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Commentary: Costa Mesa animal care is vastly improved

Costa Mesa begins contracting with Newport Center Animal Hospital and Pet Hotel Suites on Sunday for
Costa Mesa contracts with Newport Center Animal Hospital and Pet Hotel Suites for animal shelter and veterinary care services. The Newport Beach business replaced the Orange County Humane Society, a Huntington Beach facility that had the job since 2009.
(File photo)

Perfection is rarely, if ever, achieved in local government, but with hard work and good intentions, we can make things better, and better is good.

There’s no more apt example of this than Costa Mesa’s progress in caring for our animals.

Costa Mesans truly love our pets. In 2017, however, it became clear to me that our city was not caring for our lost or abandoned pets in the manner to be expected of a first-class city. Although Costa Mesa Police Department’s extremely dedicated Animal Control unit was doing great work with limited resources, unlike most cities in Orange County, Costa Mesa did not provide any “animal care” services. I learned this during my deep-dive investigation into our animal shelter.

At the time, we were contracting with the Orange County Humane Society in Huntington Beach for our animal shelter. OCHS had been Costa Mesa’s contracted shelter since 2009. I received several complaints from residents, including OCHS volunteers, about the treatment of animals at OCHS. I soon learned that the issues they raised were longstanding concerns that had not been adequately addressed by prior councils.


As part of my investigation, I visited the shelters serving virtually all of the cities in Orange County, including the shelters in Mission Viejo, Irvine, Westminster, Newport Beach and the county shelter in Orange. Of course, I also visited OCHS’s shelter, which Costa Mesa shared with Garden Grove.

From my observations, OCHS’s shelter, while humane, was inferior to the other shelters. For instance, Irvine’s animal shelter piped in soothing music (the Carpenters) to calm the animals. The shelters I visited had many more well-trained volunteers than were present at OCHS.

My investigation coincided with OCHS’s application to open a shelter on Baker in Costa Mesa. The Planning Commission approved OCHS’s conditional use permit. I appealed that ruling. On Dec. 5, 2017, the City Council voted to overturn the approval and to defer ruling on a contract extension for OCHS, which was set to expire on Jan. 21, 2018. At that point, OCHS wrote us a letter severing its relationship with Costa Mesa.

While this forced city staff to scramble for an alternative to OCHS before the looming deadline, they did a remarkable job under very difficult circumstances.


The staff looked at several options, and ultimately decided to split responsibility for our animal care between the city and two providers.

Newport Center Animal Hospital & Pet Hotel Suites would be our interim shelter. The veterinarian operator of our shelter, Dr. Anthony Rizk, is an exceptional professional and has been a blessing to our community.

Through Barbara Venezia’s column, I was connected with Priceless Pets with which we have contracted to provide our animal adoption services. Although Priceless Pets is based in Chino Hills, it just received a permit to open a location in Costa Mesa.

The city added an animal care function within our Parks and Recreation Department. Finally, and very importantly, the City Council appointed nine residents to serve on our Animal Services Committee, which oversees our animal services, including the shelter and pet adoption.

Our new system has been a huge success. As of Aug. 14, 2018, some 415 animals have been impounded since we switched shelter providers. During that time, 237 pets have been adopted or reconnected with their owners.

Only 22 animals have been euthanized, which is a 95% live success rate. That ranks us among the best “no kill” shelters. The Animal Services Committee carefully monitors these statistics at its monthly meetings. In August, we had over 60 residents attend a volunteer and fostering orientation.

With respect to our animal care function in Costa Mesa, we have definitely made things much better.

John Stephens is a Costa Mesa councilman.