The San Benito County Civil Grand Jury report on the Hollister Animal Shelter resulted in seven findings and recommendations which required a response from both the Hollister Police Department and the city of Hollister. The response was completed and released by Hollister City Manager Brett Miller on Nov. 7, 2022.
The Civil Grand Jury is made up of citizens who are sworn in to investigate the operations of various government departments and agencies. Police Chief Carlos Reynoso said he welcomed the chance to respond to the report, hoping it would give people a more balanced perspective.
“Oftentimes, the grand jury reports can appear very damning,” Reynoso said. “People point to the grand jury report to prove their point on an issue without ever having heard or read the responses. The bottom line is that we want transparency and transparency goes both ways.”
The first of the seven findings said that the animal shelter had been “critically understaffed, underfunded, and underutilized in 2021-22,” and that the city and San Benito County should fund the addition of two part-time kennel attendants.
Miller responded that the city and police department agreed in part, with a preference for one full-time attendant rather than working two part-time, but the plan was ultimately sidelined due to a lack of funding.
The second finding was that volunteer resources are “severely lacking” and recommended hiring a manager who would develop a program of volunteers numbering at least 20 people.
Miller responded that the shelter already had a manager overseeing the program and there was no need to hire another. Miller also pointed out that even a large group of volunteers did not guarantee a consistent workforce, saying, “volunteers want to work when they want to work, and cannot or do not commit to a regular schedule, making it difficult to support the shelter and its staff.” He also said that volunteers are very selective, “doing the tasks they wish to perform, instead of tasks that are needed.”
The third finding said that animal control officers lacked the experience and training necessary to conduct their investigations and recommended all officers attend an 80-hour Animal Law Enforcement Training Academy hosted by the SPCA.
Miller said that while the officers had been approved for the training academy, lack of staffing and the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed attendance. He also noted that the officers have been undergoing field training throughout the year and had successfully investigated and prosecuted every reported case of animal abuse.
While agreeing with the fourth finding, that at the time of the report there was no licensed veterinarian on site and that the facility lacked a surgery suite to accommodate emergency care, intake evaluations and vaccinations, spay/neuter services, and euthanasia on site, Miller said that the shelter lacked funding for any expansion or remodeling. Since releasing his response, the city contracted Hollister Veterinary Service to service the shelter.
Miller had a similar answer for the fifth finding, that the intake area was too small and a larger area was needed for the treatment of animals coming to the shelter. He said that “budget constraints do not allow for any redesign efforts at this time.”
In the sixth finding, the grand jury found that the animal shelter’s staff lacked training in assessing animals as far as their “adoptability,” a behavioral assessment, and suggested online and in-person training to improve staff skills.
Miller strongly disagreed with that finding, saying that the shelter already had written guidelines for assessments, resulting in records that are maintained indefinitely. He went on to say that, while the current staff had veterinary assistant certifications, and that one staff member also has a bachelor’s degree in animal science, there is no requirement for shelters to have a certified behaviorist, which would involve hiring someone with a Phd in the field.
The final finding says that the shelter “fails to utilize resources for community engagement, to include the reunification of lost pets, by website and outreach through social media” and recommends greater engagement with the community.
Miller pointed out that the shelter already uses social media to highlight adoptable animals and to attempt to reunite lost animals with their owners. There is also a system for the public to notify the shelter of missing animals and can access a list of animals currently housed at the site. He also cited the pandemic as having restricted more public efforts to get animals adopted, saying the staff was “restricted from engaging with the community due to local health and safety restrictions.”
Reynoso said that he thought it was unfair to blame the shelter for problems that could be solved by more staff and funding, saying that “it’s just a problem that is across the whole state and the nation as a whole for police departments,” and that even if the funding was available, it was very difficult to find the people who were qualified and willing to do the work.
The San Benito County Board of Supervisors was also required to respond to the report. With every finding, they responded by saying only that “the County of San Benito contracts with the City of Hollister for Animal Control services and has no oversight over personnel or operations.”
Articles on 2021-22 Civil Grand Jury report:
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