March 12, 2010

FYI: SD Humane Society - Front Page News

Note: The San Diego Humane Society is not affiliated in any way with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

This article appeared on the front page of the North County Times on Sunday, March 7, 2010.


Some former volunteers at an animal shelter in Oceanside are complaining that since the San Diego Humane Society took over the shelter in January, animals that could have been adopted have instead been euthanized.

"They're not saving animals the way people think they are," said Kris Nelson, a former volunteer for the North County Humane Society, which merged with the San Diego Humane Society early this year. Humane Society President Mark Goldstein said Friday that the society saves "every animal that is healthy and treatable,"

"We're not in the business of killing animals ---- we're in the business of saving animals," Goldstein said. "We're dedicated to saving the life of every animal that comes into our care. There's no upside to our taking an animal's life."

Nelson and former volunteer Elaine Godzak said several dogs that had been cleared for adoption at the North County Humane Society before the merger were later taken to San Diego, re-evaluated and either killed or placed on a list of dogs scheduled to be euthanized. "San Diego Humane started taking dogs from our shelter in Oceanside, taking them to their facility in San Diego, and they were never seen again," Godzak said.

Godzak, who owns two dogs, said she was so upset by what she saw at the North County shelter that she quit in February, hired a lawyer and is threatening to sue the society to stop it from euthanizing animals that she says could be saved. She said she worked with the North County Humane Society for nine years, serving for a time as its volunteer coordinator. The shelter is on San Luis Rey Road, in northern Oceanside.

In the first month since the merger, 45 dogs were moved from North County to San Diego, said Humane Society Senior Vice President Laura K. Maloney.

Of those, five were euthanized because they had behavioral problems, three for medical reasons and one for a combination of medical and behavioral problems, Maloney said. Two of the 45 dogs are on a list of dogs likely to be euthanized, she said.

In that first month, 12 of the North County dogs were either adopted or put up for adoption, one was returned to North County, 13 were under medical care and eight were still being evaluated, Maloney said.

Godzak's lawyer, Bryan Pease, has accused the Humane Society of violating a state law by refusing to give rescue groups animals that the society put on its list to be euthanized. "Apparently SD Humane is not allowing these animals to be adopted out, but is holding them where they cannot be seen by the public nor seen by rescue organizations," Pease wrote in a Feb. 22 letter to Goldstein.
In an interview last week, Pease said "these are rescue groups that deal specifically with animals that have behavior problems." He said he hopes to resolve the matter in a meeting with Humane Society officials this week.

Goldstein said the Humane Society does work with rescue groups, which he prefers to call adoption agencies. But he said the San Diego Humane Society wasn't as accustomed to working with them as the North County Humane Society, because most adoptions in San Diego are handled directly by the Humane Society.

"We are going to follow the law," Goldstein said. "We are in the process of looking at the law and understanding what it truly requires us to do."

Goldstein said that since the merger, about 60 animals were moved from North County to the Humane Society's San Diego operations on Gaines Street or Sherman Street to be evaluated or treated. He said about 80 percent of them were adopted or put up for adoption and the rest were either euthanized or are still being evaluated. Those that were euthanized were either too sick to be adopted or had intractable behavioral problems, Goldstein said.

Godzak said the Humane Society is too quick to condemn a dog for behavioral problems. She said one of the dogs on the society's list to be euthanized was featured as a Pet of the Week by the North County shelter and took part in a San Marcos dog walk. Goldstein said that dog is still being evaluated.

Godzak said a different dog ---- a mixed-breed pit bull she cared for at the Oceanside shelter and took for walks ---- was among those that the Humane Society took from Oceanside to San Diego and euthanized. "She was a sweetheart," Godzak said about the dog, which was named "Boo Boo."

Goldstein said Boo Boo was evaluated as being too aggressive.

"We give every animal the benefit of the doubt and learn more about them every day," Goldstein said. "We came to the decision that this animal was one we didn't feel comfortable with going back into the community."

Godzak said rescue groups are eager to take dogs like Boo Boo and retrain them. She said she wants the Humane Society to do more to work with such groups so more dogs can be spared.

"I expect better of an organization of their stature," Godzak said."I expect full compliance with state law; it's that simple. Let the process work. It's a proven process."

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