SAN FRANCISCO––San Francisco Department of Animal Care & Control director Rebecca Katz was quietly dismissed on July 25, 2014––but her exit did not remain quiet for long.
“Rebecca Katz, San Francisco’s well-liked director of Animal Care and Control, is no longer with the city,” mourned Marisa Lagos of SFGate.
“This is a good day for the shelter animals,” responded FixSanFrancisco.org, an anonymous militant no-kill and pit bull advocacy entity. Philosophically aligned with No Kill Advocacy Center founder Nathan Winograd, FixSanFrancisco.org debuted in 2008 and had gunned for Katz ever since.
Several other militant no-kill and pro-pit bull media voiced similar views to those of FixSanFrancisco.org, but San Francisco political pundits mostly expressed shock and dismay.
“It’s a rarity for a department head to be relieved of his or her duties in this town,” wrote Joe Eskinazi of SFGate. “So, for Katz to be out-and-out relieved of her $167,000-a-year job is a bit of a shocker.”
Katz on July 28, 2014 posted a farewell message to SF/ACC staff on the SF/ACC Facebook page. “It was quickly deleted by the powers-that-be,” Eskinazi wrote. But Eskinazi promptly reposted Katz’ message himself.
“Despite my commitment to the department and its objectives, I did not feel that there was support for me from my supervisor to fulfill the agency’s mission. Our difference of opinions led to her asking me to leave,” Katz opened.
“With the economic downturn that began in 2008,” Katz continued, “the number of dogs coming into the [SF/ACC] shelter increased dramatically. Despite a nearly 31% uptick in dogs impounded, SF/ACC’s save rate increased from 83% to 88% for canines. Much of that success is due to the strong outreach efforts of staff and volunteers that resulted in a 37% increase in dog adoptions. For cats, the intakes dropped significantly (37%) but both the save rate and adoption numbers increased as well. The save rate for small animals has increased also, due to the heavy lifting of ACC staff, volunteers and, of course, partners. I proudly note,” Katz added, “that SF/ACC has always been mindful of the value of all animals’ lives, including those that often go unnoticed such as pigeons, rats, mice, lizards, rabbits, etc.”
Concluded Katz, “The general public often misunderstands the work of open-admission shelters, especially when inundated by the marketing of well-funded private agencies. Further, government officials rarely appreciate the work done by their municipal departments, instead assuming that staff spends their days playing with animals…I can tell you that the staff at SF/ACC faces extraordinarily challenging situations every day––people with mental illness, violent criminals, peculiar rituals, and haunting cases of abuse. They don’t do it for the glory, they don’t do it for the perks, and they certainly don’t do it for satisfactory salaries––they do it because they feel devotion to the animals and to all residents of San Francisco.”
Word that Katz had been ousted came first through an e-mail to SF/ACC staff from city administrator Naomi Kelly, announcing that SF/ACC animal care supervisor Eric Zuercher had been named acting director to succeed Katz. Kelly offered no reason for the transition.
“As city administrator, I have made health and safety my top priority,” Kelly began. “One of my first on-the-job experiences was riding along with animal control officers. I came away with a better understanding of this division and its important role in serving our city.”
Pledging SF/DACC staffing increases, Kelly said the San Francisco city administration is “working to improve our relationships with volunteers and external stakeholders.”
“While politics concerning the care of animals is often a very contentious affair in San Francisco,” wrote San Francisco Examiner reporter Joshua Sabatini, “those who spoke with the Examiner couldn’t point to any single issue that might have landed Katz in the doghouse. Katz called it a ‘parting of ways’ and added that ‘I wasn’t entirely informed of what the issues were.’”
San Francisco SPCA
Sabatini speculated that “There may have been strained relations between Katz and the San Francisco SPCA,” as Katz’s remarks about well-funded private agencies indicated, but SF/SPCA spokesperson Cynthia Kopec told Sabatini that, “This comes as a surprise to us.”
The SF/SPCA lobbied earlier in 2014 to reclaim management of the SF/DACC shelter, 30 years after voluntarily surrendering the city animal control contract to focus on doing dog and cat sterilizations and adoptions.
Following a five-year transition, the SF/SPCA in 1989 became a selective admission no-kill shelter.
Five years after that, in 1994, the SF/SPCA and SF/DACC signed the Adoption Pact, under which the SF/SPCA agreed to accept any healthy and behaviorally sound dog or cat whose holding time had expired at the animal control shelter. The Adoption Pact made San Francisco the first U.S. no-kill city, under the definition published on the front cover of the No Kill Directory and No Kill Conference literature, 1995-2001:
“Implicit to the no-kill philosophy is the reality of exceptional situations in which euthanasia is the most humane alternative available. Those exceptional situations include irrecoverable illness or injury, dangerous behavior, and/or the need to decapitate an animal who has bitten someone, in order to perform rabies testing. They do not include ‘unadoptable, too young, or too old,’ or lack of space.”
