Selma seeks change of hands for animal services

City manager clarifies what will happen to city’s animal shelter and the sheltered dogs once the contract with Second Chance ends

Many dogs at the Second Chance Animal Shelter in Selma are in kennels outside along the asphalt, though all dogs have beds and blankets in their kennels, Dec. 12, 2023. (Serena Bettis)
Many dogs at the Second Chance Animal Shelter in Selma are in kennels outside along the asphalt, though all dogs have beds and blankets in their kennels, Dec. 12, 2023. (Serena Bettis)
Serena Bettis
Published December 14, 2023  • 
11:00 am

SELMA – After nearly 10 years, the city of Selma is ending its contract with nonprofit Second Chance Animal Shelter; however, Second Chance is not fully shutting down its operations and the city is not losing a shelter or planning to euthanize any animals currently at the shelter.

Second Chance’s contract with the city ends on Dec. 31, at which point Fresno Humane Animal Services will temporarily take over operations of the shelter located at 2381 W. Front St. in Selma through – at least – the end of January 2024. Selma City Manager Fernando Santillan said that there have been many misconceptions within the community about what is happening to the shelter. 

“The shelter’s not closing, and nobody has said all the animals at the shelter are gonna be euthanized,” Santillan said. “It’s always been necessary to do a push for adoption, so I’m glad that they’re (Second Chance) doing it. The reasons why they are saying it needs to be done are not accurate.”

The Selma City Council voted 3-2 at its meeting on Dec. 4 to not renew the contract with Second Chance. During the meeting, city staff cited concerns over the shelter’s operations as one of the main reasons for recommending the city find another organization to contract out its animal control services. 

The council vote came after hours of discussion and public comment, and many residents said they wanted to see Second Chance remain with the city.

“We are fulfilling everything that we are obligated to do, and more,” Parveen Sandhu, president of the Second Chance Board of Directors, said. “There’s a lot of politics involved, a lot of hands in the cookie jar. Certain council members want to see certain things. … Every month it changes depending on the mood of whoever.”

What is happening to the dogs and the shelter? 

Sandhu said Second Chance is working to have all of its dogs — of which there are more than 100 — adopted out by 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31 when the contract with the city ends. Although there is no indication the dogs will be euthanized immediately when the transition from Second Chance to Fresno Humane happens, they want to prevent any dogs in their care from being euthanized. 

Dogs watch volunteers work at the Second Chance Animal Shelter in Selma Dec. 12, 2023. (Serena Bettis)

“That is our goal, and we really hope that it will be achieved; that there will be none of our dogs – that we have brought in – still here,” Sandhu said. 

Sandhu said she does not know if Fresno Humane has a specific policy to euthanize dogs that have been in the shelter for a long time, but does know that they do currently euthanize dogs for space, which is something Second Chance adamantly refuses to do. Second Chance and Fresno Humane are both considered “no-kill shelters,” which is when a shelter consistently records a live release rate above 90%.

“Ultimately, if we leave dogs here, we’re also setting up Fresno Humane for failure,” Sandhu said. “So they’re coming in with all of these dogs already, and they’re still going to continue to bring in more, which we have already faced and gone through. Why would we want to do that?”

Within one week of the city council vote, Sandhu said Second Chance had already adopted out 20 to 25 dogs and has been working with other rescues to transport dogs elsewhere as well. That’s not to say that Fresno Humane will not be able to care for the dogs, but Sandhu said the dogs at the shelter do belong to Second Chance and it is their responsibility to network them out. 

However, in the case that Second Chance cannot adopt out all of their animals before Fresno Humane steps in, the shelter has already begun to meet with Second Chance to work on the transition, assess the dogs and become familiar with them in order to prepare to care for them, Sandhu said. 

The physical shelter is not closing because it is property leased by the city from CalWater, Santillan said. 

“It’s the city’s facility; we have a lease for the facility and under our agreement with Second Chance, they’re able to operate the shelter,” Santillan said. “As soon as Second Chance is out of there, either the city or a different organization can go in there and continue operating it.” 

The Second Chance Animal Shelter in Selma is trying to get all of its dogs adopted by the end of the year before its contract with the city expires, Dec. 12, 2023. (Serena Bettis)

What will Fresno Humane provide to Selma? 

From Santillan’s perspective, Fresno Humane will be able to provide Selma residents with a higher level of service than what others have experienced with Second Chance. Part of the reason Santillan recommended the city not renew its contract with Second Chance was because of complaints from residents he was receiving about the condition of the shelter and the lack of communication from its staff.

“I think what you’ll find — what we’re working towards — is more responsiveness,” Santillan said. “When you call animal control, somebody’s gonna go out there and address your issue quickly. If you want to come in to adopt an animal, you’re gonna be able to see somebody during the normal business hours.”

Santillan said that he believes the conditions for the animals will improve as well, with kennels being well-maintained and animals having more time outside. He said that the animals have been living in poor conditions, though the shelter has been working hard to improve those conditions.

