Author Archives: Ruth Steinberger

How A Cruelty Case Works

posted March 15th, 2016 by
Coconut Oil

How A Cruelty Case Works and What Every Citizen Can Do

By Ruth Steinberger

When an animal is known to be suffering due to cruelty or neglect, a call to law enforcement should be our first course of action. Many people are unsure of whom to call or what to expect, and citizens across Oklahoma even have wildly differing tales of how a case was handled by their local law enforcement agency or prosecutor’s office. Indeed, some people describe a swift response by a deputy who came out immediately and took action, and others have been horrified to see an animal in their community literally starve to death while their complaints were seemingly ignored.
Some citizens have complained that law enforcement acted like they were doing something wrong to make the complaint, and instead of getting help, they became “the bad guy.” It is necessary to understand what law enforcement agencies can and cannot do, what citizens should expect, and what you can do if you feel that cruelty concerns remain unanswered.
A cruelty complaint needs to be directed to the correct agency where it will be investigated, and if warranted, will proceed to a prosecutor’s office and into court. From the time of the complaint to the conclusion of a trial, Oklahoma’s laws are crafted to protect animals from cruelty, neglect, abandonment and more. As concerned citizens, we need to demand that enforcement of cruelty laws be forefront in the discussion of compassion and public safety. Only through grassroots advocacy will animal cruelty join other issues that have evolved into the forefront in the last four decades, including domestic violence, child abuse and drunk driving. Cruelty is a felony in Oklahoma; that means it is a crime in every single jurisdiction in our state.
In Oklahoma, the complaint should go to a police department, sheriff’s office or an animal welfare division of a municipal shelter designated by the city to handle cruelty complaints. Private organizations are not commissioned agencies; they may advise and assist citizens but lack the authority to take action beyond what citizens may themselves do.
The police dispatcher forwards calls for appropriate action; always request a call back so you can speak with the undersheriff, a captain or deputy. Have the correct location that the complaint is about, a description of the animals and other details. According to the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, most Oklahoma law enforcement agencies have less than one half of the national average level of staffing; it is less likely that a location will be found if an officer has to drive around to look for it. Anonymous complaints may be made regarding any felony, including cruelty; however, obviously, you will be unable to provide certain details or testimony later on if you do not identify yourself.
Animal cruelty (OK Title 21 § 1685), a felony in Oklahoma, includes “any person who shall willfully or maliciously torture, destroy or kill, or cruelly beat or injure, maim or mutilate any animal in subjugation or captivity, whether wild or tame, and whether belonging to the person or to another, or deprived of necessary food, drink, shelter, or veterinary care to prevent suffering…”
When an officer arrives on the scene, if the animals are found to be at risk, but the situation is not critical enough to warrant felony charges, any Oklahoma peace officer or animal control officer may describe the problems and give the owner or caregiver a certain number of days to correct the situation. Called “terms and conditions,” (Chapter 67, § 1680.4), these changes will bring the owner into compliance, and they will avoid criminal charges. This is intended to correct the problem without seizing animals; it also helps support law enforcement if further action is needed later on.
Using terms and conditions, an officer may stipulate, for example, that a limping horse or an underweight animal must be seen by a veterinarian, or simply that an outdoor dog must have access to useable shelter. Under this statute, the officer must write out the terms and conditions, and they must be signed by the owner of the animal and the officer as well. Providing terms and conditions saves time for the courts and enables people to resolve a situation before it becomes dire. However, issuing terms and conditions before seizure is not required; if animals are in mortal danger, officers may bypass this step and proceed to seizure.
Following issuance of terms and conditions, the officer (or someone from their agency) will return to the site in the specified number of days to make sure the caregiver has complied. If they have complied, the situation will be considered resolved. If not, further action that may include seizure will be taken.
In the case of a seizure for cruelty or neglect, the law enforcement agency will obtain a court order to remove the animals from care and custody of the owner. Usually that means removing them from the premises, though in some cases the animals will be seized on site, with the seizing agency arranging for care of the animals at the owner’s premises.
Seizing on site may be used in large-scale cases where it is difficult to find temporary placement for the animals, or if animals are too debilitated to be moved. During the seizure, officers will document the scene; a veterinarian will normally be present, and the animals will be placed into a protective situation where they will be further evaluated. Unless the jurisdiction of the seizing agency has an animal shelter, an animal welfare organization will normally provide assistance at the time of seizure.
At the time of seizure, officers will ask for a witness statement from everyone who was involved. At this time, the case splits; a criminal case is prepared against the owner, and a civil case proceeds in order to determine whether the animals will be held throughout the case (at the owner’s expense) or if the owner will relinquish the animals.
The civil case safeguards the animals while the criminal case against the alleged perpetrator gets ready to proceed. Under Title 21, Chapter 67, § 1680.4, within seven days of a seizure, the agency that seized the animals will ask its district attorney to file a petition with the courts to mandate that a person pay “reasonable costs” for the care and feeding of the animals throughout the court case.
This hearing is to be held within 10 days after the district attorney applies for it, and the owner is given 72 hours to post the funds. Though it is called a ‘”bond” hearing, the owner does not regain custody of the animals by posting the money; it simply secures his or her interest in the animals, and should the owner be found not guilty the animals will be returned. If he or she cannot pay for feeding and care, or chooses not to post the funds, the animals are automatically released to the agency and may be sold or placed for adoption. Whether or not the owner posts the funds does not affect the criminal case against him or her.
At the bond hearing, the agency that seized the animals will show that it had probable cause to seize the animals. It may show photos and videos, have witnesses appear and use veterinary records to show the courts why the animals were removed from the owner.
The timeline for this civil process is expected to include seven days for the initial request to be filed, 10 days for scheduling the hearing, and 72 hours to allow the owner to post the funds for a total of up to 21 days from seizure to release or place long-term. Of course, this sometimes takes longer due to court dockets, etc. For agencies with little funding, donations of animal foods and supplies will be critical during this time.
The court will have pretrial hearings in which plea agreements will be entered, or the attorney for the accused will enter a plea of not guilty. Call the courthouse to monitor the docket, stay on top of the case, and make sure that advocates stay in the loop. If advocates are absent, the prosecutor and law enforcement have no way to know people care. Be the family of the victim.
Also, make animal cruelty a priority when you cast your ballot. All agencies or officials answer to voters or to other agencies that designate funding. Animals have only you to speak on their behalf.
As Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, tells TulsaPets Magazine, “Animals don’t vote, but those who advocate for them do. Lawmakers must recognize the needs for better enforcement of animal protection laws across the nation.” (Animal Legal Defense Fund is a California-based organization that has fought to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system for three decades.)
Oklahoma has strong anti-cruelty laws; they are enforceable, and they need to be a priority. Jamee Suarez, president of Tulsa-based Oklahoma Alliance for Animals, says her organization receives calls from concerned citizens desperately trying to get help for animals who are suffering from neglect and cruelty. “Many have called their city or county and have gotten no response,” she says. “These calls are often tragic. Hopefully, more people will contact their elected officials to urge better enforcement of anti-cruelty laws.”
Because the forfeiture statute requires owners to pay for the care of the animals if the owner does not relinquish them, no agency needs a lot of money in order to take action; compassion counts first, and you, the concerned citizen, can place it front and center.

