SELMA – After lengthy discussion and debate, the Selma City Council voted 3-2 to allow the city’s contract with Second Chance Animal Shelter to expire at the end of the year.
At its meeting on Dec. 4, the council reviewed three items related to animal control services within the city, all of which ended in decisions split between Councilmember Blanca Mendoza-Navarro, Councilmember John Trujillo and Mayor pro tem Beverly Cho voting “yes” and Councilmember Sarah Guerra and Mayor Scott Robertson voting “no.” Approximately one dozen community members came out to voice their opinions, most in support of keeping animal control duties with the shelter.
“We’re certainly not the only community with (animal control) challenges, but at the end of the day, the operation of the shelter needs to be better,” City Manager Fernando Santillan said. “What we found in our assessment is that the Second Chance Animal Shelter just doesn’t have the capacity to serve the city of Selma in its current capacity; however, that doesn’t mean that they can’t continue … in a different capacity … because the work that they do is very important to the community.”
In addition to allowing the contract with Second Chance Animal Shelter (Second Chance) to expire on Dec. 31, the council opted to remove language referencing Second Chance in the municipal code and add job descriptions to the code for possible animal control employees in the future. Second Chance started contracting with the city in 2014, taking over most animal control duties from the police department.
Santillan explained the city wanted to add job descriptions for animal control positions, including an animal services manager and officer, just so that they were ready to go if the city decided to undertake animal control operations. The city council has to approve all job descriptions that the city posts.
Shelter advocates who spoke at the meeting said that by ending the contract, the city would effectively be killing the shelter and likely subjecting its dogs to euthanization. Santillan and the councilors in favor of the items said it was not their intention to close the shelter or euthanize the dogs, but rather open the city up to other options for animal control services.
City lacks confidence in shelter operations
The main item that will impact Second Chance’s operations was the council’s vote to not renew its professional services agreement for animal control services with the shelter, allowing the current contract to expire.
After granting a six-month contract extension earlier this year and increasing the funding from $9,000 each month to $30,000 each month, the city still felt that Second Chance was not meeting what was asked of it, Santillan said.
As part of the contract extension, Santillan said Second Chance was supposed to improve performance of animal control activities, improve physical shelter conditions, address overpopulation at the shelter and provide more transparency of the shelter’s accounting operations. According to the shelter, Second Chance currently has 150 dogs in its care, and the city wants the number to get down to 60.
“Since that time of the extension, staff has been working and dialoguing with Second Chance Animal Shelter, trying to get them compliant with the terms of the agreement that the council adopted,” Santillan said. “We have not seen really any improvement within the operation that would make city staff feel comfortable with continuing to move forward with Second Chance Animal Shelter as the city’s designated animal control agency.”
Mendoza-Navarro and Santillan said that the city has repeatedly heard that Second Chance employee’s paychecks are bouncing back, even after the funding increase, and that the animals at Second Chance have poor living conditions.
Robertson disagreed; he said that if the shelter could be faulted for something, “it would be having too big of a heart and trying to keep the animals around too long.”
President of the shelter board, Parveen Sandhu, spoke during public comment and said the shelter has needed more resources for quite some time and truly wants to continue to be a part of the city’s animal control response. Sandhu said the shelter has provided all of the information that has been requested of them, though Santillan said that information is “not in a coherent format.”
Sandhu also said that the shelter’s employee paychecks have bounced because the shelter was underfunded and, when they received more funding, the city was late in disbursing the money to the shelter.
One Selma resident who spoke at the meeting and recently visited the shelter said that Santillan’s statements about the shelter animal’s living conditions were “BS.”
The council also passed an ordinance amending the animal control section of the city’s municipal code to remove language that gave an animal control officer employed by Second Chance the authority to enforce certain animal control provisions in the municipal code.
It should be noted that, within the state of California, all police chiefs head a city’s animal control operations; that does not change when the services are contracted out to a third party. However, Robertson – who voted against the change – said this section of the municipal code was initially put in place to allow Second Chance’s animal control officer to administer citations in their work with the police department, just as an animal control officer employed by the police department would have.
Santillan said the purpose behind this change was solely to remove the reference to a specific contractor, as it is a “best practice” to not specify a contractor within the municipal code.
