FORT BRAGG, CA, 5/24/23 — Fort Bragg Animal Shelter, the Mendocino coast’s only county-run shelter, will close July 1 or earlier amid efforts to cut costs in the county’s new fiscal year, according to Animal Care Services Director Rich Molinari. The eight dogs and three cats currently housed there are adoptable for free.
County shelters provide care for animals with nowhere else to go — but Molinari explained that the coast shelter was averaging about 68 animals each year since the facility reopened in 2019, as opposed to around 130 animals coming into Animal Care Services’ shelter in Ukiah each month.
Molinari estimates that closing the coast shelter, which has two full-time employees, will save around $120,000 per year. One employee will begin work at the inland shelter, and they’ve helped the other find employment on the coast.
“This is a way that we can save probably about half of our operating budget,” Molinari told The Mendocino Voice.
But the decision was also made based on the availability of other options in the coastal community. While Animal Care Services’ animal control officers will still regularly respond to the coast as needed, the coast shelter shares a property off Highway 20 with the nonprofit Mendocino Coast Humane Society (MCHS). According to Executive Director Judy Martin, the Humane Society already takes in animals outside Fort Bragg on a regular basis.
“Coast Humane does a great job next door,” Molinari said. “There’s just a duplication of services.”
He and Martin have discussed solutions to some problems presented by having only an inland county-run shelter. Nothing is set in stone — for example, if an unhoused person with a dog is arrested, will that dog be taken inland or can it be held closer to home at the Humane Society? Martin said she’s comfortable becoming the primary shelter on the coast.
“We know what the coastal community needs,” she said in a phone conversation. “We’re definitely not going to leave them hanging with no animal rescue or proper sheltering and care of animals on the coast.”
MCHS has recently received grants from the University of California, Davis and the Community Foundation. They provide the majority of coastal spay and neuter services, Martin said, and are developing an Independent Cat Program to help place feral cats as working cats on farms. She hopes that they could potentially expand into the building being vacated by the county shelter (which is owned by the city of Fort Bragg), to use the space as a pre-check isolation area when strays come in.
Further, MCHS’ dog kennels have heated floors and their cats are cage-free in a “kitty cottage.”
“There is so much that happens in an animal shelter, that it is very hard for them to give the dogs and the cats the proper attention that they need,” Martin said of the small county shelter in Fort Bragg. “There’s also a lot of red tape around county shelters, with volunteers, liability, and things like that. … You’re actually spending most of your time in a shelter cleaning to keep the animals safe.”
MCHS relies heavily on volunteers — and is always seeking more — to keep animals happy and entertained while staff keep the place running, she explained. MCHS also operates as a no-kill shelter, while the county shelter does euthanize for space when left with no other option — though thankfully, discounted adoptions and pleas to the community have helped avoid this outcome when overtaxed in recent years.
Still, Martin and Molinari both lament an increasingly difficult time in their industry.
“What’s happening is, people can’t afford two or three pets,” Molinari said. “So basically, instead of re-adopting and having a second or third dog, maybe they’re just having one. Same thing with a cat. Across the board, the rescues and municipal shelters are just full. The length of stays is increasing, because people just can’t afford them.”
Should free adoption not be a large enough incentive to find home for the remaining cats and dogs in the Fort Bragg shelter, Molinari anticipates being able to find them homes through other shelters and rescues in the region.
The low turnover rates have been “overwhelming,” Martin said.
“It really is coming down to spay and neuter,” she said about the high volume of animals without homes. “Educate your friends. Everybody’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve got kittens. I’ve got puppies.’ They don’t understand that it’s super important to fix your animals.”
Note: Kate Fishman covers the environment & natural resources for The Mendocino Voice in partnership with a Report For America. Her position is funded by the Community Foundation of Mendocino, Report for America, & our readers. You can support Fishman’s work with a tax-deductible donation here or by emailing [email protected]. Contact her at [email protected] or at (707) 234-7735. The Voice maintains editorial control and independence.