It’s Raining Cats and Dogs In Rural Oklahoma

posted January 5th, 2015 by
20140715c

It's Raining ...

It’s Raining Cats and Dogs In Rural Oklahoma

By Ruth Steinberger
Unwanted, stray and abandoned dogs and cats are found all across Oklahoma. Many people who care about animals want to know why. A generous Kirkpatrick Foundation grant was awarded to SpayFIRST to do exactly that—examine shelter practices and access to spay/neuter in order to provide a better understanding of where unwanted animals come from and what we can do about it.
The SpayFIRST survey assessed at-risk companion animals in Oklahoma through household demographics (including household incomes and access to affordable spay/neuter services) along 15 major highway corridors, combined with a detailed survey of shelters that fall within those corridors. (The SpayFIRST survey in its entirety is available on the TulsaPets Magazine website.)
In addition to the collection of the data, our conversations with shelter workers revealed that many cities have a part-time worker who cares for animals in the morning and then works at a different position thereafter. Those officers get no training in best practices in animal control, and the shelters do not operate at hours which encourage owners to look for their pets.
Many rural shelters are unheated, unventilated and have no budget for veterinary care. It was often hard to figure out who to speak with; many shelters had no phones, and city management didn’t know the answers to our questions, meaning there were no written protocols or supervision. Some city administration offices were even unsure of where to direct our calls.
Last year the Holdenville, Okla., shelter was reported for failing to feed animals when a citizen looking for a missing pet entered the shelter and alleged that carcasses were present, and dogs and cats were clearly not being fed or watered. A lack of oversight that could allow that to happen in one city occurs all across Oklahoma. A small number of shelter workers noted the shooting of dogs; others circumvented the discussion of euthanasia by claiming that all animals are adopted or rescued.
The survey included data from census.org, the Department of Justice, and contact with each city that operates a shelter. City agencies were asked nine questions aimed at learning the number of animals handled, numbers euthanized, and methods of euthanasia and carcass disposal. Shelters were asked for information such as if animals were spayed or neutered before release or under a contract, and if under contract, is the contract enforced by the city or is compliance left up to the owner.
When refused sheltering, animals often face abandonment. Shelter access is the first line of defense against abandonment, and, in rural areas with chronic poverty, affordable spay/neuter services are the only line of defense against unwanted litters. Much of Oklahoma has neither.
For the survey, shelters were asked to provide either actual or estimated numbers because Oklahoma does not mandate that animal shelters keep accurate records. There are 136 municipal shelters or cities with contract arrangements for unwanted animals in Oklahoma. Twenty-eight shelters did not provide data; eight of those informed our team that they would not provide information, and the remainder simply did not return calls.
Three attempts were made to reach a shelter before determining they were non-respondent. Only 33 of the 136 shelters comply in full with the 1986 Oklahoma Dog and Cat Sterilization Act, a law mandating that shelter animals be altered before leaving a shelter or within 30 days of adoption. Fortunately, the largest shelters are all included in the 33 with compliant release procedures.
However, rural areas with the least access to spay/neuter clinics and the least access to sheltering are also the ones in which intact animals are most likely to be released from the existing shelters with no follow-up to ensure they were altered. Additionally, while the largest shelters engage best practices regarding sterilization of shelter animals, all are surrounded by shelters that do not, adding an undue burden to those that do comply.
Affordable spay/neuter access was defined as the ability to get a pet spayed or neutered for under 90 percent of a full day’s minimum wage net earnings (at around $48), within 40 miles of driving distance and within 30 days of the request for an appointment. For the purpose of this survey, we did not include access to the very important OVMA Pet Overpopulation Fund as despite good veterinary participation in the program, the fund often lacks money to approve surgeries in a timely manner.
Oklahoma has limited access to shelters. A little known state statute (Title 4, Ch.3, sec. 43) mandates that only counties with populations exceeding 200,000 people may “erect needful pens” and create animal control ordinances. Out of 77 counties, only three, Oklahoma, Tulsa and Cleveland Counties, exceed that population; however, despite being able to operate a county-wide shelter, none of the three do. The Oklahoma City shelter accepts animals from county residents for a small fee; however, some residents of Tulsa County, and roughly one-third of homes in Cleveland County, have no access to a shelter.
According to this statute, the municipalities within a county may operate a shelter, while the county itself may not (unless they meet the population mandate). Over 40 percent of Oklahoma households have no access to an animal shelter. Sadly, animals do not get into crisis only where it is convenient and, essentially, an unwanted animal on one side of a street may enter a shelter, while across the road, outside of city limits, the dog’s fate is luck of the draw; many are abandoned to starve.
