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The 20-Mile Trip to Altadena's Animal Shelter

Ask yourself before your read: do you even know where it is?

You can call me Petey, you can call me Sweetie, you can call me #A291038, or you can call me just plain lucky.

Lucky because Petey, a Labrador mix who lived rough on the streets for a couple of weeks, was rescued before he starved or met the business end of an SUV. And lucky because, though he divided his time between Pasadena and Altadena, on that fateful Friday, he happened to be trotting on the right side of the tracks --  south of Woodbury. So he took a three-mile trip to the Pasadena Humane Society rather than a 20 mile journey to the County shelter in Baldwin Park.

As Veronica Ferrantelli, founder of The Dog Rescuers, a non-profit organization, says, "Baldwin Park is much better than it used to be, and much better than most of the other county shelters -- some of which are absolutely horrific. But Pasadena Humane Society is the gold standard -- the creme de la creme."

This isn't to throw Baldwin Park under the bus. Not too long ago, this LA County shelter, a shelter that serves Altadena and 34 (count ‘em) other cities and towns, had a dismal reputation among animal rescue organizations.  Current shelter manager Lance Hunter has made heroic efforts to turn things around, developing partnerships with local businesses and volunteers to help find homes for the permanently lost and abandoned. 

BUT it is a county shelter, of limited means, accepting 700 to 800 homeless dogs per week.  You do the placement math.

Which brings up another issue. When our designated animal shelter is 20 miles from our own backyard, it’s like sweeping all the lost and abandoned dogs and cats under the rug. Out of sight, out of mind.  Perhaps that explains why, pre-Hunter, Baldwin Park Shelter continued to function in sub-par conditions. Overcrowded, understaffed, and woefully mismanaged.

That’s always the problem when you outsource.  You haven’t solved the problem, you’ve just moved it off the radar.

Ideally, we could partner with PHS, and have a satellite shelter facility in Altadena. Lord knows, we’ve got the room. But realistically, that’s not going to happen. Not when we fight tooth and nail with the county just to put up a sandwich sign or hold a block party.

But we could address the homeless pet issue from another angle. Why don’t we hold fundraisers to offer free spaying and neutering .  The success of spaying and neutering programs nationwide, according to Merritt Clifton, editor of Animal People, has reduced the number of euthanized animals over the past several years by 17%. And this is during a recession.

Even from a fiscal perspective, it makes sense.  Surely kicking in the dollars to prevent unwanted pets is less expensive than saving them, and often, ultimately, killing them.

And, since Baldwin Park will probably continue as our designated shelter, we should discuss ways to improve what we’ve got --  support the adoption programs and help upgrade the 50-year old facility.

So back to Petey. Instead of just a face in the crowd,  he's living large at the Pasadena Humane Society, popular with the volunteers and staff until Mr or Ms Right comes along.  Thanks to his inherent good manners (he sits and cuddles on command, no aggression, gets along well with other dogs), Petey has earned the coveted PHS Blue Dot, signifying practically perfect. Hillary Gatlin, PHS Community Relations Associate, says Petey is now going for his Blue Ribbon. I’m not certain what that means, but perhaps it has something to do with learning ceramics or reciting Shakespeare.

Surely, up in our neck of the woods, we could give a better account of ourselves. Do more for all the Peteys that land on the north side of Woodbury.  Feel a little more confident that when we save a dog from the streets, we’ve actually done him a favor.

