Irvine animal-care workers object to shelter’s euthanasia practices, management

The Irvine Animal Care Center, at 6443 Oak Canyon, was the subject of complaints from animal advocates this week who asked the City Council for an investigation of its euthanasia and management procedures.
(Don Leach, Daily Pilot)

Animal-adoption advocates say the city-operated Irvine Animal Care Center has “fallen off its path” as a low-kill shelter and that management has used bullying tactics to intimidate staff members and volunteers who question the center’s practices.

In a stream of passionate pleas before the Irvine City Council on Tuesday, at least one former staff member and a half-dozen volunteers requested an independent investigation of procedures at the center.

The speakers said the Irvine Animal Care Center has strayed from its charter of progressive animal rescue, treatment and adoption that earned it a longtime reputation as a model of a humane care facility.

“Today, animals are being euthanized carelessly, barbarically, for space and just out of laziness for not wanting to care for them any further,” said one speaker, who said she had volunteered at the center for 11 years.

Dotsie Bausch, a volunteer at the animal center the past four years, led off the lineup of advocates addressing the council.

Bausch, who was honored this summer with an Irvine Distinguished Citizen Award for her silver-medal performance representing USA Cycling at the 2012 London Olympics, expressed pride that three networks profiled her in the buildup to the Games, including her involvement with the animal center.

“We want to get the shelter back to what was celebrated on the national news channels and what every Irvine resident wants it to be,” she told the council.

In a 50-page report presented to council members, advocates described a progressively hostile work environment toward staff and volunteers in the past 18 months. The report cites several incidents of careless treatment leading to animals being destroyed.

“I saw, and assisted, in the euthanasia of animals that had not even been diagnosed [with an illness or a disability] or seen by a veterinarian,” former center staff member Ava Crittenden told the council. She resigned her position last week.

“Sadly, I realized the shelter developed a culture that did not center on animal welfare. I saw our city dollars being spent on a management team that falls grossly short of upholding the city’s vision,” Crittenden said, her voice trembling with emotion.

On Friday, representatives at the shelter referred questions to city officials.

Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Lalloway said a plan of action is developing.

“What we’ll do is, the mayor [Steven Choi], me and the city manager [Sean Joyce] will get together to meet with some of the volunteers who have come forward and look at their concerns,” Lalloway said Friday. “We’ll be talking to the staff, of course. We’ll consult with experts, possibly someone from the UC Davis veterinary school to get their input, too.

“Whatever the problem is,” Lalloway said, “we’ll get to the bottom of it and fix it.”

Several volunteers who spoke at the council meeting said they have been expressing their concerns for months.

“I got a few emails, maybe some letters, this summer,” Lalloway said. “I remember specifically asking the city manager to look into it.”

Joyce could not be reached for comment Friday.

The animal center’s website calls it a “progressive and innovative municipal animal shelter that continually strives to strengthen the human-animal bond and improve the welfare of animals by promoting their humane care and treatment.” It says the center cares for thousands of homeless, neglected and abused animals every year and “places all adoptable animals into permanent, loving, responsible pet homes.”

But longtime volunteer Christine Grey said she will no longer donate to the operation, as she has through a company matching-funds benefit at her job.

“The Irvine shelter is deserving of an investigation, not of my hard-earned money,” she said.

The center is operated under the Irvine Community Services Commission with a budget of $2.53 million for the current fiscal year. Michelle Quigley was hired as the animal-care administrator in November 2013.