Attempts to eliminate the population restriction have historically been thwarted by the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma, an organization that lobbies based on cost, not compassion. Currently, all 77 Oklahoma counties are members of that organization; citizens can request the cost of their counties’ involvement in that organization.
What happens to most of the dogs and cats outside of these jurisdictions is anyone’s guess. Rescue organizations throughout the state take in strays and get ‘round the clock calls regarding animals that have been abandoned or “dumped.” Some receive animals at the request of law enforcement when an emergency arises, and others partner with cities on a regular basis. Virtually all comment that the lack of infrastructure is an obvious roadblock to addressing the state’s needs.
In a 2008 bond referendum, Pittsburg County (county seat, McAlister), population 45,048, bypassed the state statute and opened a county-wide animal shelter. It remains the sole publicly funded county-wide animal shelter in Oklahoma. Two other counties, Washington and Carter, have private, non-profit animal shelters that provide contract services to the cities of Bartlesville and Ardmore respectively; both provide open access sheltering to residents of the counties they are located in. Neither receives county funds for that service. The city of Lawton Animal Shelter, a municipal facility, turns no county animal away from its doors, making them the only city shelter in Oklahoma with that policy. The Lawton shelter receives no county support.
The inefficiency is glaring. In Creek County, (population 70,651) the cities of Sapulpa, Drumright, Bristow and Oilton operate animal shelters for residents of those cities, yet only 40 percent of Creek County households have access to a shelter.
Spay/neuter access is disparate, and increased access is needed in rural areas. Standing high-volume, low-cost clinics operate 10 to 16 days per month in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Lawton and Durant. While heavily populated areas have access to affordable spay/neuter services, many rural counties, especially in the Western half of Oklahoma, do not. The counties with the least access to affordable spay/neuter services are also the counties with the least access to shelters, and most shelters that do exist in rural counties continue to release intact.
Determining predictors of best practices is impossible, but policies appear to be driven, at least in part, by individuals who are intent on making the right choices. The relative wealth of the city did not foretell whether or not the city would engage best practices. For example, Oklahoma’s five highest population cities are Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Norman, Broken Arrow and Lawton. Broken Arrow, a suburb of Tulsa, with an average income 31 percent greater than the state average, and a poverty level less than half of the state average, is the only one of the five continuing to release intact kittens and puppies, was the only one of the five to refuse to disclose the numbers of animals handled and was the last of the five to euthanize companion animals in a gas chamber.
Tulsa used a gas chamber until 2008, and the others had earlier converted to humane injections. Conversely, the city of Lawton, with an average income below the state average and a poverty level above the state average, has had in-house spay/neuter for all animals for four years, was the first city in Oklahoma to ban the chaining of dogs and has the most stringent spay/neuter ordinance in our state, an ordinance that is rigorously enforced.
Rose Wilson, Animal Welfare supervisor for the City of Lawton for 25 years, said that shelter policies, or a lack of them, affects the most at-risk animals in addition to placing a huge burden on the communities and rescue organizations.
“Releasing intact animals, whether it is to reduce euthanasia or just not wanting the headache of getting animals to clinics, makes the people who are working so hard to rescue animals spin their wheels,” Wilson said.
Referring to the 1986 Oklahoma Dog and Cat Sterilization Act, Wilson also said, “The state statute on the need to spay or neuter shelter animals was passed for an important reason, but most of the small shelters get away with ignoring it, and they are adding to the problems. In the small cities, many officials don’t educate themselves about the laws or the reason the laws are there. Some don’t care, but they need to. They really need to start to care.”
As an entity that does care about the issue, Louisa McCune Elmore, executive director of the Kirkpatrick Foundation, explained the mission behind a larger statewide assessment that is being conducted by the foundation: “The SpayFirst survey is part of a multifaceted baseline study by Kirkpatrick Foundation to assess the status and condition of animals in Oklahoma’s geographic boundaries, from wildlife and pets to livestock.
“Animal well-being touches every part of society, even if those connections aren’t automatically or abundantly clear. Child wellness, healthy families, domestic violence, food systems, human health, prison reform, PTSD and returning veterans, environmental conservation, edu-cation, quality cities and communities, housing and tenancy, homelessness issues—you name it, we can always draw a direct line to the importance of animal well-being in our communities. I firmly believe that where animals fare well, children, individuals and families fare well. And conversely, where animals are suffering, so too are people.”

