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The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors have officially responded to a civil grand jury report from last year that said the county has a serious homeless animal problem that is not being addressed.

Released Nov. 30, the report concludes the county can improve the Contra Costa County Animal Services Department by sharing resources with other municipalities and better distributing resources by geography.

Currently, the county department runs one centralized facility in Martinez. The only other public facility is Antioch Animal Services.

“Public and private animal shelters are experiencing pressure from the explosive growth in the homeless animal and abandoned pet populations,” the report says. “Community outreach and education are high priorities for both Contra Costa and Antioch Animal Services, the two public animal shelters within the county.”

“Wildlife retrieval provided by the County Animal Services is one of its most valuable services, especially in those areas of the county that border large open spaces. Recent funding restrictions have severely undermined the ability of Animal Services to retrieve live, wounded, or dead animals.”

The grand jury recommended that the county “engage a consulting firm for guidance on the possible redistribution of animal services that could be achieved by a gradual process of cost-sharing and shelter coordination.”

It said the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office already uses a similar cooperation agreement among county law enforcement agencies that could serve as a model.

A worsening problem

The grand jury also recommended both county shelters step up when it comes to community outreach to confront the homeless animal problem, a situation many animal advocates told the board Tuesday is even worse than described in the report.

At the same meeting, the board approved a response to the report, agreeing with many of its findings.

“The county plans to implement a new service agreement with the cities in Fiscal Year 2022/23,” the written response says. “The county anticipates that under the new city agreements, there will be a greater level of service throughout the county.”

The response addressed other points, including that people in cities aren’t aware of county-provided services (the county agreed) and that funding reductions have hindered live wildlife retrieval and rescue (the county partially disagreed, saying it is not a locally mandated service and the state provides no funding for it).

The Contra Costa County Animal Services shelter in Martinez. (Photo by Glenn Gehlke/Bay City News Foundation)

The report also said the county hasn’t allocated Measure X money for the Animal Services Department, something supervisors said isn’t within its purview. When voters in 2020 passed Measure X — a half-cent sales tax — nothing in the ballot measure said anything about animal services, something members of the public protested during the Feb. 22 Board of Supervisors meeting.

“Measure X does not allow for dollars to go to anything other than human services, such as health and to public safety, childcare, those kind of things,” board chairperson Karen Mitchoff said during the meeting. “As much as we all love animals, the department is not eligible for Measure X funding.”

“However, if you participated in our board meeting two weeks ago, you know that direction was given to our animal services director to come back sometime in April, around budget time, relative to expansion of spay/neuter programs,” Mitchoff said.

Lack of funding

In its grand jury response, the county rejected some recommendations, saying there’s not enough funding for more outreach concerning available animal services and there’s lack of funding and “logistical complexities” making it too difficult to embed animal service officers at some police stations.

Antioch residents voted in 1978 to establish its own shelter. Concern about overpopulation there led to a 2017 civil grand jury investigation concluding there were deficiencies in shelter management, operations, and the facility itself. Improvements were made in response, including the help of a private rescue facility.

But the latest report also says the Antioch shelter has problems with non-Antioch residents abandoning animals there due to a lack of more local facilities. The report also said the cost of spaying and neutering cats and dogs, even at the county site, contributes to pet abandonment.

Budget cuts forced the county in 2020 to shut down its Pinole shelter, cut field officers from 16 to 10, reduce operating hours, stop dead animal retrieval on private property, and refer all wild animal calls to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.