Spring is here and cats are birthing kittens throughout San Jose. It’s a source of stress for Jenna Skinner, who says the city’s main animal shelter is understaffed and ill-equipped to take care of the growing number of kittens.
“This is nothing like I’ve seen in 12 years I’ve been in animal rescue,” Skinner told San José Spotlight. “We can’t keep up.”
Skinner, director of Gatos de la Noche, an organization that cares for feral cats, recently contacted city officials to warn them about the cat crisis. Three to five requests come in each day from people seeking help with their cats, Skinner said. She has 75 kittens and cats in foster homes, and she’s turning people away on a daily basis because Skinner has no place to take the animals.
Skinner says staff losses over the past year at the San Jose Animal Care Center have reduced its ability to perform critical duties, like trapping and spaying or neutering feral cats. The center also isn’t able to spay and neuter pet cats due to lack of staffing, which is contributing to the population boom. Skinner claims the lack of personnel has also impacted the center’s ability to give intensive specialized care for vulnerable kittens, and as a result some get sick and have to be euthanized.
“We’re standing on the rooftop screaming about this,” Skinner said.
San Jose runs a no-kill shelter, which city spokesperson Demetria Machado said has saved approximately 90% of the animals it received this year. She said it’s not the shelter’s policy to euthanize kittens due to lack of people to bottle feed them.
Machado told San José Spotlight animal care services has four vacancies for animal health technicians and two-full time veterinarians. She noted one full-time veterinarian no longer works for the city, and the other has moved to part-time status. Two animal health technicians—who provide medical treatments, health checks, surgery, vaccinations and monitor overall health—recently requested to work part-time. There is at least one veterinarian on duty seven days a week, and five part-time veterinarians.
“The Bay Area has a very competitive job market, and it can be challenging to recruit staff,” Machado said. “To attract and retain staff, the city increased the salary for veterinarians by 25%.”
Full-time animal shelter veterinarians make a minimum of $118,580 annually, according to city documents.
Trouble recruiting workers is not a problem restricted to the Bay Area, said Lisa Jenkins, program manager at the County of Santa Clara Animal Services Center.
“It is difficult to find a veterinarian in this day and age willing to work at shelters—the private industry makes it very hard to compete,” she told San José Spotlight. As an example, she noted some private firms can pay veterinarians signing bonuses worth tens of thousands of dollars. “We hear this industrywide, that across the U.S. they’re just so hard to come by these days, and they predict the shortages will get worse.”
Machado acknowledged the staff shortage has affected animal care. She said there has been a decrease in surgery and advanced medical procedures, and the center has had a hold on spay and neuter services. The center has also significantly reduced its service for trapping, neutering and returning cats to the outdoors.
The Department of Public Works is temporarily shifting resources to animal care services, which it oversees, until some positions are filled.
Machado noted the department wants to eliminate three hard-to-fill part-time positions—animal care attendants—in the proposed 2022-23 budget. The department wants to add three full-time animal care attendants and three other full-time positions—two division managers and one animal health technician position.
A person who volunteers at the San Jose animal shelter said more volunteers are needed to help with young kittens, which require regular feeding every two to four hours. The volunteer, who requested anonymity for fear of losing the position, said the center has received hundreds of applications from potential volunteers, but few have been onboarded.
“We could use triple the number of people willing to (feed kittens) and I can’t figure out what the problem is,” the volunteer told San José Spotlight. “The staff are trying to help the animals—they deserve all the support they can get.”
The volunteer said it’s crucial the city staff up the center as soon as possible.
“There used to be a lot of dead cats you’d see on the side of the road, and we really turned the corner on that,” they said. “We’re going backwards now.”