Animals lovers were relieved this week when the Orange Cove City Council delayed a vote on a stricter animal control ordinance that some residents thought would lead to the killing of stray dogs.
City Manager Samuel Escobar said the ordinance first must be published in the local newspaper before the vote. He told the council the issue will be back on the agenda Feb. 25.
For decades, the city has been picking up stray dogs and euthanizing them, sometimes within a few days.
But for more than a year, a group of volunteers, called Friends of Orange Cove Animal Shelter, has been working at the city’s animal shelter with one goal in mind — to stop the euthanization of dogs and to build a no-kill animal shelter. Read more
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So far, their work has paid off — some dogs have lived at the shelter for months while volunteers seek homes for them, said volunteer Bertha Del Bosque, a former Orange Cove council member.
Building a no-kill shelter might be financially difficult for Orange Cove, a city of about 10,000 in southeastern Fresno County and one of the poorest communities in the Valley.
Mayor Victor Lopez did not attend the hearing Wednesday because he was ill. But in a telephone interview, Lopez said Orange Cove has several irresponsible animal owners and stray dogs. He also said there’s no money for a new animal shelter because the city is operating at a deficit of more than $1 million a year.
“I have to do what’s best for the community,” he said.
But Del Bosque said the volunteers are concerned because they did not have a chance to discuss the new ordinance. She pointed out the new ordinance says dogs must stay at the shelter at least four days before the city can take action. “That means the city can kill them after four days,” she said.
The ordinance also says the euthanization of dogs can be “accomplished by a method that involves instantaneous unconsciousness and immediate death, or by a method that involves anesthesia, produced by an agent, which causes the painless loss of consciousness and death during such loss of consciousness by injection.”
Del Bosque said volunteers interpret that section of the ordinance as saying the city can return to the days when city employees held down the dogs and shot them in the head.
“That would be horrible,” she said as her voice trembled with fear. “We don’t want to go back to the day when the city was putting good dogs down for no reason.”
Escobar, however, said the new ordinance clarifies the rules.
“Our objective is to have a clear definition of animal control within the city limits,” Escobar said. “We want to update an antiquated ordinance that did not really specify in great detail what type of animals are allowed within the city limits and the amount of animals allowed as pets.”
The new ordinance also specifies the responsibility of pet ownership and the consequences of not following the ordinance, Escobar said.
Del Bosque, who served eight years on the City Council before losing her seat in November, said she understand the financial pickle the city is in. She said the volunteers hope Orange Cove could follow the lead of the city of Selma, where a group of volunteers formed a nonprofit called Second Chance Animal Shelter of Selma to take over animal control.
The nonprofit opened in Selma a year ago and the city pays it $5,500 a month to cover the cost for a trained animal control officer, along with supplies and food for the dogs, said Mayor Scott Robertson, who has called the partnership a great investment.
Escobar said Wednesday night that Orange Cove would like to explore what Selma did.
“As a city we have worked with the volunteers in hopes that they could be successful in creating a nonprofit organization to emulate that of the city of Selma,” he said. “The city intends to continue to find ways to deal with our animal control challenges that best meets the safety of our public and the financial constraints of our budget.”
But the City Council has made the safety of residents its top priority, he said. “If there are ways of keeping our public safe while working with the volunteers, then that is something they want to continue to work with,” Escobar said.