dan watson July 12, 2011 at 03:05 PM
As an unincorporated community in LA County, Altadena relies on County services, including the Animal Shelter. South Pasadena pays the Pasadena Humane Society over $100,000 per year for animal control services. They could contract with the County and pay less, but would have to rely on the Baldwin Park shelter. PHS contracts with a number of independent cities for these services, including La Canada and Glendale.
Barbara Ellis July 12, 2011 at 03:16 PM
How many people in Altadena have ever been to Baldwin Park? I certainly haven't a clue where it is. If someone loses a dog in Altadena, will they know to go there? I doubt it. Although the dog's photo will be posted online, there are still many people who haven't got computers, and may be searching for their dog without realizing it's at the shelter. I'd like to help raise money for free spay and neuter, free microchipping, and free collar ID tags. Thanks for getting us motivated, Karin.
Rosemary Byrne July 12, 2011 at 03:59 PM
I agree! I've never seen so many stray dogs and cats anywhere else. I do my best to catch them, and find them homes or take them to the shelters. Moreover, I've thought of starting a grass roots group to rescue strays. It seems that many people don't take care of their pets in this community, and perhaps the animal lovers here could make a difference when it comes to spay and neutering, etc. Please keep me posted. For some reason Patch doesn't recognize my email for updates and so here it is: rosemarybyrne@charter.com. There are many animal lovers in Altadena. Let's try to make a difference. I'm willing to volunteer. Anyone else?
Pat July 12, 2011 at 04:08 PM
Spay/Neuter always helps, but the real problem is committment. The majority of homeless dogs are young - they grew out of being cute puppies, and now require house training, behavior training, enrichment and time and attention. The county should 'adopt' mandatory spay/neuter and microchipping of all pets. But most of all, if you have a pet, be committed to it for life. A dog can live 14-16 years and a cat can live 18-20. If you're not ready for that committment, don't have a pet. That's why there's so many homeless dogs.
Laura Monteros July 12, 2011 at 05:38 PM
I've been to Baldwin Park three or four times. the first time it was a pit, but when I took my dogs for microchipping a few years ago, it had vastly improved, both in facilities and wait times. It is a *very* long drive and I would not go there without a compelling reason. A satellite center anywhere in the West SG Valley would be welcome. To adopt an animal, I would go to PHS because the animals are so well cared for. I have heard of people just dropping animals there rather than calling the county, because once they're outside the door, what's PHS gonna do? BTW, PHS does charge people to leave animals unless you can convince them it's a stray--and having lived in Pas. & picked up a few strays, I'll tell you it's a real argument.
Angela Odom July 12, 2011 at 06:49 PM
I love this article because it is problem I've faced on more than one occasion. The biggest concern I had was seeing so many animals let go after the owners lost their homes. Dogs and cats ended up in the street in droves and calling the County was like (as my grandmother used to say) pulling hen's teeth. I came upon one unfortunate little guy (probably a Cocker) who had developed Cherry eye in both eyes, he obviously hadn't eat in days, and was matted. I refused to leave that little one alone and called the county. The guy came out and went on about how lucky I was to have called at the time I did because, if he had passed this area, he would not have stopped. Great to hear. Unfortunately, the beautiful little one's photo was up for less than a day and then gone. I can only imagine what happened to him. I am also a member of HomeAgain Pet Rescuers. They send out emails for missing pets in the area and I keep a look out for them and will call if I spot one of those little runaways. Still, it's not enough. I wish there was more available for our little furry friends.
veronica Ferrantelli July 12, 2011 at 06:49 PM
This is so exciting to read a community coming together for a cause. This is how it starts. In LA we have 6 county High Kill shelters. On average 50 people line up every day to dump off their unwanted pets. The shelter is forced to kill about 50 dogs and cats a day. That is about 300 each day. (If we include our city shelters and our neighboring county high kill shelters the number of animals we allow to be killed each day is sickening) Yes, some animals are aggressive, old, sick but I am here to tell you because I have seen the ten barrels each day full of dogs and cats - that they are also filled with precious, innocent, sweet, fluffy, adoptable pets. When a dog is brought to the county shelter she only has on average 3 to 7 days to live. (City shelters are different) The solution is: Education and awareness, taking responsibility for your pets, spaying and neutering of all pets, adopt a shelter pet, no puppy mills, no unlicensed neighborhood breeders selling their puppies on craigslist, stronger laws and penalties and enforcement of those laws. If this does not hit you compassionately it hits you in your wallet. Over $2 billion is spent annually by local governments to shelter and ultimately destroy 8-10 million adoptable dogs and cats. Source: Business Wire Features 
