Worries over conditions at H.B. animal shelter may cause Newport to switch

The Newport Beach City Council on Tuesday will consider ending its contract with the Orange County Humane Society in favor of another shelter amid allegations by city staff of unsanitary and inhumane conditions at the Huntington Beach facility.

Newport Beach entered a five-year contract with the Orange County Humane Society in April 2011 for the location to provide shelter and care to dogs and cats picked up by the city's animal-control officers. The city pays $7,800 a month for shelter services at the Humane Society.

However, for about the past two months, city staff has become increasingly concerned about the level of care provided by the Humane Society and some of the conditions at the shelter, according to City Manager Dave Kiff.

A city staff report indicates the city has had issues with the shelter for the past few years but they have become more pressing this fall.

"We feel like we've tried to work with the shelter provider to correct problems that may occur in any shelter," Kiff said. "But the problems weren't corrected and seemed to get deeper. We decided that it's no longer appropriate or humane for us to have [the animals] there anymore."

The Humane Society did not respond to messages seeking comment Thursday.

Animal-control officers said they have witnessed Humane Society staff leaving dogs and cats in cages while they are being hosed down, "leaving the animals wet for several days," instead of removing the animals and then cleaning the cages.

They also reported that some animals are housed in a building with no ventilation or sunlight, that cat cages are not scrubbed regularly, there is no quarantine area for sick cats, and food and water bowls are not cleaned regularly, according to the staff report.

The report also alleges that the Humane Society has been marking up the price of medicine for animals by 300%.

Residents have complained about the cleanliness of the facility and that the shelter's voice mail is often full, preventing them from leaving messages, the report states.

"One of the goals of an animal shelter is to reunite lost animals with their owners, [and] it is in the spirit of efficient shelter operations to maintain an answering service/voice mail system equipped to accept an adequate number of messages to reunite lost animals with their owners quickly," Newport Beach police Sgt. Rachel Johnson wrote in a memo to the shelter on Sept. 30.

The memo details a few of the issues the Police Department believes are violations of the shelter's contract with the city, including turning away owner-relinquished cats and not removing animals while cages are being washed.

"The city has noted several instances where animals have not been moved during the kennel cleaning process, which can lead to physical and mental distress, illness and infection," the memo states.

The shelter wrote in an Oct. 1 letter to the department that the dog runs contain a sliding partition that enables staff to clean one side at a time without having to take dogs out of their cages.

"We strive on minimizing dog movement between cages in order to alleviate the risk of contagious diseases," the letter states.

The Humane Society said in the letter that an outbreak of ringworm in the cat ward in August caused the shelter to temporarily halt its intake of felines to control the disease. Ringworm is a common rash caused by a fungal infection that can spread to humans.

The Orange County Humane Society also serves Costa Mesa, which has had a contract with the facility since 2009. The latest contract, approved in January, was for $231,817 for services through January 2018.

Newport Beach city staff is suggesting that the council agree to a contract with Home Free Animal Sanctuary at 20302 Riverside Drive in Newport Beach at a cost of $60,000 per year.

The council will consider the request during its meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 100 Civic Center Drive.