Below is a statement from Oakland Animal Services Director, Ann Dunn, in response to a recent lawsuit filed by a former OAS employee against the City of Oakland.
Statement by Ann Dunn, OAS Director
Regarding Recent Lawsuit and Acknowledging the Great Work of the OAS Team
While I cannot speak to the specific allegations contained in a recent lawsuit filed by a former OAS employee, I can share my experience as OAS Director since February 2020. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with OAS’s Animal Control Officers (ACOs), and the entire OAS team, and have appreciated their dedication to their jobs, the health and welfare of the animals, residents, fellow staff and the City of Oakland.
Over the past year, OAS has undergone significant restructuring to address deep inequities in animal welfare, by shifting from a reactive and punitive model to a proactive one that supports pet guardians with limited resources as a primary focus. Today, ACOs work together as a team. They have been given discretion to distinguish between a loving guardian who has limited resources and true cases of animal cruelty or neglect. ACOs now spend much of their time providing support to help keep animals in their homes, providing animals the care they need, while supporting our philosophy that having the transformative love of an animal shouldn’t only be for families of privilege.
The inability to access veterinary care is a primary reason that animals were seized by ACOs historically, and why many people contact OAS about giving up their animals. OAS now hosts monthly veterinary clinics to support pet guardians who are experiencing homelessness. ACOs now regularly schedule animals for veterinary care at OAS, and provide food and other supports, to keep animal and human families together. Our vet team is passionate about community-serving veterinary care.
As an example, an ACO recently responded to a call about a dog that was chained to a tree. When she arrived, she saw the dog looked sickly. As a former veterinary assistant, the Officer saw the dog had mammary tumors that would likely require surgery. In the past, OAS would have seized the dog if the caretaker was unable to provide medical care. In her discussion with the guardian, she found that the man’s fence had recently collapsed and chaining the dog was his best effort to keep his dog safe. The Officer also learned the guardian is a retired senior on a fixed income. He loves his dog but can’t afford the medical care. The guardian doesn’t drive, so yesterday, the Officer transported the dog to OAS and our veterinarian provided the first of two surgeries to remove the tumors. The Officer provided a harness and information about a trolley system, which is a humane way to contain the dog, while also allowing her free range in her yard.
In the last year, eight officers attended an 80-hour training at the Animal Law Enforcement Academy. All ACOs now meet the standards for California Certified Animal Control Officer status. Additionally, the two most senior officers have undergone 8-hour training on Interview and Interrogation for First Responders, and all ACOs have attended a 4-hour training on forensics and evidence.
Having received training this year on proper investigative techniques, and working in close collaboration with OPD and the Alameda County District Attorney, ACO animal cruelty cases have resulted in 15 Felony charges, two charges of sexual assault on an animal, and one large-scale seizure of cockfighting birds and paraphernalia. Just last week, a case of an abused kitten resulted in a Felony Animal Cruelty conviction. Over the last year as director, I have witnessed firsthand officers dealing with extremely painful cruelty cases. These are deeply compassionate people. My appreciation for the important work they do is immense.
Like all City departments, OAS has had to freeze vacant staff positions and other resources to help address the City’s significant budget shortfall as the result of COVID-19. Despite that, OAS has dramatically increased accessibility to our community by more than doubling the hours we answer the phones and are open to the public.
In response to Covid-19, through support from Friends of Oakland Animal Services, we have created a foster program for dogs who were previously at-risk for euthanasia, created a robust program to re-unite lost pets with their families, introduced a support program to help people rehome their pets without coming to the shelter, and so much more.
As OAS Director, it is ultimately my responsibility to provide staff the training and tools they need to succeed, and to create a culture where they feel supported. I am extremely proud of the good work of the OAS team over the last year. I am also grateful for the consistent and meaningful support I have received from the Mayor, City Administrator, Director of Human Resources, and other City staff. I am heartened to learn that the City Attorney will be vigorously defending the lawsuit.
I look forward to continuing to work with the OAS team to support the animals and people of Oakland.
Ann Dunn, Director
Oakland Animal Services