In May 2015, Santa Clarita resident Kiza Hilton informally proposed a no-kill animal shelter to be run by the city Santa Clarita.
She said the City Council members she approached at the time told her to put her efforts elsewhere.
“It was discouraging,” Hilton said. “I put hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours of my time into developing [the proposal].”
Now, almost seven years later, Hilton is again preparing to speak with City Council members about proposing a city-run animal shelter, but this time with the additional support of members of the community.
A petition to encourage Santa Clarita City Council members to open a new animal shelter was started by Saugus resident Jordan A. Roberts-Diem, who is also the administrator for “Everything Pets In SCV,” a Facebook group with a mission to assist the community with anything pet-related, including finding pets new homes and answering any questions concerning pets and pet owners.
Currently, the only government-run animal shelter in the Santa Clarita Valley is the L.A. County shelter in Castaic.
Roberts-Diem said she has rescued many pets, including some with disabilities or injuries that she said would be “labeled unadoptable by the county.”
“I see the need [for another shelter] because every day people are begging me to take cats, bottle feed kittens, and bring dogs home,” Roberts-Diem said.
Hilton and her husband Richard have volunteered their time to work with all seven Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control shelters, but have been more involved with the Castaic location in particular.
She has launched multiple fundraisers and has worked closely with the Castaic animal care center for the past six years. Now, she and her husband are scouting possible buildings to purchase to be converted into an animal shelter.
“We would actually buy the property or the building,” Hilton said. “However, before that can happen we have to have the green light from the Santa Clarita council members.”
Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste and Mayor Pro Tem Jason Gibbs said they are planning to meet with Hilton in the near future to discuss the details of her proposal.
“We as a city will review what she has to say and see if it is something we can do,” said Weste regarding Hilton’s proposal.
Gibbs said he would like to understand everything the project might entail, such as possible locations, operating costs and overall community benefit.
“We have to get into the details on something like this,” Gibbs said. “I think it’ll be a lot more complicated than just putting up a building and taking care of animals ourselves.”
One of the main motivating factors behind Hilton’s and Robert-Diem’s proposal for a no-kill animal shelter is the euthanasia rate at the Castaic location.
Roberts-Diem said the Castaic shelter is small, with only one row of dog kennels, and “they have no choice but to euthanize animals” due to overcrowding.
The petition states the euthanasia rate for Castaic Animal Care Center from the last seven months is 32%, which Roberts-Diem says is higher than “the other County shelters in Downey, Carson, Baldwin Park, Lancaster, Agoura and Pamdale.’”
According to Marcia Mayeda, director of Animal Care and Control for Los Angeles County, that statistic is “misinterpreted” and “misleading.”
The county statistics from the 2020-2021 fiscal year show the Castaic Animal Care Center euthanized a total of 587 animals, which comes out to 39% of all animal outcomes.
The categories consist of cats and dogs, but also include a category titled “other,” which include “a large number of game fowl that were seized” and “are illegal to possess and not adoptable.”
“Castaic handled many fighting roosters who were euthanized,” said Mayeda in an email. “The ‘other’ animals that were euthanized animals throw off the gross total percentages, which is why it is important to look at dogs and cats separately.”
According to county data, Castaic euthanized 46 dogs out of 572 taken in, an 8% euthanasia rate, and 51 cats out of 278 taken in, an 18% euthanasia rate.
Mayeda also said the Castaic location euthanized fewer dogs and cats than all other animal care centers except the Agoura location because they took in “far fewer animals, which explains why they had fewer to euthanize.”
“I think this misleads the public when they think about having their own animal shelter,” Mayeda said. “They don’t envision thousands of fighting roosters and injured wild animals. Most people think of dogs and cats, and perhaps small pets like rabbits and guinea pigs.”
In response to Roberts-Diem’s and Hilton’s claims of overcrowding, Mayeda said there is not an overpopulation problem at the Castaic shelter.
“In fact, they accept dogs transferred in from our Palmdale [Animal Care Center] when it becomes full,” Mayeda said in an email.
Roberts-Diem said Mayeda’s fiscal year numbers are correct but do not explain why the euthanasia rate at the Castaic shelter for the last six months is closing in on the total numbers from last year.
“Yes, she was right about last year,” Roberts-Diem said. “But in the past six months, that is not the case.”
The city of Santa Clarita is the third largest city in L.A. County and one of the fastest growing cities in the state of California, according to 2020 Census data. Hilton said the city should consider an additional shelter because of its growing population and abundance of various community areas.
“There’s many soccer fields, baseball fields, softball fields, tennis courts, pickleball parks, community centers, theaters and an ice skating rink,” Hilton said. “But there are no animal shelters run by the city of Santa Clarita.”
Mayeda said she would support whatever decision the city might make regarding opening its own animal shelter, but she values the relationship she has with the city and is committed to continue “providing services to [Santa Clarita] if that is their desire.”
Hilton said she has looked into the possibility of proposing a more comprehensive animal facility that would include “space for a veterinarian clinic, a low-cost spay/neuter clinic, and areas for dog training and grooming.”
Roberts-Diem and Hilton said they support the Castaic Animal Care Center and believe the staff does a good job within their capacity. They said their proposed facility would relieve some stress off of the Castaic shelter and prevent unnecessary euthanization of pets.
In order for this project to gain traction, Roberts-Diem and Hilton said they need the community support along with the green light from the Santa Clarita City Council.
The petition currently has more than 1,600 signatures and needs approximately 400 more to reach their goal of 2,000 names.
“What we really need to do is show the City Council that as a community we all care and want to help these animals stay safe,” Roberts-Diem said.