 I love that Altadena is a conscious community. A satellite shelter, and a Free S/N Clinic is a great idea. Let us be a model community for others to want to emulate. Count me in!
Leslie Aitken July 12, 2011 at 08:33 PM
The idea of a satellite shelter is a wonderful idea......the actuality is another. Think about how impossible it was to get a cell phone tower up here. Cell phone towers don't bark and they don't poop. People up here don't want a school on Palm Street, or High School students north of Altadena Drive........how in heaven's name would a shelter even find a place that wouldn't create a public brouhaha?! In order to have a shelter, you would have to have a kennel permit. The last I heard, the only place that you can get a kennel license nowadays is in South El Monte. Baldwin Park as our Animal Control is ridiculous.......and has been for years. It is a sad and heartbreaking place. Most animals there are destroyed, nearly ALL kittens are. I would love to be part of the solution, but again, LA County has so many rules, I doubt it would ever be possible.
dan watson July 12, 2011 at 08:40 PM
Beyond the permit issues, there's the cost of building a shelter and staffing it. The County is in no position to do either.
Karin Bugge July 13, 2011 at 12:45 AM
Just because the County is intractable on most issues (and it is); just because some pet owners are irresponsibly cruel (and some are), doesn't mean we have to be complicit in the misery of animals who find themselves lost and abandoned on our doorstep. If Baldwin Park Shelter is digging in its heels to make things a little better, seems like we could take some small steps to help them out. It's a beginning -- it's something, rather than nothing.
Laurie Allee July 13, 2011 at 02:59 AM
You tell it, Karin. I'm sure a lot of people don't even know the specifics of these things. With awareness comes change.
Patrizzi Intergalactica July 13, 2011 at 05:11 AM
Thanks for writing about this worthy subject. I had no idea Altadena wasn't welcome at PHS. Shelters are sad places, no matter where they are. In the mountains, strays were common. No one called animal control. We had a centrally located vet in town that most pet owners went to. If a critter was missing its description would show up on a bulletin board in the vets office. People finding strats could call this vet and report. The local humane society had no building. It consisted of a network of people willing to be foster homes. Then, the local TV station and newspaper would show photos of the animals in the foster homes. It worked out very well, all volunteer.
veronica Ferrantelli July 13, 2011 at 05:17 AM
Very interesting. Well, as a matter of fact, Camarillo shelter has an off site facility in Simi Valley. Next to a low cost Spay/Neuter clinic. ($60.00 per dog) I guess you are right, it could never happen......................
ShellSherree July 13, 2011 at 10:45 AM
Desexing is a massive step towards reducing the issues. Thanks for highlighting matters like this, Karin. And I'm glad sweetie Petey has been a lucky little fellow.
Garvanza Gal July 13, 2011 at 02:43 PM
Recently one of my mother's wealthy friends donated a 100 k to the Pasadena Humane Society. Wonderful yes! keeps the gold standard golden. Then I recently visited the San Gabriel Humane Society ( built in 1924 serving the cities of San Gabriel, Monterey Park, Temple City and Azusa) during our recent heat wave. I couldn't help but think, wouldn't it have been better if her money went here. Currently the small dog building is being cooled by two noisy storm fans. Luckily the cat rooms are small enough to use air conditioning window units and they appear content. This is not to say their aren't improvements in services and staff. The San Gabriel Animal shelter has wonderful caring staff that includes volunteer high school students as well as the volunteer medical help from the good folks at Pasadena's Foothill Veterinary staff. It's just that many of our county shelters are in need of upgrades. A decade ago the city of LA started acting on a bond to create new shelters. The LACY street shelter built in 86(?) was even expanded. The county, in the meantime falls behind. Duck tape fixes are welcome. Also the low cost spay and neuter services are not so easy to find or take advantage of. I sure hope they've improved. The on-line list was in need of updates. Most no longer provide services... or didn't pick up there phone. I like Veronica's in your face statistics. If I were dictator I'd make every kid watch an educational film where a few beautiful animals are euthanized. Educate
carrie Meyers July 13, 2011 at 03:26 PM
