First the good news. In 2011-2012, the San Diego County Department of Animal Services (DAS) recorded its highest "live release rate" in six years, with 71 percent of the animals received by the county's shelters leaving alive. DAS euthanized the least number of animals in four years, and no healthy animals were put down.
Now for the heart-breaking news. During the last year, DAS still euthanized more than 3,600 animals whose health conditions were categorized as "rehabilitatable" or "manageable." That includes 2,105 dogs and 1,501 cats.
Later this year, animal advocates will lose one of their most powerful voices on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors when District 3 Supervisor Pam Slater-Price leaves office. Throughout her 20-year tenure, Slater-Price has pushed "no kill" initiatives and funded programs at nonprofit shelters that are credited with turning around the county's high euthanasia rate.
In 1998, 62 percent of animals received by shelters in San Diego were euthanized. Currently, countywide statistics that include nonprofit animal shelters indicate a live-release rate hovering around 72 percent.
That's an exceptional improvement, but the numbers aren't perfect—59 completely healthy animals were euthanized during the last six years.
"I think, realistically, she thought we would never get to absolute no kill,'" says John Weil, Slater-Price's chief of staff. "Wishfully thinking, I think she hoped we would. There's a dose of reality when you're dealing with people's pets over time."
Both candidates seeking to succeed Slater-Price in November say they are prepared to pick up the leash after she retires.
"I disagree with Pam Slater-Price on a lot of things, but on this particular issue, I think she's done a fantastic job, and I want to continue it," Republican Steve Danon says. "Maybe even more so."
Danon wants to look at how the county can encourage collaboration between animal shelters and senior homes and veterans groups, as well increase public awareness of the adoption process.
His opponent, Solana Beach Deputy Mayor Dave Roberts, a Democrat endorsed by Republican Slater-Price, says he'd like to reform the county's spay-neuter voucher program and expand business hours at the county's shelters.
"I know if I am elected, it's something I would definitely focus on," says Roberts, who adds that he's adopted three dogs, two cats and a turtle in the past. "How we treat animals is a sign of our society."