was no crime, the police officers left. Volunteers were allowed to “pull” A180587, now named Speranza (Italian for “Hope”), but not A180643. April Cruz-Ryckman reported that staff told them the swelling on the face of A180643 was a tumor that would cost too much to treat so they would euthanize her.
When I received records after filing a Public Records request, it showed that none of the dogs we saw on March 2 and for whom Councilman Fritchen directed staff to provide veterinary care actually received any veterinary care. Gracie, Speranza, and the unnamed dog A180611 who was killed all suffered through their stray hold periods with no veterinary care.
For each intake day of the week, we created a histogram of the due-out days assigned by the shelter. For example, the histogram shown below is for intake on a Monday. The bars represent how many animals (taken in on a Monday) were assigned that particular due-out day.It's easy to see that the most popular due-out day for an animal taken in on a Monday was the following Friday, which is the fourth day after intake, as shown below. The histogram for intake on a Tuesday is similar. When intake was on a Wednesday, the most popular due-out day was five days after intake, as shown below. This result indicates that Sunday was not counted, presumably because the shelter is closed that day. All the histograms, for every day of the week, are in agreement that the due-out day was calculated as four days after the intake day, not counting Sunday.
But since a four-day count does not correspond to the statutory holding periods set forth in the Stockton Municipal Code, the next question to ask is when does the actual killing take place.
This same pattern is present in all of the histograms for different intake days of the week.
Dog A176391 serves as an example. Taken in on a Tuesday, this normal, healthy, adoptable terrier should have been held for six days, through the following Monday. Instead, this dog was held for the four-day count (plus Sunday), and was killed on the sixth day, one day too early to be legal.
Also obvious is that the largest part of the killing happens too early and is illegal. In fact, as shown elsewhere in our data analysis, 76% of the killing is done outside the law. The animals killed several days early are killed in violation of Stockton law, and the animals killed on intake are killed highly illegally, outside of Stockton law, California law, or any applicable law.
This same pattern is present in all of the histograms for different intake days of the week.