Newport switches contract with Huntington shelter over worries about animals' care

The Newport Beach City Council chose on Tuesday to end its agreement with the Orange County Humane Society amid allegations by city staff of unsanitary and inhumane conditions at the Huntington Beach shelter.

The council voted unanimously to instead contract with Home Free Animal Sanctuary, 20302 Riverside Drive, a nonprofit animal rescue located in the Santa Ana Heights area of Newport Beach. The city will pay $60,000 per year to the sanctuary for providing shelter, caring for and feeding animals found in Newport Beach by animal control officers, according to a city staff report.

City Manager Dave Kiff said the rescued animals will be moved from the Orange County Humane Society, located at 21632 Newland S., to Home Free Animal Sanctuary on Wednesday.

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

However, for about the past two months, city staff has grown increasingly concerned about the level of care provided by the Humane Society and some of the conditions at the shelter, Kiff said.

A city staff report indicates that Newport Beach has had issues with the shelter for the past few years, but they have become more pressing this fall. The contract with the shelter was set to expire in May 2016.

"We feel like we've tried to work with the shelter provider to correct problems that may occur in any shelter," Kiff told the Daily Pilot last week. "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 has not responded to several messages seeking comment.

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 31 of the 62 drains in the kennel runs have covers that are missing, which could result in an animal spraining or breaking a leg, according to the staff report.

Officers 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.

Newport Beach resident Karen Mitchell wrote in an email to the City Council that she visited the Orange County Humane Society several weeks ago and "found the odor where the dogs are completely overwhelming."

In a Sept. 30 memo from the Newport Beach Police Department to the Humane Society, Sgt. Rachel Johnson details a few of the issues the 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 Humane Society said in an Oct. 1 letter to the department 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 shelter also contended in the letter that the dog runs are designed to allow staff to clean one side at a time without having to remove the animals from their cages, which they say alleviates the risk of spreading contagious diseases.

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.

Copyright © 2017, Daily Pilot
A version of this article appeared in print on November 25, 2015, in the Local section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "City ends contract with shelter - Newport council votes to sever agreement with Orange County Humane Society, alleging inhumane conditions." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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