Making 2014 The Year of Advocacy For Animals

posted January 25th, 2014 by

Advocacy

by Ruth Steinberger

On a miserably cold night last week, a plea for help came from a resident of a neighboring county.

Tulsa temperatures were expected to dip below 5 degrees that night. The desperate caller described a donkey that had been tethered to a tree for over a week and was about to spend another night braying out loud in apparent and severe discomfort.

I reached a frazzled sounding dispatcher who reluctantly reached a deputy for me. Thankfully, the deputy quickly got to the location, and according to anxious witnesses down the road, the donkey was immediately taken inside a barn. The owners obviously understood that the donkey was protected under the law, and a call history in the sheriff ’s logs now flags that location in case of future calls.

Animal cruelty is a crime, and law enforcement agencies are the ones who can step in to stop it. In his 2006 acceptance speech at the ASPCA Henry Bergh Award luncheon, former Chicago Police Officer Steve Brownstein noted that certain behaviors went from being treated as undesirable mischief to serious crimes in just a few decades due to public advocacy; he emphasized that animal cruelty was not one of the behaviors that was successfully challenged.

Brownstein pointed out that in 1960, intoxication was accepted as a “reason” for a fatal car crash, domestic violence was considered a private matter, child abuse was still two years away from being described for the first time in a mainstream medical publication, and animal cruelty was considered silliness.

Drunk driving, domestic violence and child abuse were catapulted to the forefront by advocates who demanded the offenses be criminalized and that a public infrastructure become available to care for the victims.

Animal cruelty still lags way behind other crimes in terms of response and prosecution; despite record levels of animal welfare awareness, many rural prosecutors have still never prosecuted a single cruelty case, dispatchers often do not know what to tell callers who are frantically trying to report cruelty, many cases that are reported are never investigated and organized animal cruelty, including dog fighting and the use of animals in pornography, are on the rise.

Throughout much of the Midwest, there are no shelters available to house an animal if a sheriff ’s office needs emergency placement for a cruelty victim. In fact, despite being a felony, an incident of animal cruelty or neglect that is reported, investigated and successfully prosecuted to the extent of the law is the exception, not the rule.

Brownstein’s point was that animal cruelty continues to be treated differently and therefore, less effectively, than other crimes. The problem is not a lack of compassion by officers, nor is it a lack of concern by the public; the problem is a quagmire of misinformation that inadvertently lets public agencies off the hook and leaves animals out in the cold.

A combination of understaffed law enforcement agencies and a seriously undereducated public leave animals suffering. Until public demand and emergency responders are all on the same page, it will remain that way.

We do not donate to private anti-crime organizations and, in turn, expect them to investigate murders. We report crimes to the police, and we expect them to act.

Animal cruelty became the purview of those who were socially opposed to it in the 1800s. Today, despite enormous public concern for animals in distress, the diversion away from municipal agencies continues.

