OAKLAND––The City of Oakland on October 29, 2014 announced the hiring of former San Francisco Animal Care & Control director Rebecca Katz, 43, “to oversee the transition of Oakland Animal Services into a stand-alone department in the city administrator’s office.” Katz is to begin work on November 17, 2014.
Oakland Animal Services previously has operated as a subdivision of the Oakland Police Department.
Katz’ hiring is widely seen as a frontal challenge to the political influence of the No Kill Advocacy Center, founded by Oakland resident Nathan Winograd, and pit bull advocacy, represented by the Oakland-based organization BADRAP.
Wrote SF pit bull sterilization ordinance
Opposing breed-specific legislation in any form, Winograd and pit bull advocates attacked Katz throughout her tenure in San Francisco, largely in opposition to a 2006 ordinance that Katz drafted, mandating that pit bulls must be sterilized if brought within the San Francisco city limits.
The ordinance reduced San Francisco shelter intakes of pit bulls by two-thirds in two years, and brought San Francisco the lowest volume of pit bull killing in shelters of any major U.S. city. The San Francisco ordinance has also been widely emulated, most prominently by Riverside County, California, earlier in 2013. Under Katz, San Francisco Animal Care & Control also achieved a 37% increase in dog adoptions.
The sterilization requirement has, however, infuriated pit bull breeders and those, including Winograd, who argue that intensified adoption marketing should be the primary response of the sheltering community to surging pit bull surrenders and impoundments.
Welcoming Katz as “a seasoned and capable leader with experience running a successful municipal animal shelter in the heart of the Bay Area,” Oakland mayor Jean Quan anticipated that “Oakland’s animals will benefit from her innovative approaches to enhancing animal welfare, collaborative efforts to find homes for hard-to-place animals, and demonstrated success.”
Quan did not promise legislation modeled after that of San Francisco, but turning Oakland Animal Services into a stand-alone department indicates the Katz will be given considerable administrative leeway.
Katz would be inheriting no easy assignment in Oakland, even without the opposition of the No Kill Advocacy Center and pit bull advocates, including Oakland Animal Shelter volunteers who have repeatedly alleged that shelter staff are euthanizing adoptable dogs.
Similar allegations are common nationwide, as volunteers frequently disagree with shelter staff about the risk potential of dogs with bite history, especially pit bulls. Such disagreements intensified at the Oakland Animal Shelter intensified after the shelter began partnering with BADRAP to promote pit bull adoptions, and gained momentum after then-Oakland Animal Shelter animal care coordinator Martha Cline in 2011 did a week-long internship at the Animal Farm Foundation in upstate New York, the longtime hub of pit bull advocacy nationwide. [Cline in May 2014 was identified by Carolyn Jones of SFGate as “a paid animal care attendant and a volunteer” at the Oakland Animal Shelter.]
Apart from conflict over euthanasia decisions, the Oakland Animal Shelter has also “been plagued for months by controversy [at the administrative level] and understaffing,” pointed out Sam Levin of the East Bay Express. “After OAS Director Megan Webb left the shelter in 2013 for a job in Virginia,” Levin recalled, “the city launched a nearly yearlong search for her replacement, ultimately hiring Gary Hendel,” 62, a veteran shelter director who had previously headed animal control departments in Portland, Oregon, Maui, Hawaii, and San Antonio, Texas. “But the city put Hendel on administrative leave in March, soon after he stepped up to the job, due to an internal investigation,” Levin continued. The reasons for the investigation have not been disclosed, but Hendel, like several predecessors, had conflicted with volunteers over euthanasia decisions.
Succeeding Hendel on an interim basis was Oakland police lieutenant Chris Muffareh. Under Muffareh, reported Carolyn Jones of SFGate, shelter killing declined, and transfers of animals to rescue groups for adoption increased. But conflicts over staff euthanasia decisions intensified, amplified by Cline to local media.
