On an overcast afternoon at the Ventura County Animal Shelter in Camarillo, a single howl resonates above a frenzy of barking canines. The tan Belgian malinois mix pauses, peers warily from behind the chain-link of pen 18 and howls again.
It’s the kind of mournful sound that Linda Nelson would rather not think about.
Nelson, the founder of a nonprofit dog rescue in Simi Valley called Tiny Loving Canines, said that she hopes the Camarillo shelter can abandon the practice of euthanizing animals. She said she believes they can start by changing the way the facility is managed.
“[The Camarillo shelter] can safely house at least 37 [percent to] 45 percent more dogs than it does because they refuse to house more than one dog in a kennel run,” said Nelson. “Kennel runs built that can house a Mastiff hold one 4-pound Chihuahua. No other shelter around has this policy.”
According to the most recent statistics found on the shelter’s website, the Camarillo shelter has destroyed 2,463 dogs and 2,190 cats in 2010 and 2011, with the highest number of animals coming out of Oxnard.
Diane Rowley, president of the Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center, echoes Nelson’s concerns.
“The county shelter in Camarillo kills 70 percent of the adoptable cats that it impounds and also kills 30 percent of the adoptable dogs that come into its care each year,” said Rowley. “They charge the public $125 to adopt a dog and they charge rescue organizations between $20 and $60, depending on whether the animal is already spayed or neutered.”
Tiny Loving Canines often receives ill-fated dogs free of charge from nearby shelters like the Kern County Shelter, which recently delivered 35 dogs and puppies to the nonprofit rescue.
Monica Nolan, director of the Camarillo shelter, explained why they charge most rescue shelters.
“Twenty dollars covers our cost for a rabies shot and microchip,” said Nolan. “But for a purebred to a purebred rescue, it’s free because there is an organization called the Ventura County Dog Fanciers Association [via the] American Kennel Club underwrites the cost.”
But Tiny Loving Canines charges the public $300 to $400 to adopt a dog, significantly more than the $125 price tag on Camarillo shelter dogs. Nelson points to the expenses related to rehabilitating the rescue animals.
“It is much cheaper to kill dogs than to do what we do,” said Nelson. “[The Camarillo shelter] won’t put $1,400 in a dog to fix a broken leg. At Camarillo, the dog sits for three weeks with a broken leg until it runs out of time and is killed.”
Nolan said she believes people need to take a closer look at what it means to be a “no-kill” shelter.
“The public needs to understand the definition of no-kill,” said Nolan. “No-kill does include the euthanasia of unhealthy, untreatable animals. When you see an organization that is a no-kill shelter, read a little bit further on their website — what it really means is that they do euthanize animals, just not healthy, adoptable animals.”
In response to euthanasia in animal shelters, sometimes referred to as “kill shelters,” animal activist Nathan Winograd created the “no kill equation,” an 11-step blueprint to put a stop to animal killings.
“Spay/neuter is one of the parts of the equation,” said Rowley. “Individuals can help by always adopting and not shopping; foster for a rescue organization; donate money to a rescue; volunteer time, blankets and pet food.”
Diane Thompson fills the important role of donating supplies.
“I bring sheets and blankets [to Tiny Loving Canines], usually every week,” said Thompson, a Simi Valley resident. “People would rather come get a dog from here than the shelter because it’s heartbreaking to go into a shelter.”
Heartbreaking or not, Nolan insisted that the Camarillo shelter can only change if the community changes around it.
“Yes, there is a chance for us to be no-kill [shelter], but it can’t start with everyone pounding on us,” said Nolan. “First, you should start with a no-kill community, programs that prevent animals from coming into the shelter. You have to have a no-kill community before you can have a no-kill shelter.”