Many people think they should report cruelty to a local humane society, a belief that is fostered by fundraising campaigns that promise to address cruelty by having viewers respond to pictures of injured pets by sending money across the nation.

Convicted dog fighter Michael Vick was jailed due to federal laws that were successfully lobbied by national animal advocacy organizations not long before his arrest. However, while national lobbying efforts indeed strengthen federal animal protection laws, stopping cruelty within our own community is absolutely a local affair that is driven by residents with the power to elect someone good to office or throw someone bad out.

Until local and state leaders view animal cruelty as a voters’ issue, the response to it will continue to be the luck of the draw. Make a 2014 commitment to speak for the animals with your vote, your voice, your purchasing power and your presence at the courthouse during a trial.

Create a letter writing tree to send a flurry of postcards to officials and letters to editors. Develop a phone tree to support animal welfare legislation during the 2014 legislative session. Ten cards or letters may be 10 more than an official has ever received.

Present an animal-friendly force at a council meeting. Every single time a candidate asks for your vote, ask for his or her sense of urgency about enforcement of animal welfare laws. If they do not care about animal cruelty, they do not deserve your vote. Shop cruelty free, especially boycotting products from China and Korea, where dogs, cats and other animals are horrifically tortured before being killed to be eaten.

Create a “red T-shirt” anti-cruelty brigade, a group of animal advocates who attend court hearings. The red Tshirts tell the courtroom you are there, that you support the prosecutor and care about what happens.

By having a group of people who commit to being available, the responsibility doesn’t fall to the same few again and again. Follow the case all the way through; don’t have four or five red shirts at just the first hearing and then vanish. Empty benches tell the judge and prosecutor that we don’t care quite enough to stay on it.

The presence of those who care absolutely makes a difference. At the end of the case, publicly thank the agencies that worked hard to bring the case to court. As animal advocates, we are the family of the four-legged victim who was dragged behind a truck, ignited by gang members, starved in a cold garage or hoarded like trash. We are the family of the victim.

The story of the donkey that was moved inside a barn on that freezing night did not end there. It was followed up by a call to the sheriff of that county to thank him for the deputy’s response. A letter went to the local newspaper, thanking the sheriff publicly as well.

Local voters are the only ones who can make the point about animal cruelty to our local elected officials… we need to do so.

If we have to stand up for hours at a hearing or protest by sitting down on the courthouse steps, animal cruelty will be vigorously prosecuted—but only when we, as local voters, refuse to tolerate cruelty one minute more. 

OKLAHOMA SHELTER STATUTES

posted March 9th, 2013 by

by Ruth Steinberger

Until faced with trying to “find someplace” for an unwanted dog, many people think the closest city shelter will be able to help them should the need arise. But think again… in Oklahoma, a state statute declares that county shelters may only be operated by counties with populations over 200,000—a number that includes fewer than five Oklahoma counties.

and it gets worse; while that statute gives county commissioners in low population counties an easy and cheap excuse to leave animals out in the cold, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Cleveland counties, all with populations significantly over 200,000, do not operate county-wide public animal shelters even though they can.

While communities without animal sheltering are common in rural areas of Oklahoma, few people realize that communities in Tulsa county— including Turley, Sperry, Coweta and as many as another 10,000 households in unincorporated areas of Tulsa county—do not have access to a shelter at which to relinquish a stray or unwanted animal.

The city of Tulsa Animal Welfare Division serves the 164,535 households that are within the Tulsa city limits. For the 75,139 Tulsa county households that are outside of the city of Tulsa, access to an animal shelter depends entirely on where the individual lives. Populated areas without shelters share boundary lines with cities that do have shelters.

Because placing an unwanted or unwelcome dog or cat can be impossible for thousands of Tulsa county households, at-risk animals can quickly turn into victims. Abandonment is seen as an easy fi x, and free listings on sites such as craigslist place pets at risk for a poor quality home, exploitation and even intentional cruelty.

The births of unwanted companion animals can and should be prevented and Tulsa County can enact a county tag law with a sterilization mandate in order to reduce the number of animals that will become surplus and fall between the cracks. However, unlimited access shelters are vital to ensuring safety for animals that become unwanted. Leaving tens of thousands of households without sheltering options blatantly turns a blind eye to surplus companion animals. Pretending that homeless animals do not exist, and refusing to count them, does not prevent suffering; it ensures it

The Animal Resource Center

posted November 24th, 2012 by

 Barbara Lewis, the board president of the Animal Resource Center (ARC) in Oklahoma City, has been the driving force behind an innovative approach to addressing many stumbling blocks for animal advocacy—effectively keeping dogs and cats out of shelters and in their homes. Her goal is to help each rescue organization or shelter to be as effective as possible and to help at-risk pet owners keep their pets.

