San Diego The offices of the County of San Diego Animal Shelter on Gaines Street are currently housed in temporary buildings. The barking is omnipresent -- not like your neighbor's annoying dog, but lots of dogs, as in hundreds. They don't stop, either. A closer look in the enclosure behind the portable buildings reveals a surprising number of purebred dogs as well as mongrels. Cats are housed in smaller cages.
Dena Mangiamele, director of the County Department of Animal Control, seems as surprised as anyone by the variety of animals they get. "We have stray animals, owner-relinquished animals, common dogs and cats to exotic breeds -- exotic parrots, reptiles, and large animals -- cattle, goats, pigs, horses. Some animals are abandoned. For example, someone may be renting a property where they're not supposed to have animals; they get evicted and leave their animals. There's a lot of different issues where animals come to us, and we don't have the choice of saying that this animal doesn't seem very adoptable, you need to take your animal somewhere else -- that's something humane societies can do."
Mangiamele, 47, responds to the questions as if she's heard them all before, memorized every answer; most likely, she has. She's a prominent spokesperson for Animal Control and frequently appears on television to promote the adoption of animals. Before coming to San Diego in 1999, she was the chief veterinarian and interim assistant general manager for the City of Los Angeles Department of Animal Control. Small and energetic, her face alternates between intense grins and serious stares. "The construction you saw over there is for the new Animal Control Shelter site. When we move to our new facility, these trailers will be moved and the kennels leveled. The Humane Society will then build their facility here, and there will be an animal campus on this property.
"We do a lot of other things with the Humane Society. We do humane investigations, dogfighting cases, animal-abuse cases. If it requires more manpower, or our skills complement each other, we work together. We frequently get overpopulated in the summer, so they'll come in and choose some animals that fit into their adoption pool to take to their facility, and that helps us. Animals are more active [for breeding] when there are more daylight hours, so when cats and dogs reproduce, it becomes an issue for us when those animals are unwanted. We are mandated to take in every animal, no matter what it looks like, what its size or species is, or what condition it is in.
"We have a larger number of kennels than cat cages, but our numbers are pretty close between cats and dogs. In our new facility, we will be doubling our cat-cage space and increasing about one and a half times our dog space. We hope that will relieve some of the stress, but as many cages as we have we could fill."
The most common abuse suffered by animals is similar to what happens to humans. "I think it's more of a neglect issue. Folks may take animals and put them in a backyard, so they're not as socialized; they may not receive fresh water every day or the food and shelter they require -- that's a lot of it.
"I think some of the cases highlighted in the media are more extravagant. We had our little pit-bull puppy that was tied up in a park that had his ears cropped off so brutally that they were to the skull. There was no anesthetic used. Those folks were cutting his ears off to make that animal nasty and prepare him to be a fighter. Since that was not that dog's personality, they abandoned him. That was actually a success story for us. The dog was taken in by one of our staff members, fostered until its ears healed, and he was adopted. His name is Vincent -- for Vincent Van Gogh! We are a law-enforcement agency, and it's our job to investigate cases like that, where there are no leads, no witnesses; it's our responsibility to follow up and see if we can find out who did that and take those people to court for violating humane laws and animal-cruelty laws."
The elimination of suffering appears to be the standard by which decisions are made for the animals' future. "Some folks who bring in relinquished animals may be requesting euthanasia for their pets that are elderly; maybe they have a chronic condition, like cancer or something of that nature. Sometimes a healthy batch of puppies will come in and the person will say, 'I just found these puppies,' or 'They were near my yard, and I'm going to turn them in to you. They're not mine -- they're stray.' Sometimes they really are owned by those people, but they'll bring them in as strays. Some areas of San Diego County have higher populations of stray animals that are in poor condition. They may have prior injuries, fractures; maybe they've been hit by a car or they've been roaming for a long time or they're emaciated because they're not being cared for. They'll have skin conditions, like mange, that are really severe in animals that may not have proper nutrition and are immuno-compromised -- sometimes with 90 percent hair loss. Secondary bacterial infections may take over their skin and those sorts of situations. That's very painful and uncomfortable. They may have respiratory infections and be highly contagious in the kennels.
"When animals come in that are injured or ill, we perform emergency triage, although we're not a full-service veterinary hospital. Our medical division will assess each particular animal. Let's say we have an animal with a fracture. Hopefully, we'll have identification, and we can contact the owner, but that doesn't happen very often. We will hold the animal for the legal holding period, giving the owner an opportunity to come in and find their lost pet." (Legal holding periods vary by category of animal.)
"During that time, we'd stabilize the animal, stabilize the fracture, make sure that they're more comfortable, and wait. Someone may become interested in adopting the animal when it becomes available. Some animals may require a lot of medical attention after they leave the shelter. Some folks who fall in love with a particular animal are willing to pay for that. Others may want to adopt the animal but can't afford the medical care. There are organizations that will assist with that and welfare groups that will help with some of the medical fees, so there's a variety of things that we do to promote adoption and get animals into permanent homes with healthy status.