Little Blessings Pet Rescue

Rescue and Adoption of Abandoned Pets


My Visit to the California Kill Shelters

Posted on January 29, 2015 at 6:40 PM

I am one day back from visiting the San Bernardino Shelter and the Downey Shelter. I have mostly done this work from a far meeting the pups as they arrive in Seattle. The impact of being at the shelters walking through the vast old and worn down cages is still sinking in. I think I am in shock. I had heard the horror stories, but what I witnessed first hand was at times hopeful and at others appalling. Yet, what I saw was mostly tragic and apathy. I can only describe this as something that one would see in a third world country and not in the USA.


First, I will talk of my experience at the San Bernardino Shelter since it includes some good news. In the past, it has received a lot of bad press. The buildings and cages are old and run down and look like a prison for animals. On the plus side, there is organization housing the small dogs away from the large. The cages were relatively clean. I did not see dogs laying in their waste. The dogs had water. I was there on a low "inventory" day, so I did not see over crowding. I also found the staff to be warm and caring. They work with rescue groups to help get the dogs out alive. Moreover, they are now allowing grooming volunteers to come in and wash and groom their dogs. A groomed dog, has a greater chance of getting adopted. The issue is they have a vet that only visits one day a week. If an animal is sick, he will need to wait until the vet arrives. That can mean a week delay in treatment. Shelter staff is not allowed to administer medication. On the postive side, the San Bernardino Shelter will allow for a $75 neuter/spay deposit. This way the dogs can be clean before surgery. Adopters just need to send them a neuter certificate within 30 days. Your money is then returned.

Yet, while improvements have been made, San Bernardino is still a kill shelter that houses over 500 animals. Animals die because of lack of space here, or from lack of funds to treat diseases. I saw a good number of rescue groups checking on the dogs. It felt sad, but hopeful. Then of course, there are the vast amount of pitbulls and chihuahuas that are last to be saved and often the dogs who are killed in the greatest numbers.

This is a poor area and the pet owners are often unable to afford vet care. They do not neuter/spay their animals, vaccinate or utilize microchips very often. Their animals are susceptible to disease since they are not vaccinated before arriving to the shelter. The key to helping this area is low cost spay and neuter clinics and affordable vet care. Education on how to be a good pet owner is needed. Breeding should be against the law and those doing it fined. Why is California allowing breeding with such a mess on their hands? That is the million dollar question.

The following day I drove to the Downey Shelter. It is also located in an impoverished area. Arriving I noticed a long concreate wall with barbed wire barrier on top. I was not prepared for what I was about to witness. I walked stall after stall of open kennels. The cages are open air. The dogs are exposed to the elements and some are exposed to the wind and cold of night with only a flap of material hanging to block the wind and sun. There is a small door barrier that can divide the stall. This means if the entire cage of dogs is put inside, they barely have room to move and will be stepping into each other's waste.

Large dogs were housed next to small ones. Birds flew through the inclosure into the dog's pens eating their food. This would stir up the dogs and more barking would ensue. The small dogs were terrified since you would see a 5 lbs dog right next to a pitbull.

The stinch of animal waste was over whelming. Every cage housed more than one dog often four small dogs at a time. Their cages were filled with waste and dogs were laying in it. I saw a German Shepard too sick to move. There was diarrhea all over his cage. He looked starved. I was afraid to even mention it since, attention brought to their suffering can mean a death sentence, so you may be damned if you do or if you don't when reporting illness. A solution for a sick dog can be euthanasia.

Another cage housed 6 puppies. They were laying in their own waste. It was all over their cage too. Their food bowl filled with stale looking food sat in the middle of it. I saw dogs with their eyes swollen shut. A bull dog had a toe nail missing and it was red and bloody. He had bite marks on the back of his legs. Another sweet and friendly pitbull had what looked like mange.  German Shepard was laying sick on the ground.  His cage was filled with diahrea.  Another shih tzu dog was wet and it was approaching nightime. He would soon be exposed to night time temperatures. They were sick, matted, scratching, shivering in fear in almost every cage.

Kennel cards were missing, so there was no information provided for some dogs. I told a shelter worker and he said to tell someone else since “that was not his building”. An adopter will not know when a dog is available because of a missing kennel card. There were plenty of poodles, shih tzus, maltese all highly adoptable dogs waiting. One little maltese sat by the side of the wall shaking in fear. She is very skinny and frail absolutely traumatized by her experience at the shelter. This is the story for so many of the small dogs. As I walk past their cages, they come to me with pleading eyes. All I can do is send them love and walk past. to see the next. I spent many hours at this shelter.

I found it interesting that it was well staffed. The ASPCA had a presence there. I didn't ask what they were doing. There were plenty of shelter workers. A few walked through the stalls asking if I needed help. They walked past the cages filled with waste. During my two day visit, I saw one person cleaning cages. Most of the workers congregated at a picnic table centered in the middle of the shelter. The office workers were polite, but did not get my information correctly into the system the first day. I was known as the lady called “Nancy”. The second day, I finalized the rescue of two dogs that had no other interest.