“From a general perspective, a local agency never wants to dictate or specify within its municipal code a particular contract to provide services, because that could change at any time for whatever reason,” Santillan said.
Residents to council: ‘Give Second Chance a second chance’
Residents who spoke in support of Second Chance at the council meeting said they would like to see the city give the shelter more time to improve its operations and provide additional support to address the concerns the city has.
“Getting rid of Second Chance or taking away a lot of the powers that are already assigned to Second Chance is not the solution,” Sandhu said. “The solution is to go and work with the community and make the city of Selma a better place to live for both humans and for our pets, because we all know that our pets are a part of our lives and our world.”
Many residents, who said they volunteer with Second Chance and other animal rescues in the area, said the city should help cut down on the stray animal population by better enforcing licensing rules, offering free or discounted spay and neuter services and working with Second Chance on community outreach to educate people on how to be responsible pet owners.
On the council, Trujillo said it would be setting a bad precedent to continue the contract with Second Chance when the city has documented that it is not adequately providing the agreed upon services. Further, he said it is the council’s job to hold contracting agencies accountable for their financial practices, especially when the city is using taxpayer money.
Santillan added that it is not the city’s responsibility — nor should it be — to help the shelter with its accounting operations; that is not something the city does with any other contractor.
On the opposing side of the dias, Robertson – who was on the city council when Selma first started working with Second Chance – said the city started to contract out the services because the police department was understaffed and not taking good care of the animals.
Other residents voiced their concerns about not renewing the contract with Second Chance. Some citizens spoke about instances 10 years ago when they would call in strays and the responding officers would either kill the dog or say there was nothing they could do about it. One resident said that if animal control went back under the police department, she would not call in stray animals anymore because she would not want that to happen to them.
Residents also noted that they would prefer the police department focus on protecting the safety of the city and its residents, and leave the animals up to the shelter.
Residents were also concerned about what will happen to the dogs in Second Chance’s care when the contract with the city ends. Santillan said the city is planning to temporarily contract out with the Fresno Humane Animal Services to assess the situation at the Second Chance shelter and find other places for the dogs to go.
Fresno Humane’s involvement in the road ahead
According to comments made at the council meeting, Fresno Humane euthanizes dogs when it is overcrowded, whereas Second Chance does not do that and has worked over the last few years to achieve a no-kill designation. A “no-kill” shelter is one that has a live release rate of above 90%.
“We want to maintain that record; the city of Selma has worked way too hard for achieving that, and we need to stay that way,” Sandhu said.
Fresno Humane, according to its website, has consistently recorded a live release rate above 90%. Fresno Humane’s 2022 animal statistics show that the shelter euthanized 1,144 dogs, 13% of its total intake of 8,536. In 2021, the shelter euthanized 263 dogs, 6% of its total intake that year. Those numbers do not include instances where a dog was euthanized due to health or other behavioral concerns.
Exact details about what would happen to the shelter after the contract expires were unclear at the time of the council meeting. While the shelter is a nonprofit independent of the city, the city is its main source of funding.
Robertson and Guerra questioned how much the contract with Fresno Humane would cost and how they could be sure that the agreement would pan out as discussed at the meeting. Temporary contracts fall within the authority of the city manager to execute without requiring approval from council.
From preliminary discussions with Fresno Humane, Santillan said they will be able to provide the same, if not more, services as Second Chance for the same amount of funding per month. Because of the size of Fresno Humane, Santillan said it has the infrastructure needed to take over Selma’s animal control operations.
Fresno Humane also ran the animal control services for the city of Fresno, and so they have more administrative experience than Second Chance and are “uniquely qualified” to provide additional services, Santillan said.
Mendoza-Navarro ultimately motioned to let the Second Chance contract expire, but asked that council revisit the issue at the next meeting on Jan. 16, 2024, with a report from city staff about Fresno Humane’s assessment of Second Chance’s operations.
“Letting this contract expire gives the city the opportunity to do what we have to do to help them … and then figure out that partnership,” Mendoza-Navarro said. “At that point, then we can open it up for bid and see who can come and do the services for that, whether it’s the city, whether it’s the Humane Society, whether it’s Second Chance.”
Santillan said the city will work on providing information to residents in the coming weeks about animal control services moving forward. Beginning Jan. 1, 2024, residents should call the police department’s non-emergency number at 559-896-2525 with any animal control issues.