SANTA ANA : Confusion Costs Lives of Lost Pets

Confusion about where pets lost in Santa Ana are being taken has some owners facing a race with time, officials at the city's new animal shelters say.

Animals now are being taken to two private facilities, which are required by state law to hold them for at least 72 hours before destroying them.

"A lot of those pets have owners who are looking for them. But, by the time they find out where their animal is, it's too late," said Jill Robinson, spokeswoman for Grand Pet Care Centers, which now contracts with Santa Ana to take those animals that are sick or injured.

Since July, the month when the city stopped using the county animal facility, about 200 animals have been destroyed at Cambria Kennels, where healthy animals are taken, and 33 have been destroyed at Grand Pet Care Centers.

"Too many animals are not being reclaimed," said Rebec Riggs, owner of Cambria Kennels. "The Orange County Animal Shelter has not been totally cooperative about telling residents where to go."

Judy Maitlen, assistant director of the county shelter, acknowledged some confusion but said the shelter has made every effort to help people find their pets.

"Anybody who contacts us about a lost animal is told to look at our shelter and to look at other shelters," Maitlen said. "I think the change in Santa Ana has been confusing for pet owners, and we are real concerned about the animals and the citizens."

Workers at the shelter don't typically ask people where they lost their pet, but do refer them to other shelters if the owners say they're from a city that contracts elsewhere, Maitlen said.

"No one asks where people are from and that's the key to this whole problem," Robinson said. "If the words Santa Ana come out of their lips, chances are they'll probably find their animals."

Maitlen said a large sign at the entrance of the county shelter tells people that they should check other shelters if their city is not in the county's service area. Those cities include: Costa Mesa, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, San Clemente, Santa Ana, Seal Beach and Westminster.

Jerry Ayres, supervisor of Santa Ana animal control, said the city is making a "concentrated effort" to inform residents about the change, including putting notices in water bills and in newspapers and radio stations.

In 1989-90, the city paid the county $122,000 for use of the shelter. This fiscal year, the city will pay $60,000 annually for the combined services of the two new shelters, Ayres said.

"The best thing for the public to do is contact animal control services in the city in which they reside," Ayres said. "I think anyone who has lost their pet, if they are concerned, they can find their pet if it is at a public facility."

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