The second day, one of the staff said: "I remember you". You are "the lady that made me work hard". All I had asked her to do was to look up a few ID numbers to see if there was rescue interest in the dogs. I realize that these are low paying jobs. Yet, should that be an excuse? As in all work, it is not what you are paid that should determine the quality of your work. Moreover, do any of them even like animals? Should that not be a qualification for working in a shelter? A shelter can also utalize volunteers, as we do in Seattle. They walk animals, so they don't go stir crazy in their cells and greatly reduce their stress levels.

Who is running the Downey shelter and office?  They are not doing a good job!  For example, the Downey office needed my drivers license to fill out the paperwork. They handed me the papers and when I got back (after an hour of driving in freeway traffic) to my hotel. I realized they had not returned my drivers license. I was flying out the next morning and would not be allowed to board without it! I tried calling the shelter, but could not get through. I jumped back into my car and called a friend who found a back office number. She called and sure enough, they had my ID. I spent another hour and a half in rush hour bumper to bumper traffic one way to retrieve my license. Needless to say, I was not happy. When I arrived. I asked why they did not call me? Even though they had taken all of my info for the adoption, the office manager stated they "did not have my number". I said, well should I give it to you? She went to the computer and another worker told her “it was all in the system”. It is a sad commentary that this shelter seems to have no heart and their workers appear to care less. Besides being disorganized, how can you walk past the suffering of these animals day after day and be immune to their suffering and care? It is just astounding to me.

The one redeeming factor for this shelter is they have a very fair $125 adoption fee. It includes the adoption fee, spay/neuter, heart worm test, all vacinations including rabies, flea treatment and microchip. Anyone in rescue knows, the cost is always in the vet care. Yet, what will the vet bills be from their lack of santitation and allowing of the spread of disease? Moreover, they do not wash their dogs before surgery. They disinfect the area. This means you will adopt a filthy dog that has lived in their own waste that will go immediately to surgery. You will not be able to really wash your dog for a week.

The world needs to come to the rescue of the Downey Shelter animals in California. This is truly a pit from hell shelter that has no business calling itself a shelter. It is a filthy death camp for dogs. The world needs to know this! The next time I hear "why do you rescue California dogs," I will show them the many pictures and videos showing exactly what I have described here. Its not for the faint of heart! Yet, this is real and it is happening in the USA! How can we as an animal loving nation turn away from what is happening in California shelters? I can only pray that God will know their suffering. That a greater power with intervene here and animal lovers around the world will demand that the Downey and all shelter animals receive humane treatment.

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Reply Alex Hayes
1:25 AM on December 5, 2015 
Thank you for sharing details from your visits to both the San Bernardino Animal Shelter (from which I have adopted two wonderful little dogs) and Downey Shelter. As an animal lover, advocate & adopter of three lovely female dogs (all different smaller mixes), I have to say that I am not surprised but am horrified to hear about the condition of the building/facility at San Bernardino. I know how the cacophony of dog barking can be deafening and adds to the high stress these sweet scared animals are feeling. I am saddened to hear the shelters place small dogs next to a large Pit? It does indeed sound like the employees are employed not because they care for animals but, because they need a job and money to pay their bills (?). That said, I believe this is a National Crisis and that a major Campaign needs to be mounted across this Nation with the help of Celebrities who have means, and can use their platforms to Educate the Public on 1- Spaying/ Neutering animals for population control 2- Rescuing and Adopting an animal before purchasing from a shop or Breeder 3- close the breeding/ puppy mill business down for good! 4- Make the public aware of how animals are Euthanized (gassing, heart sticks, injections)... all just heart breaking. 5- Make the public aware of the conditions that these animals are living in!? That VOLUNTEERS from the Public are needed to help with cleaning cages, cleaning laundry, walking and/or running the animals to decompress...

Anyway, I am so grateful that you had the courage to go visit these shelters and share with the public about their condition and the situations that sound like hell for the sweet animals that end up there. I will be making that same trip to visit these shelters in the near future and will be making a report similar to yours that I will share with as many people as possible via social media...

In the meantime, I will investigate how I can also start a Rescue in Seattle for Small Dogs... to get them out of these High Kill shelters and help get them adopted by families in the NW who appreciate them.

Blessings and all the Best to you and your Rescue!
Alex, Nala (Rescue Poodle/Terrier mix) & Charli (Rescue Chi mix)
Reply Sharon Demarte
2:37 PM on February 27, 2015 
Nancy, I just read your blog post about your visit to the California shelters. Absolutely heart breaking! Bless your heart for what you do! I'm just now learning about these shelters and I'm appalled! Have you considered trying to get articles published, maybe TV interviews - some way of getting the word out to more people about this travesty? Since my knowledge of this is new and scant, I have much to learn. If there's ever anything you think I could do to help, please let me know. It took a lot of courage for you to go through that! Sharon