Within a year San Francisco became the first U.S. city whose shelters killed fewer than five animals per 1,000 human residents.
The apparent success of the Adoption Pact made San Francisco the most often emulated model for community efforts to reduce shelter killing nationwide. New York City later in 1994 hired SF/ACC founding director Carl Friedman to help set up the NYC Center for Animal Care & Control, after the American SPCA gave up the contract to manage the city pounds that it had held for 100 years. The Duffield Family Foundation in 1998 renamed itself Maddie’s Fund and hired Richard Avanzino, who had headed the SF/SPCA since 1976, as executive director. The initial focus of Maddie’s Fund was upon making grants to enable other cities to emulate San Francisco.
The low San Francisco shelter killing volume also boosted the career of Brenda Barnette, who was director of fundraising at the SF/SPCA during the transition to no-kill, and now heads the Los Angeles Department of Animal Regulation, with the stated goal of making Los Angeles a no-kill city.
Nathan Winograd, initially an SF/SPCA volunteer, headed the SF/SPCA Department of Law & Advocacy during the introduction of the Adoption Pact. Briefly SF/SPCA operations director in 2000, Winograd later headed the SPCA of Tompkins County in Ithaca, New York. He formed the No Kill Advocacy Center, now located in Oakland, California, in 2004.
SF/ACC directors took different view
Despite the popularity of the Adoption Pact, SF/ACC founder Carl Friedman and his then-deputy director, Ken White, objected from the beginning that the Adoption Pact had created the unrealistic expectation that the SF/ACC would be able to save every dog or cat, regardless of the severity of the conditions that caused the animals to be surrendered or impounded.
White subsequently headed companion animal welfare programs for the Humane Society of the U.S., was president of the Arizona Humane Society, and since 2002 has been president of the Peninsula Humane Society in San Mateo, just south of San Francisco. White has outspokenly pointed out for more than 20 years that San Francisco started out from an extremely advantageous position, with perhaps the lowest per capita rate of petkeeping, and therefore of shelter animal intake, of any major U.S. city.
White has also emphasized that the San Francisco model for lowering shelter killing worked primarily by promoting spay/neuter to further reduce intake, and that the Adoption Pact produced only a brief surge in adoptions city-wide. After the first few years of the Adoption Pact, adoptions in San Francisco leveled off, and have declined since then, reflecting lower intakes of puppies, kittens, and other animals who arrive with no significant behavioral issues.
The San Francisco SPCA meanwhile has been criticized for allegedly not doing enough to help the SF/ACC to avoid having to kill animals, especially physically healthy but behaviorally problematic pit bulls.
Wrote Susan Dyer Reynolds for Northside SF in September 2009, “In stark contrast to ACC, which runs on a budget of about $3 million per year, the SF/SPCA received over $23 million in contributions for the 2007 fiscal year. Net assets were nearly $70 million.” Reynolds credited the Adoption Pact with reducing shelter killing in San Francisco from nearly 6,000 animals to “just over 2,900, and of those, over 1,900 were untreatable, mostly due to serious illness. At the time,” Reynolds recalled, “nearly half the dogs coming into SF/ACC were pit bulls and pit bull mixes, and Avanzino asked ACC’s then-director, Carl Friedman, to exempt them from the pact.” This was not done, but “currently, the SF/SPCA will only take two pits or pit mixes at a time,” Reynolds alleged, “because they don’t move as quickly as the small dogs the SF/SPCA prefers.”
Among the more controversial spin-offs of the Adoption Pact was the 1998 passage of the Hayden Act by the California legislature. Drafted by Winograd during his SF/SPCA tenure, the Hayden Act required California animal control shelters to make healthy animals available to nonprofit rescue groups, regardless of whether the animals were deemed “adoptable,” and without requiring the rescue groups to meet any animal care standards enforced by regular inspection.
Though the Hayden Act was never fully funded or implemented, Winograd credits it with a substantial role in reducing shelter killing in California from 588,000 in 1997 to circa 450,000 in recent years. But many California animal control shelters had already been partnering with nonprofit agencies to rehome animals for at least 10 years before the Hayden Act was passed.
Meanwhile, the operators of three California “no-kill” rescue networks were convicted of running dogfighting rings soon after the Hayden Act passed. Several dozen nonprofit “no kill” animal shelters and shelterless rescues in California have been successfully prosecuted for mass neglect since 1998, most of them filled with animals “pulled” from animal control shelters.
