California and National Elections

New Animal Shelter Likely In Berkeley

By Justin Beck
November 6, 2002 12:15 AM

BERKELEY -- With the help of a $20,000 donation from a Berkeley resident, late returns indicate that the city will get a new animal shelter. Updated Nov. 6, 12:15 am

With 53 out of 77 precincts reporting, Measure I had 67.6 percent of the vote, barely more than the two-thirds majority required to pass.

Funded by the Gimme Shelter Campaign for a New Berkeley Animal Shelter, Measure I is a bond measure that would raise $7.2 million from city homeowners -- about $6 per household each year, over 30 years -- to purchase land and construction of a new, more modern facility.

At stake is the health and safety of Berkeley's animal population, which backers of Measure I say are being poorly served by the city's existing animal shelter. Measure I proponents describe the shelter as outdated, overcrowded and unsafe.

- Berkeley Animal Shelter: Dogs spend their days in kennels measuring four feet by fourteen feet. Most dogs get out to exercise 3 or 4 times each week. Photo by Jessi Hempel.

Although the City Council last month unanimously passed a resolution supporting Measure I, some residents in the traditionally left-wing community scoff at the idea of doing more to help animals, said Jill Posener, who heads the Gimme Shelter campaign.

"Many on the left regard caring about animals as a diversion" from problems facing humans, like homelessness and infant mortality, she said, adding that her vision for a new shelter includes low-cost services for pets owned by the city's poor and homeless residents.

Another obstacle for Posener is the economic downturn. "I know people are sympathetic and not flat-out hostile, but they're counting their pennies," she said.

"This is a no-frills bond measure," Posener said. "We're not trying to build some kind of luxury hotel for animals."

She added that because there has been little or no opposition, Measure I has received scant media coverage, creating another problem for her campaign: Many voters are simply unaware of it.

That problem might have been remedied, at least in part, by a $20,000 donation that the campaign accepted on Oct. 17 from Betsy Raymond of Berkeley. That money, which more than doubled the amount the campaign had raised, was used to pay for the printing and mass mailing of pamphlets to voters last month.

"Without [the contribution,] I'd really be in a panic," said Posener.

Raymond could not be reached for comment about her donation.

Single White Female: Berkeley Animal Shelter's pet of the week, Ruby, can be found in cage P. Photo by Jessi Hempel.

Joan Collignon, a legislative aide for Polly Armstrong, who represents the 8th district on the City Council, said in a telephone interview that she senses overwhelming support for Measure I, "even from those usually unwilling to pay more taxes."

"There are so many pet owners, so they've noticed [Measure I]," Collignon said.

Volunteers who work at the Berkeley Animal Shelter on Second St. have said the place is dangerous, particularly because it lacks properly isolated cages to prevent against the spread of disease.

Stephanie Ladeira, a restaurant worker and one of about 80 who volunteer for the shelter each month, said that dogs can easily touch noses through their chain link cages. This increases chances of an outbreak of parvo, a highly contagious illness that is transmitted by touch and can have lifelong effects.

Some of the functions the shelter performs include taking in and adopting out lost, stray, injured and unwanted animals; impounding and quarantining dangerous animals; and investigating animal abuse.

With an annual budget of $1.1 million, the shelter has room for 60 dogs and 30 cats -- as well as a few chickens, roosters and rodents.

During a tour of the shelter, Ladeira said that it is too cramped and needs more room for dogs to socialize and for potential adopters to get acquainted with the animals.

In addition, the design of the cages allows for neighboring animals to see and bark at one another, thus creating a major source of stress for them, said Ladeira, over the din of barking dogs.

Much of the shelter sits under open sky, but even in those areas the stench of dog excrement permeates the air.

By law, all animals brought to the shelter must be taken in, so some of them must be euthanised when new ones arrive, Ladeira said, even though there has been a sharp decline in recent years in the numbers of animals put to death there.

"It's heartbreaking," Ladeira said.

Even the shelter's director, Kate O'Connor, has to share office space with a stack of cat cages.

If Measure I passes, the city will probably sell the shelter's existing site but has not yet considered any specific locations for a new one, said Phil Kamlarz, deputy city manager. "We're looking at anything that comes up," Kamlarz said.

Some dog owners at Ohlone Park said they had not heard of the measure but nevertheless expressed support for it.

"I'll probably vote for it," said Darian Cande, a homeowner who takes her 8-month-old German shepherd mix, Ozzie, to the dog park to socialize with other canines.

"Even if I was a homeowner I would vote for it," said Cassandra Garner, who adopted her dog from the San Francisco ASPCA. "It's worth it."