Steves's Pets seems to be the drop off place for lost animals and sick wild kittens. There are days that we come to work and there will be a box of kittens dropped at the door that are full of fleas and still need to be feed milk every 4 hours can get expensive for us. We keep these kittens for months before we adopt them out and we try to ask for a fee to help off set the cost of taking care of them for so long but its to the point now that people have a hard time paying $50.00 for a kitten that is not spayed and we don't have the means to spay all the kittens that come into are store. I see people coming in daily with puppies and kittens and they have no interested in getting there animals fixed even if its free. But our regular customers that have been coming to us for years all have there animals fixed because they are assume pet owners that treat there animals like gold.
veronica Ferrantelli July 13, 2011 at 03:30 PM
Great work my friend. Thank you for taking the time to care enough to say something and start a conversation. It really is like you said, "out of site out of mind". I just received this email late last night "Please rescue dogs out of Riverside County Shelter located at 6851 Van Buren Boulevard, Riverside, CA 92504 They have over 1000 animals and will begin mass euthanasia on Wed, July 13th in an effort to try and reduce to only 300 animals". Out of site, out of mind. This is devastating. This is only one shelter. Too much to much to think about? To overwhelming to do something? I will be rescuing only 6 dogs. I know it is a small amount but, it is something. Not in the position to do that? I get it. Then I beg you my friends, not for me but for the 700 furry babies, please keep this conversation going. Start a petition. Write the Mayor. Tell a friend who works at the news. The more conversations with our neighbors and friends, maybe something will change. It's a start. It's something. Written with a sad loving heart. Let's wake L.A. up!
carrie Meyers July 13, 2011 at 03:33 PM
When we end up with a lost dog at the Pet shop and that happens weekly we take them down to Altadena Vet and scan to see if they have a microchip and if you live in Altadena its a law that all animals have to be microchiped. If you do get your animals chiped you need to register the chip or we will be unable to find you. If they don't have a chip we keep them in the grooming shop and take a picture of them and post it on Altadena blog. There is only one time that I took a dog down to PHS and that dog bit us and pooped all over its self and we could not keep it around for saftey reasons and I just told them that I found him in Pasadena and they don't ask any questions and I make sure to check on the dog weekly till he hopefully adopted.
Dan Abendschein (Editor) July 13, 2011 at 03:45 PM
Thanks everyone for the comments here. I am going to make a few suggestions, even though I have zero experience as a community activist (though I have followed the actions of many activists, both successful and unsuccessful). First, I'd suggest getting some people together and meeting with Mike Antonovich to at least put this issue on his radar. He does have some discretionary budget and a lot of power to help on projects that he is willing to get behind. Also, someone mentioned that there is no site for a shelter in Altadena, but what comes to mind for me is the unused property at the Lincoln/Altadena intersection. One more idea: look into private grants- I'm sure there are people out there who want to try out new innovative programs for animal care. Maybe Altadena could be the spot to do it. I know a lot of people suggested that the county will never go for any of this, but I think people sometimes underestimate the power of persistence. I've seen groups who constantly show up to meetings and pester their officials really get people to pay attention to their agenda. I think it is a matter of how much you are willing to put into it and how much patience you have... there won't be a shelter in Altadena next year. But if people work hard on it, there could possibly be one in 5-10 years.
dan watson July 13, 2011 at 04:42 PM
My recommendation to address the needs of Altadena would not be to pursue the building and staffing of an animal shelter in Altadena. In today's times, it's not going to happen strictly for budget reasons. But, you can build a reasonable argument, based on geographic location and distance from Baldwin Park, that the County should contract for animal control services in Altadena with the Pasadena Humane Society. PHS already contracts with several cities including next door neighbor La Canada. The cost depends on what services are needed. The amount of the contract is something that is reachable. Building a multi-million dollar shelter and then paying for the personnel to staff it and other costs is simply not feasible.
Leslie Aitken July 13, 2011 at 04:49 PM
The Pasadena Humane Society does service both So. Pasadena and La Canada because they have paid contracts to do so. From what I understand, they are maxed out with their service areas now. For them to service Altadena, we would have to pay too, BUT we are not a city and have no Altadena money to pay for it.. Contracts with Altadena are done through LA County and LA county uses the county facility at Baldwin Park. Just another reason for Altadena to become a city with its own government and finances.
