San Diego County unleashing all La Jolla animal services

As of July 1, your animal issues will no longer be San Diego County’s concern.

So who will license your pet, handle animal-abuse complaints, pick up dead animals and respond to snakes in your backyard? These responsibilities and others — including writing off-leash citations and operating animal shelters — will revert to the City. (The County has acted as the City’s contractor for somewhere between 30-40 years.)

Of course, the City is not equipped to deal with all of this. And an analysis conducted earlier this year showed that starting its own animal-services department would cost significantly more than the $10-$12 million per year it currently pays the County.

So the City is in the final stages of negotiating a five-year contract with the San Diego Humane Society (which took over animal control from the County for Oceanside and Vista in 2010 and Escondido, San Marcos and Poway in 2014).

“The goal is to have this before (City) Council by the end of this month,” says San Diego Humane Society chief of staff Katherine Shenar. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed. For us, the process that’s been nerve-wracking has been getting the contract signed, because of the timing.”

Last May, the County gave the City its required year advance notice. It did the same for the cities of Carlsbad, Del Mar, Encinitas, Santee and Solana Beach. (By State law, the County is only required to provide animal services for the incorporated areas of San Diego County.)

According to a County employee with direct knowledge of the situation, the County’s decision, made by its board of supervisors, was economic.

“The majority of the business was from the City and the City wasn’t paying the majority of the bill,” said the employee, who asked not to be named.

What will this mean to La Jollans? Well, for one thing, your pet license from the County will transfer automatically to the City — at least it will in a perfect world — as will records of dangerous and public-nuisance dogs. Also, all County ordinances regarding animals will no longer apply.

“That’s something that will be very interesting,” Lauren Joniaux, deputy director of the County’s Animal Services Department, told the Bird Rock Community Council at its April 3 meeting. “It won’t be the County codes anymore. It will be City codes, and that’s something that the transition team through the City of San Diego will have to work with everybody on.”

That transition is likely to be fraught with hitches.

“Whoever the new contractor is will have to move animals and operate out of another facility,” Joniaux said, adding that “the concern, too, is July 4 is right as we move out of the building, and with fireworks and everything, we’re inundated with dog emergencies — hit by cars and all of that — so we’re hoping the new service provider will be responsive.”

The unnamed County source was more blunt: “I would not want to be on the team in charge of making this all work.”

Is the Humane Society up to the task? The nonprofit would need to significantly expand its operations to handle animal control for the City, whose contractor must deal with 18,000 animals a year (60 percent of the County’s current workload).

“Absolutely, we’re up to it,” Shenar said. “This is something we’ve really done our homework to evaluate — is this this something that we can do and is this something we can do well? We have worked very hard to plan, prepare and explore to work at the standards of care that we aspire to.”

Shenar says the Humane Society conducted 50 focus groups with the community, with volunteers and with animal rescue workers to identify key concerns.

“I feel very confident that we have anticipated as much as we can,” she said, “but of course, things are going to come up.”

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