Due to the shelter being over capacity, many dogs are in kennels outside and are placed in crates scattered throughout the property. The shelter consistently has volunteers present to clean the kennels and feed the dogs.

Fresno Humane’s temporary contract with the city has them starting work this December with an assessment of the shelter. Santillan said they will assess the facilities, the operations and the condition of the animals. Beginning on Jan. 1, 2024, they will take over all animal control duties within the city.

The city is working with Fresno Humane because they were the only organization that stepped up and said they had the capacity to help the city of Selma, Santillan said.

The current agreement with Fresno Humane is temporary, and only runs through the end of January 2024. Santillan said there is currently nothing in place with them after that. Once the city is prepared to enter into a longer term agreement for animal control services, city staff will have to bring that contract to the city council for review and approval.

Currently, city staff plan to present the findings of Fresno Humane’s assessment to the city council at its next meeting on Jan. 16, 2024, per the request Councilmember Blanca Mendoza-Navarro made during her motion to let Second Chance’s contract expire at the Dec. 4 council meeting.

As for how the city reached this point, over the last year, the city of Selma and Second Chance Animal Shelter have been attempting to work together to address complaints, funding issues and the overall improvement to animal control services within the city. 

Individuals with the city, the city council and the shelter have been at odds with each other over what issues exist, how communication between the entities has been handled and how to move forward.

Second Chance’s origins

Second Chance Animal Shelter first started working with the city of Selma in 2013 when residents came together to form the nonprofit in response to reported mistreatment and unwarranted killings of dogs by police officers, Sandhu said. At that time, the police department was responsible for all animal control and staffing of the animal shelter.

The Second Chance Animal Shelter has been contracting with the city of Selma for 10 years, Dec. 12, 2023. (Serena Bettis)

Sandhu said that police officers were shooting dogs with their service weapons in the streets, and shelter volunteers reported an incident where an officer shot five dogs while they were in their kennels. Community members then decided to form Second Chance to take the burden of animal control and sheltering away from the police department, Sandhu said. 

“They (the police department) are not equipped to deal with dogs, so this organization was formed at that time in 2013, and the contract was awarded to Second Chance Animal Shelter to provide animal control services and house the dogs, for a fee, to the city as a contractor,” Sandhu said. 

Prior to the contract extension made in July of this year, the last professional services agreement between Second Chance Animal Shelter and the city of Selma was effective as of July 1, 2021, and set to expire on June 30, 2023. 

That contract was amended over the summer to be extended for six months, increase the funding provided to Second Chance and add on financial and operational reporting requirements.

Challenges with funding, complaints

Santillan said the shelter first came to his attention as a relatively new city manager — he started with the city at the end of 2021 — when a man was mauled by a pack of loose dogs in July 2022.

Around that time, Santillan said he was also receiving complaints about the shelter from residents, mostly with regard to shelter staff’s responsiveness to residents who would go to the shelter in person or call to report an issue with an animal. 

After the shelter came on his radar, Santillan said it was around December 2022 or January of this year that he started to learn more about the shelter’s operations and first toured the facility. Sandhu said it was not until March that Santillan visited Second Chance. 

“I started looking into how they were operating the shelter; I realized right away that they were severely underfunded,” Santillan said.

Initially, the agreement provided Second Chance with a flat monthly fee of $8,163.57 and required the city to reimburse Second Chance for spay/neuter services of up to $1,500 and pay for costs related to the disposal of deceased animals. 

That amount of funding was sufficient for Second Chance before the COVID-19 pandemic, but since then the shelter — as with all animal shelters, as reported in the Mid Valley Times on Sept. 27 of this year — has become overrun with dogs, leading to a need for increased staffing, and has faced increased costs for food, supplies and veterinarian care.

Sandhu said that Second Chance originally reached out to the city manager in November 2022 to ask to renegotiate the contract for increased funding. 

“$30-35,000 a month is needed to run an organization of this size,” Sandhu said. “The city extended our contract, which they waited (to do), and we had to beg them in May that we need more funding, or else we’re gonna have to close our doors.” 

Santillan said that he went to the city council to ask them to increase the funding with the expectation that it would improve the service levels, conditions and management of the shelter.

In July, the fee was raised to $30,000 a month, a number that Santillan said he determined based on asking around in nearby communities to find out what other cities were paying for contracted animal control services. 

The city council also approved a request from Second Chance for $55,000 in emergency funding at the time of the contract extension. This was to help them clear away their backlog of debts, which Santillan said would allow them to “start fresh going forward between July of this year and December of this year.”

“We’ve checked in over the last six months to see how they’re doing, and nothing has improved,” Santillan said.

Extra kennels sit behind a shed at the Second Chance Animal Shelter in Selma Dec. 12, 2023. The shelter has been over capacity for many months, as it often has more than 100 dogs at one time. (Serena Bettis)

Disagreement over service quality

Sandhu, Santillan and Selma City Council members have all disagreed on how Second Chance has lived up to its contracted responsibilities. Part of the amended agreement from this July included increased financial reporting requirements, which Sandhu has said have been thorough and accurate, and Santillan has said have been indecipherable. 

