Most people would assume that animal shelters’ primary focus is to ensure that the lives of abandoned animals improve by returning them to health and finding them a new home. However, each shelter has its own policies, which can mean that some of their decisions regarding the future of the animals in their care do not always fit everyone’s morals and ethics. It is a situation that San Diego Humane Society has found itself, as they are now facing a lawsuit for allegedly releasing adoptable cats onto the streets.
The Policies of the San Diego Humane Society
According to 10 News San Diego, a lawsuit has been filed against the San Diego Humane Society. It alleges that the organization has a practice of releasing cats back onto the streets that are friendly and adoptable. In 2018, the organization took over animal control services for San Diego as well as several other local cities. The San Diego Humane Society was working in collaboration with other rescue groups, and they adopted the ‘shelter neuter return’ approach to stray cats.
This program involved the group giving feral cats temporary shelter, during which time the cat would receive vaccinations, and they were either spayed or neutered. The aims were to stop the spread of disease and to prevent feral cats from reproducing to reduce the number of cats living on the streets. Gary Weitzman is the CEO of the San Diego Humane Society. Weitzman has said that the ‘shelter neuter return’ policy only applies to feral cats and not to domesticated cats that are brought into the shelter. According to Weitzman, the shelter will put up for adoption any animal that is friendly rather than releasing them.
However, a lawsuit alleges that Weitzman’s assertations are false, and some local shelters are now disputing the claims. One of the attorneys to file the suit is Pam Harris, and she says they have access to records showing that more than half of the cats taken to the shelter in the second half of 2019 were later released onto the streets. In total, more than 700 cats were released. Harris claims that many cats should not have been released onto the streets and estimates that between 25 and 30 percent of the cats were friendly and adoptable. Many of the cats were brought to the Humane Society by individuals who hoped the cat would have a better life and not that the society would return them to the street. Harris’s figures are based on 75 sample records that the plaintiffs requested from the Humane Society. Information from the notes in the records indicates that 25 of the 75 cats were friendly, and humans were able to handle them, indicating that the cats were adoptable.
Harris gave the example of a cat called Pablo, brought to the Humane Society by a Clairemont resident. Unfortunately, the Humane Society later released the cat back onto the streets, and Harris claims this was the wrong decision. The notes indicate that Pablo was a friendly cat, as the person who brought him in could pet him, handle him, and easily pick him up. Bryan Pease is Harris’s co-counsel, and he agrees with Harris that the treatment of these cats is cruel. When the cats are returned to the streets, they often lack water access and starve from insufficient nutrients. A further issue is that the cats are left exposed to predators. Another example is Mango, who was another cat brought to the San Diego Humane Society that was friendly and potentially adoptable. Sadly, after the Humane Society released Mango back onto the street, she was later found dead. It is believed that the cause of death was an animal bite, and this supports Pease’s opinion that returning cats to the streets puts them at risk from predators. The lawsuit says that the San Diego Humane Society is not fulfilling its duties by abandoning cats. Therefore, there is a request in the lawsuit for the organization to put an immediate stop to this practice and to rethink the current rules of the program.
The Response from the San Diego Human Society
In response to news of the lawsuit, Weitzman claimed that they had not yet been served with a lawsuit. He also said that he was not permitted to comment on any pending litigation. However, he was willing to address the situation by saying that the society would like to educate the community about their program and its aims. He encouraged anyone with concerns or questions to get in touch via their website. Weitzman also expressed the view that the understanding of cat issues is constantly evolving, which means that the solutions used have also changed. He asserts that the organization only aims to do what is best for the cats. They must balance caring for the cats with reducing the number of cats on the streets, which is challenging and complex.
The San Diego Humane Society’s CEO explained that the issue of stray cats in San Diego is significant, with an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 stray cats roaming the streets of the city. He referred to these cats as community cats with no sign of ownership and said they could be young or old and feral or friendly. Programs such as the one implemented by the San Diego Human Society have support from many experts and animal organizations, including leading veterinarians, Alley Cat Allies, the Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, Best Friends, and Pets Alive. Many of these organizations believe that community cat programs produce the best outcomes for healthy outdoor cats, so they are often the best solution. Rather than seeing it as cruelty, they say it is the only proven approach to producing community cat numbers in the long-term. Therefore, it is currently the best option in the opinion of the experts.