Laura Monteros July 13, 2011 at 05:31 PM
Meeting with Antonovich is certainly a good idea for a first step. As an animal lover, he's sure to be behind this in principle. However, the Lincoln/Altadena site would not work. It's much too small, and despite being on a commercial corner, it's essentially in a residential neighborhood. Homes directly border the site on the north and east and across the street to the south, with only one commercial site between homes across the street to the west and southwest. Altadena is primarily residential throughout with very little open space until you get up into the foothills. I think a shelter in this area, or at least closer than Baldwin Park, is a great idea, but it really can't be in an existing residential neighborhood due to noise levels.
Karin Bugge July 13, 2011 at 06:39 PM
I don't think at this point we have to be so concerned with the where, as much as the if and how. And getting this in front of Antonovich sounds like the logical next step. That's shocking to hear about how people are using Steve's Pets as an adhoc shelter, but I'm so impressed with how this store is pitching in, without funding from anyone.
Stephanie Clayton July 13, 2011 at 09:51 PM
Found Animals is a group funded by Dr. Gary Michelson. It offers two prizes ($25 million & $50 Million) for the invention of low cost, non-surgical method of cat and dog sterilization. They partner with Los Angeles Animal Services and many low-cost spay & neuter clinics. I have no idea if they would fund a shelter in Altadena but its seems unlikely the state can afford to do so- private funding might be the only way to achieve this. On a smaller scale, don't be afraid to take personal responsibility. Look around. Have a neighbor who can't afford to spay or neuter? Offer to help drive them and/or pay.
Dan Abendschein (Editor) July 13, 2011 at 10:07 PM
One last idea: if Altadena residents want to contract with the Pasadena shelter or have a satellite shelter, see if they are willing to pay for it themselves. Altadena's library system is independent of the county and is paid for by a district that comes directly from Altadena tax bills. If local animal control is also a priority for Altadenans, that would be other way to achieve the goal.
Susan Campisi July 13, 2011 at 10:58 PM
Veronica, you always have facts and stories that kick you in the gut. That's heartwrenching what's happening at the Riverside shelter - tax dollars going to these death machines. It's shameful. These comments give me hope for animals in our community. Let's get together and put some of these great ideas into action. I like the idea of a shelter but that's a long-term goal and there's a lot we can do in the short-term. Please email if you're interested in connecting: susancampisi@gmail.com
Petrea Burchard July 14, 2011 at 01:55 AM
The statistics are heartbreaking but as Karin says, that doesn't mean people have to be complicit. Dan makes a good point: these things take a lot of time. But persistence and patience will pay off. Thanks for a great article and great discussion.
veronica Ferrantelli July 14, 2011 at 02:01 AM
My dear friend it is not the shelter.....It is the people who live in the surrounding communities. The people who think it is fun to have puppies at home. People who make money off selling puppies. People who do not S/N their pets. People who do not have regard for an animals life. These are outrageous number of innocent animals being killed. Also it is because it is the week of July 4th, a lot of dog get scared and run for cover. I wonder where are all their owners. They belonged to someone. Yet it is still the community at fault for the disregard. It is like your house hold trash. When I am done I put my trash to the curb....Where does it go?....Who knows? Who cares? Out of site, Out of Mind.
Carol Lachata July 14, 2011 at 06:39 PM
Lovely idea and consciousness-raising article Karen! So many animals suffer needlessly at the hands of humans. I've been to the Baldwin Park facility, and while the young man I dealt with there seemed to sincerely care about animals, indeed, it is a haul from our foothills, which makes it especially difficult for seniors (or those that don't have a car or computer) to make the trek. I adopted my babies from the Pasadena Humane Society and support it with donations of money, blankets, my mother's old fur coat, towels etc. I would be happy to have a local facility here in Altadena and would support one. Perhaps contracting with the Pasadena Humane Society could be put to a vote, such as a levying a small amount per year per household, much the way the Library is funded (say, $100,000, divided by the number of Altadena households--does anyone know this figure?). Let's get this great idea rolling.
Susan Carrier July 15, 2011 at 03:05 PM
I could deal with the inconvenience of driving to Baldwin Park if I didn't believe that I was giving an animal the death penalty for being LIA (lost in Altadena).

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