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November 7, 2013

Two veterinarians pledge to aid animals brought in by Merced police

A couple of veterinary clinics have responded to the request from Merced police regarding the department’s new policy on injured or dying dogs. Two local clinics have essentially agreed to provide service up to $250, before euthanizing the animals or sending them to another facility.

Two local veterinarians are in the process of drawing up a contract with Merced police that will help the department carry out its new policy related to injured or dying dogs.

Valley Animal Hospital and Animal Medical Center set a limit of $250 for the treatment of each injured animal brought to either location by police. If the level of treatment needed exceeds that amount, which would be billed to the city, the veterinarians will decide whether the animal should still be treated or euthanized.

If the cost of treatment is less than the $250 limit, the city would only be billed for the lesser amount.

“This is a perfectly acceptable policy for stray animals,” said Christine McFadden, veterinarian with Valley Animal Hospital. “It’s my experience that, unfortunately, more than half do not get claimed.”

Merced police announced in September a change in their roughly 25-year-old policy for handling severely injured animals, which controversially included occasionally taking dogs to the department’s gun range to be destroyed.

Under the new policy, an animal control officer or other city employee will transport the injured animal to one of the two clinics.

McFadden, who is also a member of the Merced-Mariposa Veterinary Medical Association, said her hospital will accept animals in need of emergency treatment brought in by police during regular business hours, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

McFadden said she has been involved in rescue work for both city and county animal control for about 30 years, and the $250 ceiling is common practice. She said it’s a number that Merced County Animal Control figured should cover general care and pain medication for a pet that did not need to be put down.

If treatment could exceed $250, the veterinarian on duty will use his or her discretion in whether the dog should be euthanized by injection. McFadden said any costs above that maximum limit will be borne by the hospital.

Pet owners will be responsible for veterinarian bills when the animal is claimed, the release stated. If no pet owner surfaces, Valley Animal Hospital will turn animals over to Merced County Animal Shelter or a rescue group.

McFadden added that there is balance to be struck between caring for the animals and being able to keep her doors open. She said her office may take a loss on some pets that get treatment.

The other pet clinic, Animal Medical Center, has much the same plans for animal care. However, the clinic is a 24-hour facility.

Representatives from Animal Medical Center did not return calls for comment before press time.

Lt. Bimley West said the changing of the policy will not add any burden to officers. He said the public asked for the change in policy, so the department responded.

“The most important thing to us is that we all work together,” West said, adding his agency strives for transparency. “We’re doing things above board, and we’re not hiding or ducking or dodging in any way to keep things from the public.”

Because the service will operate as needed, city spokesman Mike Conway said there was no way to know how much it would cost the city. “The figure could be upward of $35,000 of general fund money depending on the number of animals brought to the vets and the amount of care required,” he said in an email.

Police Chief Norm Andrade told the Sun-Star in September that his department spent $1,500 on veterinary costs last year. The department paid $85,686 to the county’s animal control for disposal, euthanasia and other fees.

Merced brought in $26,000 in revenue from animal licensing fees in 2012, he said.

Eric Sakach, senior law enforcement specialist with the Humane Society of the United States, wrote a letter to Merced police in September to clarify the law regarding police shooting injured animals. He offered to meet with the chief and his officers.

Sakach said setting a dollar limit for treating injured strays is fairly common. He said most veterinarians use their discretion in whether an animal has a realistic chance at recovery and finding a home.

“I don’t have any objection to them working that way,” he said. “Bottom line is (police) are not transporting the animal to a shooting range, putting it through that additional agony.”

The Merced Police Department’s policy drew scrutiny after a dog-shooting incident in June was reported by the Sun-Star. Merced resident Payton Sanchez’s pit bull was shot by an officer in the 2600 block of Mira Court. The police officer claimed it had charged at him.

Unable to afford medical care, the family brought the dog back to the police station. A second officer took the injured dog to the shooting range and fatally shot it according to police policy, reports confirmed.

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