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Switch to L.A. County Animal Control Pays Off

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thousand Oaks has slashed its animal control costs by 68% since the city spurned Ventura County’s program two years ago and hired Los Angeles County to deal with barking dogs, forlorn kittens and hungry coyotes.

The city saved more than $116,000 for the fiscal year that ended in June--enough money to plant 230 potted trees along Thousand Oaks Boulevard or to fund the D.A.R.E. drug education program for nine months.

Plus, residents enjoyed better service, including swifter responses to emergency calls and a more aggressive dog-licensing campaign, city officials said.

Residents who used to have to wait weeks for Ventura County to resolve barking dog complaints have proved especially grateful for the faster service, commending the Los Angeles County officers for promptly picking up dead animals stranded by the roadside.

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“It’s really amazing,” said Brenda Young, a management analyst who tallies complaints and compliments about animal control. “People are very happy that their calls are responded to so quickly.”

The dramatic cost savings have also impressed Councilman Frank Schillo.

In his three terms on the council, Schillo logged countless complaints from residents who felt Ventura County animal control ignored Thousand Oaks and surrounding neighborhoods. Two years ago, he suggested switching to Los Angeles County’s department.

“The more I dug into it, the more problems I saw (with Ventura County’s program), mainly a lack of service,” Schillo said.

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But Ventura County officials defended their animal control program, which employs 47 workers on a $2.5-million annual budget.

“I think it’s a pretty efficient operation,” said Luisa Haskell, the county administrative analyst who evaluated the animal control budget this summer. “I don’t see any fat in the budget at all, to tell you the truth.”

Thousand Oaks’ savings “has nothing to do with efficiency,” agreed Kathy Jenks, who directs Ventura County’s Animal Regulation Department. She said her department is forced to pass on costs for attorney, administrative, janitorial and other services, so the Ventura County bill will always end up higher.

“It’s like apples and oranges,” she said.

The Los Angeles County program also costs less because its officers have spent hours canvassing Thousand Oaks streets to urge residents to license their dogs. Each dog license brings in money, and helps defray the costs of running an animal control program.

At the request of cash-strapped cities, Ventura County cut its dog-license canvassing programming several years ago. The door-to-door campaign costs money up-front, and some city officials felt they weren’t recouping their investment with license fees, Jenks said.

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Aside from the cold budget figures, some Thousand Oaks officials favor the Los Angeles County program for warm-fuzzy reasons.

The Agoura Hills shelter finds homes for 74% of the dogs and 65% of the cats picked up in Thousand Oaks, director Bruce Richards said. In contrast, Ventura County animal control officers have to destroy nearly half the dogs that pass through the Camarillo shelter. Three-quarters of the cats are also put to death.

Richards attributes his shelter’s high adoption rate to two factors: a cadre of dedicated volunteers and a unique program that allows animal lovers to introduce their current pets to shelter waifs.

Finally, Richards said, Thousand Oaks residents may find it more convenient to dash to the Agoura Hills shelter, rather than driving over the Conejo Grade to the Camarillo Airport.

“I’ve been in this business 26 years, and I’ve never known a city that adopts more cats than Thousand Oaks,” Richards said. “It’s like when you move into Thousand Oaks, you walk past some kind of a beam and suddenly you love cats.”


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