Despite the implementation issues in California, Winograd nonetheless made the Hayden Act the model for a Companion Animal Protection Act that he and No Kill Advocacy Center supporters have pushed nationwide. A version adopted in Delaware in July 2010 failed in November 2013 with the closure of the Safe Haven no-kill shelter in Georgetown, the euthanasia of 19 pit bulls who flunked behavioral screening, and the evacuation of 22 more dogs, mostly pit bulls and pit mixes, by the American SPCA.
The Safe Haven shelter just 17 months earlier had taken over the biggest animal control contract in Delaware, accounting for more than half of the total impoundments and killing in the state.
The Delaware failure demonstrated that adoption mandates cannot bring about no-kill sheltering until shelter intake is lowered through dog and cat birth prevention to a volume that adoption demand can accommodate––in most communities, about five animals per 1,000 humans. But Winograd and followers continue to push CAPA at both state and local levels, including in San Francisco.
“Katz criticized CAPA”
Charged Winograd in an April 11, 2010 blog posting, “The city pound in San Francisco chooses to kill animals rather than implement lifesaving alternatives. Its director [Katz] is resisting efforts to legislate those programs…Katz criticized the proposed Companion Animal Protection Act.”
In February 2011 Winograd objected to the San Francisco City & County board of supervisors that under Katz, “Other cities have surpassed San Francisco’s rate of lifesaving,” based on several cities “saving a higher percentage of animals than San Francisco.”
But Winograd’s argument overlooked that the San Francisco shelters continued to kill far fewer animals per 1,000 human residents than those of any of the cities he named. Reno, for example, with the lowest rate of shelter killing on Winograd’s list, killed 2.8 dogs and cats per 1,000 humans in 2012; San Francisco killed 1.6.
Winograd’s criterion, “Saving a higher percentage of animals,” requires that a city’s shelters be receiving more healthy animals who can be safely rehomed––meaning that the city has been less effective than San Francisco in eliminating surplus births and in promoting programs to help keep pets in their homes, for example by giving landlords incentives to rent to pet keepers.
Pit bull advocates
Pit bull advocates never forgot that Katz as then-deputy San Francisco city attorney drafted the 2006 ordinance mandating that pit bulls must be sterilized if brought within the San Francisco city limits. Cutting SF/ACC pit bull intake by a third within two years, the sterilization requirement has been emulated in many other jurisdictions, including Riverside County, California––a jurisdiction with three times the human population of San Francisco––in October 2013.
The success of the San Francisco pit bull sterilization ordinance had already become evident when SF/ACC founding director Carl Friedman introduced Katz as his successor upon his retirement in August 2008.
“We’re pit bull advocates over here. We try to change perceptions of pit bulls in general,” Katz insisted to San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius in January 2013, but she was nonetheless the target of tens of thousands of furious e-mails, Facebook messages, and telephone calls after a San Francisco Police Department Vicious & Dangerous Dog Hearing on August 23, 2014 ordered that a pit bull named Charlie be euthanized for an attack on a U.S. Park Police officer and his horse 17 days earlier. The attack occurred at Crissy Field, a multiple use area open to dogs off leash, but also used by joggers, Frisbee players, sunbathers, and children. Charlie ran more than 100 meters across an open field to launch his attack, began by leaping up and biting the mounted police officer, then pulled the horse and rider down, knocking the police officer unconscious, chased the horse for approximately one mile, and attacked the horse multiple times thereafter, all in front of many uninvolved witnesses.
Despite all that, Charlie’s owner, David Gizzarelli, rallied more than 113,000 signatures on electronic petitions circulated on Charlie’s behalf, and initiated a lawsuit that went from San Francisco Superior Court, to the California Court of Appeal, to the U.S. District Court, and back to Superior Court before Katz and San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera brokered a deal to send Charlie to a sanctuary.
That scarcely ended the issue.
“A lot of pit bulls seem to be ‘disappearing’ at San Francisco Animal Control,” alleged American Pit Bull Examiner blogger Cindy Marabito on February 3, 2013, extensively quoting Winograd.
A year later, however, Katz and the SF/ACC came under criticism for alleged excessive leniency toward pit bulls, after two pits with histories of impoundment mauled a homeless man in Golden Gate Park. Police shot one of the pit bulls dead at the scene. The SF/ACC was alleged to be releasing dangerous dogs to avoid having to kill them.
“Small dogs are being kept in cat cages, rescue groups around the state have told Katz not to call them for help because they’re jammed too, and more pets are being euthanized. The shelter is putting down 48 dogs per month, compared with 28 per month before the recession struck,” reported Heather Knight of SF Gate.
Soon afterward Katz introduced WOOF, short for “Wonderful Opportunities for Occupants and Fidos,” which offered recently homeless participants a small weekly stipend to keep pets “as long as they promise not to panhandle for extra cash,” Knight summarized.
Objected PETA, “Most former panhandlers are financially destitute because of struggles with substance abuse and mental health issues of their own. It should be out of the question to play Russian roulette with these animals.”