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Kings County shelter feels pressure from animal advocate to improve

With a possible lawsuit looming, Kings County officials said they are striving to improve conditions at the county's animal shelter.

Kara Johnson, who runs an animal rescue in Lemoore, has accused the county's animal shelter of violating state law when it comes to euthanizing animals, providing veterinary care and record keeping.

Last month, Johnson's attorney sent the county a letter saying if the county doesn't fix those problems by March 1, a lawsuit will be filed.

Kings County Sheriff Chris Jordan told county supervisors Tuesday that the animal shelter needs more trained staff and equipment upgrades.

"We need a better records and management system," Jordan said. "The present system is not effective."

The county Board of Supervisors then agreed to provide more funding to the animal control office in Hanford, which is run by the Sheriff's Department.

The county will provide $153,241 for shelter upgrades and $28,500 for outside consulting. The county also agreed to hire two animal shelter technicians.

Johnson, founder of California Underdog Rescue and Education, said she is pleased with the action taken by the county this week and for now will hold off on filing suit.

"It was definitely a good step forward," she said. "I feel very optimistic."

Johnson confronted the county last year about conditions at the animal shelter and enlisted Ventura environmental attorney Kate Neiswender.

Neiswender recently won a lawsuit in Kern County over its animal shelter and once worked for former state Sen. Tom Hayden.

Hayden sponsored a 1998 bill that requires animal shelters to hold animals at least four to six business days before killing them.

Neiswender said the current situation in Kings County is similar to what she saw in Kern County.

Since there is no state agency that oversees local animal shelters, Neiswender said the only way to enforce the Hayden law is through the threat of a lawsuit.

"I don't know why it's so tough to follow a law that's been in effect since 1998," she said.

Neiswender said she found evidence of a history of violations after making a public records request and reviewing the shelter's records.

"It was a bad situation," she said.

Neiswender said records were not kept properly and animals weren't given proper veterinary care.

"The place was a haven for disease," she said.

Kings County Assistant Sheriff Randy Montejano said feral cats probably have been put to sleep before the minimum holding period required by the state, but "we have taken measures to stop that."

Montejano said the shelter's small staff is doing the best it can, but the reality is that a lot of animals have to be put down.

The county also needs help from the community to fight the problem, he said. More than 900 animals were surrendered to the shelter by their owners last year, Montejano said.

"We need to have owners take responsibility as well," he said.

County Administrator Larry Spikes said the county has been working the past three months to improve the shelter. The issue would have came before the Board of Supervisors this week even without the threat of a lawsuit, he said.

"We're going to do what we need to do to get in compliance," he said.

Neiswender said she will wait to see whether the county's actions result in improved conditions at the animal shelter and hopes taking legal action won't be necessary. Said Neiswender: "I'm reasonable, but I expect results."

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