In order to get there, Lewis did her homework. “We surveyed a lot of the rescue groups to see what they felt would help them best do their job, and the biggest number said a facility they could afford to rent at which they could hold adoption events, fundraisers, etc., was badly needed,” she said. “Also, shelter intakes are not getting better.

The Lockhart Foundation was trying to figure out what could be done to keep dogs in their homes and really saw that there was no central site for services like when someone loses a job and needs pet food, or even simply getting help overcoming problem behavior by talking with a trainer.” The Lockhart Foundation has generously supported the non-profit ARC since its start up. ARC is located in a 32,000-square-foot building in Oklahoma City equipped with rooms for dog training classes, an open bathing/ grooming program, an “animal library” and spaces for rent for animal and nonanimal events. It’s conveniently located at the intersection of I-240 and I-35 with ample parking.

The ARC also holds workshops for the public on responsible pet ownership, adoption events and obedience classes, ranging from puppy kindergarten to agility. On the second Saturday of the month, ARC has a free presentation that is open to the public on an animal related topic, and on Saturday mornings two groomers are on site to provide free baths while teaching owners how to clean ears, clip nails and basically care for their pets (appointments are needed).

The ARC stresses the need to help owners become more responsible in their decisions. “It’s dogs, and it’s cats too,” Lewis said. “Cats often impact the neighbors more than dogs, but there are solutions for those problems… we can help keep someone from surrendering their cat because their neighbor is mad.” The library is open to the public and includes children’s animal literature, dog training books, animal novels and books on pet care and more. “People may just want to read a novel about a dog,” she says. “They can probably find the right one in our library. But if they need help with a serious house training issue, we can probably help them with that as well.”

The ARC’s mission is uniquely inclusive, and this is evident from the fact that those who are a part of this vision are as diverse as are pet owners themselves. Mascotas Latinas, an organization dedicated to assisting pet owners in the Latino community, has an office at ARC, as does Spay FIRST!, an organization dedicated to expanding spay/ neuter options in underserved, low-income communities. Yet multiple dog obedience clubs house their activities in the giant building too, and the Oklahoma American Kennel Club (AKC) dog clubs held an educational event there this year.

ARC has space available for rent for large parties and gatherings and holds events in conjunction with other community service organizations. The 2012 Peruvian Festival was held there, a professional filming of a M*A*S*H style spay/neuter clinic was held there, and during spring break, ARC partnered with the Boys and Girls Club to hold a five-day camp focusing on a different animal each day. Twentyfive at-risk youths, ranging from 6 to 12 years of age, attended. The animals of the day included rabbits, dogs, cats, insects and reptiles. Barbara fondly refers to the insects as “bugs” and said that the camp created art with live maggots that crawled through water-based paint, leaving their creative footprint on paper (and the maggots were not injured in the making of the art).

ARC may replace the bugs with a different animal next spring, but the spirit of creatively reaching out in order to make communities better, safer and kinder to all animals will remain the same. Check out this wonderful facility when you’re in Oklahoma City. Hours of operation are from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily (1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday). Call (405) 604-2892 or visit www.arcokc.org for more information.

Ruth Steinberger

The Importance of Enforcing the Oklahoma Dog and Cat Sterilization Act

posted September 16th, 2012 by

by Ruth Steinberger

The 1986 Oklahoma Dog and Cat Sterilization Act was forward- thinking legislation intended to prevent unwanted litters from being born to former shelter pets; essentially, it was to stop the release of unwanted pets that then produce more unwanted pets. Intact release can quickly turn a shelter into the single largest source of at-risk pets in a community.

The Act mandates that animals released from public or private shelters in Oklahoma be spayed or neutered, either by contract or pre-adoption sterilization. It further stipulates that if a contract is used instead of pre-adoption sterilization, the pet must be altered within 30 days (exceptions are made for animals under six months of age), and the new owner is to pay a deposit of no less than $10, which is to be refunded upon proof of surgery. However, the law has no penalties for non-compliance and has no enforcement mechanism. Therefore, it may be time to update the law and close the loopholes in this important tool to help animals.

TulsaPets Magazine decided to find out how well the statute is working. Our survey shows that with over 25 years since the passage of this statute, compliance is sporadic; some Oklahoma shelters evade even the simple mandate for a contract. And communities that do comply are likely affected by neighbors that do not.

For example, the cities of Tulsa, Claremore, Owasso, and Tulsa SPCA and Washington County SPCA practice pre-adoption sterilization, while Broken Arrow, Sand Springs, Sapulpa, Glenpool, Catoosa and Jenks release some or all animals intact. And the further the shelter is from an urban area, the more likely it is to be non-compliant, so while the Pittsburg County Shelter in McAlister, Okla., complies with the statute by sterilizing animals prior to adoption, shelters in cities in neighboring Pushmataha, Latimer, Atoka and Hughes counties release intact pets. In addition to increasing the number of homeless animals, the lack of enforcement invites unscrupulous puppy mill operators and dog dealers to take their pick, placing at-risk animals into a never-never land of horrors in which their suffering is unseen and unaddressed.

