With shelter over capacity, animal care officials consider euthanasia for some dogs

After four years of striving toward a goal of saving every treatable animal, Long Beach’s animal shelter is faced with a difficult choice: Starting Tuesday, March 14, shelter officials may have to begin euthanizing dogs that likely are adoptable, though they might need a little extra care or training.

Every one of the 99 kennels at Long Beach Animal Care Services’ East Spring Street facility is occupied, and shelter director Staycee Dains has run out of conference rooms, offices and other makeshift spots to put dogs as they wait for homes, she said.

“This is the first time in almost 15 years that I have had to authorize and make the decision to euthanize a dog for space,” she said. “It’s not OK. It’s not right, but there’s nothing else for me to do.”

Dains said the number of dogs at the shelter began creeping up as COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and health regulations were lifted and people returned to work—not because they were dumping pandemic pets, but because they were away at work and unaware when their dogs slipped out of the house or yard.

Would-be good Samaritans often bring loose dogs to the shelter, where only about 20% are reclaimed, Dains said; not everyone realizes a wandering dog is likely in or near its own neighborhood, so if someone can hold onto it for a day or two and post on social media sites such as Nextdoor, the owner is more likely to find it.

Long Beach Animal Care Services also has seen more people surrendering their pets due to economic hardship; they lost a job and can’t afford veterinary care or were forced to move and can’t bring the pet with them.

The tipping point for the shelter came recently when an influx of a dozen dogs—about half were from a homeless encampment cleared by law enforcement—came all at once and filled the kennels until they were overflowing. Dains said last week she had more than 120 dogs on the premises.

spcaLA P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village & Education Center staff set up temporary kennels inside the interior space of its permanent kennels due to overcrowding Friday, March 10, 2023. Photo by Brandon Richardon.

And so far it’s just a canine issue, but kitten season is starting—and with a nationwide shortage of veterinarians and vet techs, Dains said, it’s been harder to get animals spayed and neutered to prevent unwanted litters.

Beyond the general shortage, a lack of spay/neuter programs for large dogs is a particular challenge, said Laura Vena, executive director of the nonprofit Blockhead Brigade (named for blocky-headed dog breeds such as pitbulls that can be harder to get adopted).

Vena was trying to organize services with a mobile clinic that backed out because its facilities aren’t equipped for large dogs and it doesn’t have enough space for them while they recover after surgery.

Blockhead Brigade recently started putting up a table in front of the Long Beach shelter to try to find solutions before people surrender their pets, offering supplies, training and advice; finding help with vet bills; and even persuading property managers to allow a tenant to move in with a pet.

Dains is hoping that through partnerships with organizations like Vena’s and the community stepping up, the shelter can avoid having to put down animals that would make someone a loving companion.

For now, dogs in line to be euthanized are those that have bitten someone but aren’t deemed dangerous, and those with behavior issues exacerbated by a long stay at the shelter.

Dains sent out an email last week to shelter supporters, volunteers and other contacts about the dire situation, and she’s hoping to see more people and organizations offer to help. As of last week, 12 dogs were assigned euthanasia dates; 10 of them have issues that would not typically put them on the list.

A young pitbull sits in a temporary kennel at the overcroweded spcaLA P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village & Education Center in East Long Beach Friday, March 10, 2023. Photo by Brandon Richardon.

Vena said helping can take the form of fostering a dog, volunteering or just taking some cute pictures of shelter pets and sharing them on social media so more potential adopters see them.

“Our city loves animals—it’s amazing to see the enthusiasm that’s out there, but we have a long way to go,” she said.

For information on adoptable pets or how to help Long Beach shelter animals, call Long Beach Animal Care Services at 562-570-7387, visit their website at longbeach.gov/acs or email [email protected]

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the reason for the Blockhead Brigade‘s focus on blocky-headed dogs.

Long Beach Animal Care Services now has a dedicated foster program

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