By LOIS HENRY
If you aren’t involved in animal welfare circles, you probably haven’t heard of an incendiary report authored by the county’s new Animal Control Director, Jen Woodard. It’s been raising hackles since last week.
It’s a report she never intended to become public. And, frankly, I’ve been torn as to whether to write about it, considering the inaccurate, insensitive and downright insulting comments included in its pages.
But Woodard is in such a key position in Kern’s animal welfare world, I felt it was important to clear the air and make sure we all know where we stand.
Besides, an unexpected silver lining came out of the report, which I want to alert the public to.
When I say Woodard is in a key position, I mean she’s absolutely the pin in the animal control grenade.
Yes, Kern has the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the City of Bakersfield has its own animal control team, there’s the Humane Society and countless smaller groups are working to rescue animals daily. Now, we also have the low cost spay/neuter clinic Critters Without Litters.
With its $6 million annual budget and control of the main animal shelter on Mount Vernon Avenue, though, county Animal Control is the 800-pound gorilla.
It could be a major force for progress.
But animal advocates have complained for years that the county operates in a silo that’s impossible to scale. Even people wanting to volunteer to foster animals, walk dogs or just clean cages have told me how difficult it is to break through the county’s many layers.
Part of the reason, many assumed, was that Animal Control was typically under the supervision of a county bureaucrat. Past directors have had zero experience in animal welfare and shelter operations.
Which is why local animal advocates were elated when the county made Animal Control its own department and hired Woodard, whose resume touts stints as chief of Best Friends Animal Society pet adoption center and spay/neuter clinic in Los Angeles and manager of the City of Rancho Cucamonga animal shelter, among other animal welfare jobs.
That elation has been dampened considerably since Woodard started in the first week of October.
Some feel promises she made on new sanitation procedures and hours of operation at the shelter have been too slow in coming and that her interaction with volunteers (including calling a volunteer training day and then not even showing up) has been tepid at best.
Others have found her defensive and resistant to suggestions.
Now this report, dated Dec. 27, 2012 and titled “Puppy Love Program at Bakersfield Shelter,” has stirred the ire of more than just animal advocates.
Woodard gave the report to city staffers in early January.
She refused to talk to me about it, which is unfortunate as it is a confusing document and I needed some explanation.
There is a proposal, of sorts, in the report that the county shelter try to quell rampant disease by quarantining puppies for longer than the typical five-day hold.
But a large portion of the report is focused on blame.
n Woodard blames “cultural beliefs” in the Hispanic community for animal overpopulation and disease, asserting that many communities in Kern are “98% Mexican and Spanish speaking.” Pet care in Mexico is not up to U.S. standards as far as spay/neuter and vaccination, she writes, and that culture has been transplanted here. (I would point out that every time heavily Hispanic areas have been given the opportunity to alter/vaccinate pets at low cost within their own neighborhoods, they’ve turned out in droves, suggesting it’s a poverty issue, not cultural.)
n She goes on to blame local veterinarians for not taking a more community focused proactive role. (The one vet she calls out by location actually donated hundreds of hours helping with our most recent animal hoarding case.)
n She blames local animal welfare groups for not providing county Animal Control with “leadership” for decades. (See above re: animal groups being shoved aside by Animal Control.)
n And, in general, she blames the local community for its lack of awareness.
“Even with Kern County adjacent to Los Angeles County, they might as well be worlds apart. Some of the progressive, grassroots movements in the LA area regarding animal welfare and public/private partnerships (i.e. Best Friends Animal Society and LA Dept. of Animal Services) do not make it ‘over the hill’ to Bakersfield.”
I can see why she didn’t want this to be made public.
But I don’t see why she wrote it in the first place.
Aggressive spay/neuter/vaccination programs have been touted as one of the main solutions to our problems for years in numerous previous reports.
I have no idea how much time Woodard spent putting this report together but it was time wasted when we can ill afford more dilly dallying.
OK, it did result in one positive, which I mentioned earlier.
Newly elected Supervisor Leticia Perez received a copy of the report. She called Woodard into her office Monday.
“I don’t want to debate the issue of culture,” Perez told me. “I think she made a mistake. I also think she has good intentions. But she’s got to continue to reach out to the public.”
To that end, Perez is committing the $25,000 she has in her Supervisor’s Special Project fund to hold regular free or low-cost spay/neuter clinics in Lamont using Animal Control’s mobile surgical van and a group of volunteers.
“I want to demonstrate to her that people in this community love their animals,” Perez said.
Woodard was very interested in making it happen, Perez said, and they’ve picked Feb. 24 for the first clinic.
If all goes well, Perez hopes to continue the clinics until “every dog in Lamont is fixed.” And then expand.
“I appreciate Supervisor Perez willing to step in to this mess and come up with a solution instead of whining and moaning about a lack of resources,” said animal advocate Liz Keogh, who will be mustering the volunteers for the Lamont effort.
“We all really do want it (Woodard’s tenure) to work.”
Woodard has definitely dug herself a hole. But if she reaches out, there will be hands to pull her up.
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.