San Francisco politics
Katz, who grew up in nearby Berkeley, California, became available after San Francisco city administrator Naomi Kelly announced through an e-mail to Animal Care & Control staff on July 25, 2014 that animal care supervisor Eric Zuercher had been named acting director to succeed Katz. Kelly offered no reason for Katz’ dismissal. ANIMALS 24-7 looked extensively into the surrounding issues and politics soon afterward in “Author of San Francisco ordinance requiring pit bull sterilization appears to be victim of militant advocates,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-CJ.
In particular, the San Francisco SPCA has recently lobbied to reclaim management of the city Animal Care & Control shelter, 30 years after voluntarily surrendering the city animal control contract to focus on doing dog and cat sterilizations and adoptions. Becoming a limited admission, no-kill shelter in 1989, the San Francisco SPCA in 1994 introduced an “Adoption Pact” with the Animal Care & Control department which made San Francisco nominally the first U.S. no-kill city. Under the “Adoption Pact,” the San Francisco SPCA guaranteed a home to any healthy animal released to it by the Animal Care & Control Department. In recent years, however, the San Francisco SPCA 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.
No Kill Advocacy center founder Winograd headed the San Francisco SPCA Department of Law & Advocacy during the introduction of the Adoption Pact, under then SF/SPCA president Richard Avanzino, After Avanzino left in 1989 to head Maddie’s Fund, an Alameda-based foundation that promotes programs Avanzino introduced at the SF/SPCA nationwide, Winograd was very briefly SF/SPCA operations director. Resigning in 2000, Winograd later headed the Tomkins County SPCA in Ithaca, New York, before returning to California in 2004. ANIMALS 24-7 explored his career, including looking at the San Francisco and Ithaca shelter statistics before and after his tenure, in “Nathan Winograd in Perspective,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-CW.
Oakland residents Tim Racer and Donna Reynolds in 1999 founded BADRAP, the other anticipated cauldron of opposition to Katz’ leadership at Oakland Animal Services, “to secure the future of the American Pit Bull Terrier as a cherished family companion.”
BADRAP has promoted pit bull sterilization, and has decried the myth that pit bulls were ever a “nanny dog,” but has had difficultly persuading even BADRAP volunteers to follow the organization’s list of rules for keeping pit bulls safely. BADRAP volunteer Darla Napora, 32, was in violation of several of those rules when fatally mauled in her home in Pacifica, California on August 11, 2011 by her two-year-old non-neutered pit bull terrier Gunner, whom police shot at the scene.
To blame BADRAP alone for the national trends pertaining to pit bulls since 1999 would be unfair. Also of note is that some of the most vehement pit bull advocacy critics of Katz’ tenure in San Francisco have assailed BADRAP too.
Nonetheless, comparison of the post-BADRAP trends to Katz’s accomplishments in San Francisco may be instructive.
When BADRAP debuted, about two million pit bulls were in U.S. homes at any given time, of whom about 700,000 would be surrendered to animal shelters or impounded for dangerous behavior within a year’s time, and about 630,000 would be killed.
Currently, about 3.5 million pit bulls are in U.S. homes at any given time, of whom about one million per year are surrendered to animal shelters or impounded for dangerous behavior within a year’s time, and about 910,000 are killed.
In 1999, pit bulls were about 3% of the U.S. dog population, but accounted for 17% of shelter dog admissions. Since 2000, pit bulls have increased to about 5% of the U.S. dog population, but were about 25% of shelter dog admissions and 50% of the dogs killed in shelters during the 10 years ending in 2009. Pit bulls since 2010 have increased to almost a third of shelter dog admissions nationally, and more 60% of the dogs killed in shelters.
In the 17 years before BADRAP debuted, 400 pit bulls had injured at least 175 children & 166 adults, resulting in 36 fatalities and 186 disfigurements. Post-BADRAP, more than 3,100 pit bulls have participated in injuring at least 2,300 people, including 1,200 children and 1,100 adults. These pit bull attacks have resulted in 258 fatalities and more than 1,900 disfigurements.
In the year 1999, when BADRAP debuted, 791 pit bulls were seized in dogfighting cases nationwide, up from 365 in 1998 and 95 in 1997. The post-BADRAP annual average is close to 1,000.
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