Progressive Shelters Make All the Difference

You are leisurely strolling down the street, daydreaming after a hearty lunch, when you are suddenly shocked back into reality as you see a Chihuahua being dragged down the sidewalk by several children. Is her leg broken? You call the police, expecting a nonchalant response like, “It’s only a dog.” Will they respond or actually care?  

Luckily for Trinity, this incident occurred in the jurisdiction of Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority (SVACA). When SVACA Animal Control Officer Antje Morris quickly responded and investigated, she found that indeed Trinity’s leg was broken and had not been treated. Officer Morris met with the mother of the children, who decided to surrender the dog. The family had only had her a short while and admittedly could not provide veterinary care.  

SVACA’s medical team examined Trinity and found that her leg had been so badly injured so long ago that it had to be surgically removed. Donations from SVACA’s Animal Assistance Fund were used to cover surgical expenses. Happily, Trinity quickly recovered and was adopted into a loving home.  

This is what SVACA, one of the many progressive, government-operated animal care and control programs here in the Bay Area, does day in and day out.  Our mission is to protect animals from people and people from animals; these are not mutually exclusive tasks and are best done under “one roof.” We take all reports of abuse seriously, investigate them thoroughly, and hold violators accountable. 

At the same time, we’re working to change old perceptions of animal sheltering. Gone are the days of the dark, dank “pounds” of yesteryear. On November 14, SVACA celebrates the second anniversary of our state-of-the-art cageless animal care center, where our animal guests rest comfortably in real-life rooms, not cages or kennels. It’s rare to find such accommodations in a government-operated facility like ours. The homelike setting helps ease a dog’s transition from our center into a forever family’s household. Dogs are also exercised by staff and volunteers multiple times a day in our outdoor play area.  

We knew we would sometimes have challenging animals to place, so we designed our center to suit long-term guests. This is what modern animal care is all about. As a result of our progressively designed center, psychological enrichment programs for animal guests and the proper veterinary care provided by our medical team, dogs can rest easy for months, if need be, while waiting for their new families. Some cats have stayed with us for nearly a year before being adopted. 

Of course, like most shelters, all is not perfect. We sometimes struggle to find homes for the far-too-many needy animals in our community. Being an “open door” shelter means we accept all animals that come our way, regardless of how sick, injured, or aggressive they may be. Remarkably, in our short history, SVACA has been able to achieve the important goal of placing all adoptable animals as defined by the Asilomar Accords; this is quite a feat for an “open door” government agency. The Accords were generated by animal welfare professionals to allow agencies a more accurate way to gauge the good work they do. (Please visit www.svaca.com to learn more about our statistics and the Accords.)

We also focus on successful, long term adoptions. We have implemented the ASPCA’s “Meet Your Match” program for dogs and cats, a tool for matching companion animals to families. After adoption, we contact adopters to gauge how they are doing, offering advice as needed. Additionally, we promote proper training for dogs by not only providing onsite classes to the public, but also requiring a training deposit for certain adopted dogs. Our efforts have resulted in an extremely low adoption return rate of 4%; national averages range anywhere from 20-50%.

While we continue to do our best to respond to the influx of animals while finding new homes for as many as we can, we are also proactive in reducing the flow of animals into our center.  Last November, we opened a truly low-cost public spay and neuter clinic where cats can be altered for $10 and dogs for $30. The demand has been overwhelming and many guardians alter their animals at our facility specifically due to the low cost.  

Animal care professionals all over the Bay Area tirelessly work to make a difference in the lives of homeless dogs and other animals, but we cannot do it alone. Every day our staff faces countless and unique challenges, routinely seeing the worst society has to offer. We carry on because we know we have a job to do, though it may sometimes seem thankless and unending.  

Because the task is huge, we must all work together to give a voice to the voiceless. Thus, we rely on the community to help us help the animals. What can you do? Volunteer at your local shelter… become a foster parent… donate money or goods… adopt and encourage others to do the same… spay or neuter your own companion animals… always report abuse or neglect?  Everyone has something to give, so please don’t hesitate to get involved. The homeless animals of your community depend on it.

For more on what you can do to make a difference for the animals of your community, please contact your local shelter. SVACA staff can be reached at 408-764-0344, or visit www.svaca.com to learn more about our programs. Our center is located at 3370 Thomas Rd. in Santa Clara and we invite you to pay us a visit.  

Dan Soszynski is the Executive Director of the Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority.  He’s held a variety of positions in the animal welfare profession and has been working to improve the lives of animals for over fifteen years.