Some towns comply in regard to adult animals, while releasing puppies and kittens intact. Unfortunately, this policy places animals with the greatest reproductive timeline (kittens and puppies) into circulation intact, while sterilizing older pets that may produce far fewer litters. Some cities flout the law altogether, making the process of reducing the number of homeless pets virtually impossible while ensuring that animal control costs will steadily rise. For example, the city of Durant releases some intact animals for free and without a contract.

Officer Steve Harris, field supervisor at Tulsa Animal Welfare has worked in animal sheltering for 12 years. “The issue of pre-adoption spay/neuter is all about what happens to the animals after they leave the shelter,” he says. “I don’t care how good your shelter looks or how new it is; if your policies allow animals to end up having litters, you’re a part of the problem. I believe that all of the shelters that neighbor [the] city of Tulsa need to spay or neuter the animals before they are released. It’s the only way we will ever get the problem under control. That goes for the rescues too. They should all spay or neuter before they pass them on to the new owners.”

Additionally, neuter before adoption (NBA) is not a luxury reserved for shelters with in-house clinics. Some shelters that do not have in-house clinics include the cities of Claremore, Stillwater, Moore, and Washington County SPCA, all of which alter all adopted pets before they go to the new home through a combination of relationships that include local veterinarians who arrange last-minute appointments for adopted animals and spay/neuter clinics (the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine provides spay/neuter services for the City of Stillwater and other shelters). While it takes a bit of organizing to get the pet to the clinic, and it’s a bit more work on the front end, it prevents litters and saves time from dealing with contracts later on.

Dawnette Brady, executive director of Washington County SPCA, says, “We stopped allowing deposits to be made for spay/neuters on pets being adopted in [the] fall of 2009. Every animal must be spayed/neutered prior to release. It’s relatively easy to make that change happen, and we have never had someone get upset with our policy. I know how we were able to turn the corner and make the change and will speak with any shelter that wants information on how we did it.”

Senior Animal Control Officer for the City of Lawton Rose Wilson has created a middle ground at her shelter with an abbreviated surgery room. “We partner with a local veterinarian, Dr Wayne Haney, who comes here to spay and neuter on site,” she says. “And just because you are using a contract doesn’t mean you cannot follow through. You need to have officers that are knowledgeable about enforcement, and you need a municipal system that understands the seriousness of this issue and supports what you’re trying to do.” She adds that it may involve taking pictures of those who have lost their lives to euthanasia to get the point across, but that the support is vital to creating change.

“If a shelter is adopting on a spay/ neuter contract, the fee is very important,” Wilson says. “It needs to create an incentive to get it done. And the fine for not complying needs to be high enough to make an impression.”

In our TulsaPets Magazine survey, the best contract we found is the one used by Enid Animal Shelter. Under the Enid contract, the new owner chooses from a list of local clinics and pays for the spay or neuter before taking the pet home. They then take the pet to the clinic to redeem the already paid for surgery. It does not cost more money to fulfill the contract, so it’s an easy choice.

That is not so in cities where the “deposit” is merely a portion of the cost of spaying or neutering the new pet, a process which forces the new owner to pay out more money to complete the adoption process after the animal is in their home. If the surgery costs more than the deposit, the new owner can save money by forfeiting the deposit and leaving the pet intact; basically, there is a financial incentive for noncompliance. It’s an honor system that usually fails. Nationally, the estimate on compliance with sterilization contracts is under 50 percent.

“A lot of places have adoption contracts that they themselves do not understand,” Wilson says. “A contract isn’t worth having if you’re not going to enforce it, or if it just carries a fine that people can laugh at.”

Deposits of $25 to $40 are the average at the Oklahoma shelters that release pets on contract; the City of Enid was the only agency that we spoke with that collects the full cost of the surgery as a deposit. None of the shelters releasing animals on a smaller deposit had programs in place whereby the surgery was paid in full by the smaller deposit.

Nancy Atwater, executive director and founding board member of Tulsa-based Spay Oklahoma, says that the problem of intact release of shelter pets cannot be overstated. “This is a no-brainer,” she says. “Releasing intact animals is self defeating. At least some of the animals will have unwanted litters that will then produce unwanted litters. Intact release also reduces the chances of a successful adoption; the behavior associated with being intact, such as roaming, fighting or attracting males does not make the pet more endearing to people.”

“Things have changed a lot since the passage of this statute in 1986,” Atwater adds. “Veterinarians used to tell people to have pets spayed at 6 months. But a lot of cats are pregnant by 6 months old, and now people are encouraged to avoid the first heat cycle. It’s important to revisit these policies, so they do what they are intended to do.”

