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Napa County Animal Shelter

Napa County Animal Shelter.

Confusing situation on shelter initiatives

Of all the many choices that Napa County voters face on the Nov. 8 ballot, none are likely to be as puzzling as the two nearly identical measures that aim to reduce the euthanasia rate for animals at the county’s animal shelter.

Measures A and B are essentially the same. They both require the shelter to work more closely with local veterinarians and animal rescue groups to make sure that only the sickest or most dangerous animals are euthanized. They both require the shelter to publish more information about its “live-release” rate and make other operational changes.

Before we explain all of this, let’s start with the editorial board’s strong recommendation: If you are interested in lowering the euthanasia rate at the animal shelter, vote in favor of Measure A and against Measure B.

Here’s why.

It all started several years ago when two animal rescue activists, Pam Ingalls of Wine Country Animal Lovers and Monica Stevens of Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch, began pressing the shelter to be more transparent with the public and to lower the euthanasia rate. There is some controversy about the exact rate – Ingalls and Stevens say it was at least 33 percent of all strays brought in, the county says it was less than 20 percent – but both sides agreed that it was far more than the 10 percent that animal rights activists see as the ideal target for shelters.

As negotiations dragged on, Ingalls and Stevens decided to add some urgency by floating an initiative setting new standard for shelter operations, including requiring greater contact with animal rescue groups, more behavior assessments for animals at risk of being euthanized, and the concurrence of a veterinarian before an animal is put down.

The proponents gathered nearly 7,000 signatures and qualified the matter for the November ballot. That later became Measure B.

The supervisors were generally in agreement with the initiative – indeed, a new shelter director was already making moves in the direction that Ingalls and Stevens wanted – but Supervisor Diane Dillon began to worry about a key phrase, which required the county to use “all available resources” to avoid euthanizing animals. While proponents said they intended that merely to mean maximum possible cooperation with rescue groups, Dillon and the other supervisors were concerned that the language could open the county to lawsuits and virtually unlimited demands for resources in the future.

The supervisors agreed to put their own measure on the ballot – with the phrase removed and with a few stronger measures included as an inducement to the proponents. That became Measure A.

Unfortunately, by that time it was too late to remove the first version, Measure B, from the ballot. That leaves us in the awkward position of having two nearly identical measures, one after another, on the ballot.

If both measures pass, whichever of the two gets the most votes will become law. That is why we recommend a vote against Measure B, even though it achieves the same ends as Measure A.

Ingalls and Stevens fully support Measure A and say they will not campaign in favor of Measure B, but neither will they campaign explicitly against it, since should it pass, they would be satisfied with the result.

The editorial board believes that Measure A best serves the county and those interested in animal welfare. Not only does it promote the principles put forward by Ingalls and Stevens, it enjoys the support of the supervisors and protects county taxpayers by removing the potentially troublesome language in the earlier measure.

Again, we encourage all those interested in reducing the euthanasia rate at the shelter, or interested in the welfare of stray or abandoned animals, to vote for Measure A and against Measure B.

The Napa Valley Register Editorial Board consists of Publisher Brenda Speth, Editor Sean Scully, and public members Cindy Webber, Ed Shenk, Mary Jean Mclaughlin and Chris Hammaker.