According to the professional services agreement amendment approved in July, the shelter was required to provide weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual revenue and expense reports, and they would be required to “provide an accounting to the city at any time at city request.” 

Sandhu said that Second Chance would send both a detailed profit and loss report and their bank statement to the city weekly and monthly, which told them what they spent and where they spent it. This was not something required in previous contracts. 

Issues came up, however, when the shelter and city staff would go back and forth on what exact documents and reports they needed to send, what things weren’t clear and what the expectations were from both sides. 

As was noted at the Dec. 4 council meeting, Second Chance had multiple instances in which its employees’ paychecks would bounce because the city had not paid Second Chance their fee when they were expecting it. City staff said that was because the financial reporting was unclear, and as a municipality they have to withhold payments until they have all the documentation they have asked for. 

For example, Santillan said that it wasn’t clear to the city which animals were being treated for what when looking at veterinarian expenses, and that it was a “disorganized and unprofessional accounting method that wasn’t very transparent.” 

For Sandhu, however, the reports Second Chance was sending came directly from the organization’s QuickBooks, and they were meeting the requirements listed in the contract.

“If you don’t know how to read a payroll journal, that is not my job to teach you how to read a payroll journal,” Sandhu said. “It’s not my job to educate — or any contractor’s job to educate — city staff on how to decipher certain things.”

At the city council meeting, the council members who voted in favor of letting the contract expire said that regardless of what organization the city works with, they need to be confident in the documentation that is being provided to the city. 

Further, the contract amendment required that Second Chance have, on its board of directors, a member with accounting experience. Whether or not Second Chance followed through on that was another point of disagreement. 

“I’m an executive director that oversees and manages a $10 million budget; I have background in accounting,” Sandhu, who works at Kings Waste and Recycling Authority, said. “My vice president is a lender; has a background in accounting. We have a former auditor on our board, background in accounting. So we have three individuals that have five-plus years of financial background, what more do they need?” 

From Santillan’s perspective, running an organization is not the same thing as being a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or keeping the books at an organization. 

“I’m a city manager, I could technically say I have experience with accounting, but I’m not an accountant, right?” Santillan said. 

Sandhu said that if the city wanted Second Chance to have a CPA on its board, they needed to say they would pay for that, “because those are services that you pay for, and then of course that was going to be a cost relayed to the city then, right?” 

The Second Chance Animal Shelter animal control officer's truck sits in the driveway of the shelter in Selma Dec. 12, 2023. Second Chance's contract with the city ends on Dec. 31, 2023. (Serena Bettis)

Ending the service agreement

Santillan said that all of these things added up to the point where, for the city, it was better to explore other animal control service options. 

“I want to make it clear that the city as a whole, we have to serve 25,000 residents; our goal is to make sure that the level of service when it comes to animal control and animal sheltering services is as high as it can be for what the community’s investing,” Santillan said. “That’s really what this decision comes down to.” 

When items related to Second Chance have come up at council meetings, many public commenters have expressed the same disagreement in perspectives as the city and the shelter. Some believe the shelter should be given more time and help with its operations, while others believe that enough time has been granted and the city needs to see more accountability from Second Chance. 

“We have fulfilled our obligations,” Sandhu said. “We do fundraisers, we do adoption events, outreach, networking, everything costs money, right? If you want additional services, that’s gonna be an additional cost, but they (the city) want additional services (for) what they’re paying. That’s not gonna be the case.” 

What the future holds for Second Chance

Sandhu said that Second Chance Animal Shelter as a nonprofit is not going away, they just won’t have a physical shelter – at least for the time being. She said that if they are able to secure a new facility, that would be great, but otherwise they will move to a foster-based rescue model. 

Second Chance has currently waived its adoption fees for dogs and is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily for adoptions. Individuals looking to adopt a dog will go through the normal screening process with Second Chance to ensure the situation is good for both the dog and the household, and if necessary, a spay/neuter fee will be required prior to adoption. 

A dog at the Second Chance Animal Shelter in Selma awaits a new owner after being tagged for adoption Dec. 12, 2023. (Serena Bettis)

The shelter is also looking for rescues that can take any of their dogs. Sandhu said that if a rescue a few states away is willing to take a dog, shelter staff and volunteers will find a way to get it there.

“Bottom line, it’s all about the animals,” Sandhu said. “It’s not about egos, it’s not about anything else, it’s about the animals at the end of the day. … We are still in this community, and we will still be helping the community. We’re here, we’re 100% transparent, we have nothing to hide.”

Once Fresno Humane takes over operations, residents can call the Selma Police Department non-emergency number at 559-892-2525 for animal control needs. Otherwise, Second Chance is reachable via call at 559-896-7227 or via text at 559-898-2831, and adoption appointments can also be made outside of regular operating hours.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter