Table of Contents


Animal Control

Reason for Review

The Grand Jury has jurisdiction to investigate and report on the “operations, accounts and records of the officers, departments, or functions of the county” pursuant to Section 925 of the Penal Code. 


Amador County Animal Control is responsible for all domesticated animals from pet snakes to bulls.  It also responds to reports of rabid and other infectious animals, reports of animal abuse, and it must remove animal carcasses from county roads.

The present Amador County Animal Shelter, having 1,000 square feet under cover, was opened in the late 1970s when the County population was less than 19,400.  The population of the County now exceeds 35,000.  The Grand Jury Report of 1991-1992 recommended that expansion of the Shelter be implemented as soon as possible.  The Grand Jury Report of 1994-1995 again addressed the animal shelter recommending that the expansion be expedited.  The Amador County Animal Shelter remains about 1,000 square feet in size.


State legislation in 1998 regarding animal control was passed, severely impacting the operation of the animal shelters throughout the state:

Within the Shelter, there are seven indoor dog pens, which can be divided in half to create 14 smaller pens.  A common drain runs down the middle to facilitate cleaning, with water and waste running through each inside pen.  There are six outdoor pens that are exposed to the weather and were initially intended for day-use only.  There are also two pens intended for small livestock (sheep, goats, emus, etc.) but used for dogs when available.

There is a separate, two-pen isolation building for rabies “holds” which is inaccessible to the public.  Overcrowded conditions force some dogs being held for observation because of bite incidents (rabies holds) to be housed in outside pens, to which the general public has access. 

The Hayden Bill has caused a great strain, both financially and physically, on shelters throughout California.  Amador County has received no funding from the State or any other source to implement this legislation.  The Director of Animal Control maintains communication with state entities should funds become available.

Animal Control overall is a stressful job.  Sick and abused animals must be treated, physically healthy animals must eventually be euthanized, and angry members of the public calmed.  Neighborhood complaints often escalate before Animal Control is called to intervene, forcing Officers to attend to both the animal problem itself and to the participants in the argument.

The A-Pal Humane Society and volunteers provide much-needed assistance in the care and comfort of dogs and cats in the Shelter.  A-Pal works in collaboration with the Shelter to take kittens offsite for adoption.  This has resulted in the placement of 700 kittens in the past two years.  There is an active volunteer program, but more volunteers are needed. 


Members of the Grand Jury conducted interviews, toured the Shelter, and reviewed pertinent documents. 

Persons interviewed:

Documents examined:

 Other sources:


1.       Two or more stray dogs must be penned together due to the shortage of space, resulting in fights among the animals and endangering staff, volunteers, and the public.

2.       The lack of proper sanitation and overcrowding have resulted in infectious outbreaks and excessive stress in animals.  Because of the common drain used for cleaning, stool and other contaminants are washed from one pen to the next, possibly spreading any contagion present.  There have been several outbreaks of communicable disease resulting in the deaths of many animals and the virtual eradication of puppies and cats on occasion.  Seventy cats died in one two-month period..

3.       During unannounced visits by Grand Jury members, the cat and dog pens were not clean and odor was very noticeable.  On Monday mornings, the kennels and catteries smell bad and are dirtier than on other observed mornings.  Laundry (bedding, cleaning rags, etc.) is not washed over the weekend. 

4.       Cats are housed immediately adjacent to the dogs and are subject to their constant barking.  Staff is also subject to this continuous noise, and often has to retreat to the bathroom and close the door to talk on the phone. 

5.       Office space is minimal.  It is not possible for staff members to pass one another in the space provided if one is seated at the desk or if both are standing.  The computer sits on the public counter where all business is conducted, requiring staff to operate the machines in non-ergonomically correct postures.  The copy machine is in the bathroom on top of a file cabinet.  This file cabinet sits behind the door, allowing the door to only open partially.  There is no office or meeting area at the site where the Animal Control Director can conduct private meetings with staff or clientele.  There is no place where paperwork can be done without interruption.

6.       The current communication system with officers in the field is of limited use due to severe range limitations, particularly at higher elevations of the county.  In case of an emergency involving animals (potential rabid animal, bites, accidents), the Sheriff is often unable to reach Animal Control Officers and vice versa.  Much additional staff time and expense is incurred when Officers return to the Shelter, only to be redirected back to the same area to address a different problem.  Staff has been advised to use a different channel, but that channel is also ineffective.  Officers have frequently resorted to the use of pay telephones to contact the Shelter office.

7.       All animals eight weeks of age or older are spayed or neutered and receive appropriate vaccinations as part of the adoption process.  License fees have been tied to rabies vaccinations in local veterinary clinics.

8.       Initial work is being done to create a non-profit third group, tentatively called the New Shelter Advisory Board, to facilitate fund-raising.  This group will not be directly affiliated with either the County or A-Pal, and will provide a means to obtain tax-deductible contributions to the building project. 

9.       There is only one person, the Animal Control Office Coordinator, who is primarily responsible for both kennel management and office duties.  The office duties include answering and directing approximately 100 phone calls each day, dealing with the public, dispensing licenses and adopting animals.  There is little time remaining for the care, handling, and feeding of animals.

10.   Salaries for all levels of Animal Control Officers are among the lowest of all County employees.  A salary survey of Animal Control Officers in other counties conducted by the Grand Jury provided little data of use, as counties vary widely in how Animal Control services are administered.

11.   Although the Director provides on-call services, management is not eligible for the reimbursement afforded other employees for the overtime spent while on-call.

12.   Meetings have been held for recommendations on the new shelter and site preparation has begun.  The Amador County Board has contracted with an architect to draw plans for a new facility to be built on the existing site.  The architect’s conceptual sketches at the time of this writing are for a facility of approximately 7,500 square feet, to be built in three phases.  The existing facility is to continue operating on the site while the replacement facility is being constructed.

13.   The Director of Animal Control reported licensing income has increased due to veterinary offices collecting license fees when administering rabies shots.


1.       The present Shelter is inadequate to humanely house the number of animals that it receives.  Overcrowding increases the risk of fights between animals, thereby increasing the risk of bite injuries to Officers. 

2.       Initial steps are being taken to establish a non-profit group to encourage fund-raising that is neither County- nor Humane Society-affiliated.

3.       Office management requires the full-time commitment of one staff member, as does kennel management. 

4.       Office space is insufficient, with office equipment permanently placed in the only available bathroom and no room for staff to pass one another in the working space.  The noise level makes phone conversations impossible at times.

5.       There is a heavy volume of telephone calls to the Shelter, and phone service is limited.  There is only one line to serve the public and one specialized line.

6.       Radio communications are ineffective, causing potential danger to Officers and inefficient business practices.

7.       The isolation building can house only two dogs for rabies holds, and there is no backup area available that is inaccessible to the general public.

8.       Current facility design results in a lack of proper sanitation and promotes the spread of contagion. 

9.       There is no outside lighting at the Shelter.  This creates a safety hazard in dealing with animals during evenings and winter hours when low light conditions exist.

10.   The procedure manual does not include specific instructions for cleaning and disinfecting the premises (for example, “diluted bleach solution of 10-1 is used to scrub floors.).  There are no weekend or holiday procedures for times when staff is reduced.

11.   There are no written instructions available to guide volunteers or community workers in their duties. 

12.   There is no sign at the turnoff from Highway 49 to Airport Road indicating the location of the Animal Shelter.

13.   The Animal Control Director’s pay is less than any other management staff in the County and is less than his employees’ pay, once on-call time is considered.


1.       Proceed immediately with plans to construct a 7,500-8,000 square-foot facility to accommodate present needs as well as anticipate future growth.

2.       Support collaborative efforts between private groups and County entities.

3.       Separate office-management duties from kennel-management duties, because each requires the attention of one full-time staff person.  Should this require additional staff, the revenue generated from the increased license fees should be turned to this use.

4.       Make available the trailer that formerly housed the Master Gardener’s program to the Animal Shelter as soon as possible for reasons of both staff safety and efficiency.  If this facility is unavailable, then alternate accommodations should be provided until the office space in the new Shelter is available.

5.       Install additional phone lines in the Shelter office.  The public number must be accessible to the office coordinator and the kennel master.

6.       Continue to seek solutions to radio communication problems, beginning with staff training in effective radio use and etiquette.

7.       Put barriers in place to prevent public access to bite-holds until adequate isolation facilities can be built.

8.       Incorporate a more sanitary means of drainage into the design of the new facilities.

9.       Install adequate exterior lighting immediately to illuminate areas where animals may be handled. 

10.   Update the procedures manual to include specific requirements for cleaning the premises.  Specify a separate set of duties that must be performed during times of reduced staff, such as holidays and weekends.

11.   Post a short excerpt from the updated procedure manual in a conspicuous place in the Shelter to guide community workers and volunteers in their tasks.

12.   Post a sign at the turnoff from Highway 49 indicating the location of the Shelter.

13.   Raise the salary of the Animal Control Director using the increased revenue from license fees.

Response Required

As required in Section 933.05 of the Penal Code, Animal Shelter Management must respond to each finding and recommendation in the manner indicated on page one of this report.  The Amador County Board must respond to the budgetary and personnel matters.