Spay Oklahoma helps shelters in the region develop procedures for transport and billing, so that pets can be altered before going into a new home. “A volunteer can accomplish a lot by becoming a spay/neuter transporter for their local shelter,” Atwater says.

Rose Wilson best summed up the importance of the Sterilization Act, and why we should look closely at this issue. “The main thing is that if the law is worth passing, it needs to be enforced,” she says. “There’s no point in passing laws we don’t plan to enforce.”

The following list shows each county in Oklahoma, its’ population, and each town within that county that has a mechanism for handling unwanted dogs, or “animal control”; the population of each town with “animal control” is included beside the name of the town. When added together, the populations of the towns reveal the number of residents of the entire county that can humanely release an unwanted animal. When divided by the overall population, that figure reveals the percentage of the population that has such access and the percentage that does not.  This information was gathered by contacting county clerks and sheriff’s offices, and following those calls with calls to individual municipalities. Despite our best efforts, we estimate that some facilities were missed.  In rural places the information can be rather fluid. Animal control services may be interrupted when an animal control officer vacates their job. A few officers without shelters simply take animals home.  Contractual live animal removal services range from apparently legitimate private services, to a, “man who comes and gets dogs.”Between one third and one half of the municipal facilities collect strays only, refusing owner surrenders. Outside of large shelters, very few accept cats. Limited accurate euthanasia records may be available (based on method, or combination of methods, and therefore payment), but accurate records of animals entering and leaving the shelters alive are actually rare outside of shelters in larger municipalities.  We estimate less than one fifth of rural shelters comply with the state law requiring sterilization of shelter animals. A lack of shelters causes some officers to rely on unacceptable “rescue” channels, an issue tied to several large-scale removals in the last two years, including notorious ones in Stigler and Vici.  Animal disposal in places without shelters (which includes over half of rural Oklahoma) includes abandonment, shooting and drowning.  A limited number of unwanted, but “adoptable,” animals go into private shelters. For older, large, sick, or ugly dogs, and cats, there is virtually no place of refuge.  Most importantly, the focus of most rural services is to eliminate nuisance animals. Animal welfare is occasionally significant to individual officers; this seems to be strengthened if the officer has the assistance and support of local humane volunteers.  Thank you very much for your interest in this information..

Ruth Steinberger and Tara Beres

Population of Oklahoma: 3,523,553

Total population served by animal control: 2,372,182

Overall percentage served by animal control: 67.3%

 

Oklahoma population with Tulsa and Oklahoma counties removed: 2,273,590 (3,523,553 – 1,249,963)

Population served with Tulsa and Oklahoma counties removed: 1,122,219 (2,372,182- 1,249,963)

Percentage of Oklahoma served by animal control outside of Tulsa and Oklahoma counties: 49.3%

 

Population in the Oklahoma panhandle (Beaver, Cimarron, Texas counties): 28,667

Population served by animal control in the Oklahoma panhandle: 14,467

Percentage served by animal control in the Oklahoma panhandle: 50.4%

 

Population in southeastern Oklahoma (Atoka, Bryan, Choctaw, Coal, Haskell, Hughes, Johnston, Latimer,

LeFlore, McCurtain, Marshall, Pontotoc, Pushmataha counties): 241,257

Population served by animal control in southeastern Oklahoma: 86,892

Percentage served by animal control in southeastern Oklahoma: 36%

 

Population in rural northeastern Oklahoma (Adair, Cherokee, Craig, Creek, Delaware, Logan, Mayes,

Osage, Ottawa, Wagoner, Washington, counties): 358,301

Population served by animal control in northeastern Oklahoma: 153,239

Percentage served by animal control in northeastern Oklahoma: 42%

 

Population in southwestern Oklahoma (Beckham, Carter, Caddo, Comanche, Cotton, Garvin, Grady, Greer,

Harmon, Jackson, Jefferson, Kiowa, Love, Murray, Stephens, Tillman, Washita counties): 426,339

Population served by animal control in southwestern Oklahoma: 259,549

Percentage served by animal control in southwestern Oklahoma: 60.8%

 

Population in northwestern Oklahoma (Alfalfa, Blaine, Canadian, Custer, Dewey, Ellis, Garfield, Grant,

Harper, Kingfisher, Logan, Major, Roger Mills, Woods, Woodward counties): 300,347

Population served by animal control in northeastern Oklahoma: 156,757

Percentage served by animal control in northeastern Oklahoma: 52.1%

 

Data compiled by Ruth Steinberger, Coordinator, Oklahoma Alliance for Animals, 918-367-8999

Tabulations assisted by Tara Beres, Director, Safe Haven Center, Oklahoma City, OK, 405-821-7367

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