Citizens raise animal control concerns in Yreka

David Smith and Siskiyou Daily news reports
A recent investigation into Yreka's animal control division has citizens angry and looking for changes – both to the animal control officer position and the supervisors who oversee it.

It might not have been on the agenda, but Yreka’s animal control issue was a hot topic for the residents who came out in droves to share their thoughts with the Yreka City Council Thursday night.

The Yreka Police Department recently placed its animal control officer on administrative leave after two puppies were allegedly euthanized against regulations.

The first public speaker at Thursday’s meeting, Lorenzo Love, told the council that he not only is concerned with the animals being euthanized, but also the supervisorial structure within YPD.

He added that he would like the current investigation into the incident to be handled by a completely independent body, suggesting that the issue be taken up by the county’s Grand Jury.

The most prominent sentiment expressed by a number of commenters – drawn from an almost standing room only city council chambers – was that former Animal Control Officer Ashly Leaf be reinstated to her position.

Leaf, who was released from her position last year, received glowing praise from speakers at the lectern, with one local woman urging those in attendance to join the drive to have Leaf nominated for citizen of the year.

Speakers expounded on Leaf’s dedication to finding good homes for impounded dogs, with one speaker calling Leaf tireless in her animal control work.

“I think the best thing we can possibly do for Yreka Animal Control is to bring Ashley back,” she said.

The final speaker of the night, Mary Stidham, requested that the city look into how dog license fees are being spent, calling into question the current state of the city’s dog pound and the city’s rates.

“I’d like to know what we’re getting for our money,” she said.

City Manager Steve Baker noted near the end of the meeting that the council should receive a briefing soon on what is happening, but since it is still under investigation, a large portion of the information is not yet open to the public.

Being a personnel matter, the circumstances around Leaf’s termination are also not public.

Yreka police chief: Animal control will change

Two days after a pair of black Labrador puppies were taken by Animal Control and then killed Jan. 14, Yreka Police Chief Brian Bowles said changes are coming to the department.

Jeff O’Neill, owner of one of the puppies, said he filed a missing animal report Wednesday evening, Jan. 14, after realizing the dogs were missing. O’Neill said he was never contacted by Animal Control Officer Dennis Moser.

O’Neill said he then went to the police department Thursday, only to learn that both of the puppies had been put down.

Bowles said Siskiyou County District Attorney Kirk Andrus was asked to investigate any criminal misconduct in the case, and that an internal investigation will be conducted. Bowles also said that Moser has been placed on paid administrative leave.

Andrus said charges could include felony animal cruelty.

On Friday, Bowles released a statement about the future of animal control. He said that in the near future, the Yreka Police Department will reach out to current partners Rescue Ranch and Siskiyou Humane Society for assistance and guidance through this transition.

Bowles said he plans on setting up meetings with other animal control and nonprofit facilities in order to develop best practices and build relationships.

“I believe this is a community issue, and we want to best serve the interests of our animals in our community,” he said. “I feel that it is imperative that we reach out to our partners and public to find the best solution for the homeless animals in our community. I look forward to finding progressive, forward-thinking partners to help forge and solve the issues of finding homes for our animals.”

He said any community member interested in attending a future meeting on the topic should call the department at (530) 841-2329.

Animal control numbers have changed

Following the death of the two puppies, community members began calling for the reinstatement of former Animal Control Officer Ashly Leaf.

Leaf was dismissed by the Yreka Police Department in November.

Records obtained by the Siskiyou Daily News from the Yreka Police Department via a public records request show that during Leaf’s tenure – which started in January 2014 – she responded to 431 service calls, impounded 57 animals, returned 35 animals to their owner, adopted out five animals and euthanized eight. In the month of November, four animals were euthanized.

Leaf was employed as the Animal Control officer for only part of that month. Dennis Moser, who has been placed on paid administrative leave following the death of the two puppies, became the Animal Control officer in December.

During December, Animal Control made 35 service calls, impounded 26 animals, returned nine to owners, adopted out three and euthanized seven.

That means service calls performed by Leaf resulted in euthanized animals about 2 percent of the time. Following her dismissal, service calls resulted in euthanized animals at least 20 percent of the time.

Why the marked difference?

Police Chief Bowles said department policy didn’t permit him to discuss personnel performance, but he did give some information about the Animal Control facility.

Yreka’s shelter contains 10 cages that can house animals and three more set aside for animal quarantine. That doesn’t appear to be enough room during months of high animal intake. In December, for instance, 26 animals needed housing.

Animal Control can attempt to place animals in local shelters, but they often run into breed restrictions – especially when it comes to pit bulls.

Current policy, according to Bowles, is to house animals for at least eight days, which is four more than the legal minimum. He did say that the city shelter would sometimes house the same animal for several weeks.