Don’t call them dogcatchers anymore. Don’t even call it animal control.

These days, it is called the Animal Care Services Bureau, and it’s housed in the P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village, along with partner spcaLA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles, an independent agency). The animal services officers do still collect and catch stray animals, and unfortunately some dogs and other animals still are put to death if they can’t be saved or adopted out, but that’s certainly not the emphasis anymore, according to bureau manager Ted Stevens.

“We try to have many more positive contacts with people,” Stevens said. “We’re more about education. I’m not saying that we don’t give tickets, but we try to be helpful first rather than ticket first.

“We still have to respond to cases of cruelty and neglect, and we deal with vicious animals… Now we have a veterinarian on staff, a behaviorist to analyze animals. We are about service.”

The numbers tell the story. Last year, 5,773 animals were either reclaimed by owners or adopted out. That didn’t stop euthanasia — 5,880 animals (mostly cats and dogs) were put to death. But there has been a reduction in euthanasias every year since 2007, with a drop of nearly 500 in the last year alone.

When the P.D. Pitchford Animal Village opened in 2001, tucked away off Spring Street, it was unique to the entire country as a public/private partnership between a city animal control and a private nonprofit — in this case, the spcaLA. Twelve years later, the facility continues to be a national model, according to Madeline Bernstein, the spcaLA president when the facility opened and still president today.

“The dream was to create a full service village, where people could adopt, board and groom their pets,” Bernstein said. “We offer everything from agility and training classes to a self-service bath facility…

“Everyone told us it wouldn’t work, but it’s working very well. We set it up so there wouldn’t be redundancies. It was simple to talk about putting two buildings together, but we had to live together. Our staffs are extremely collaborative, and people are still coming to see how we work together.”

In terms of a separation of duties, the spcaLA is responsible for adopting out pets, then serving the pets and their owners. The city side takes in the strays or animals that are brought in, and tries to do what’s necessary to get them back into condition to be adopted.

Those animals that are healthy enough are transferred to the spcaLA, which handles the adoptions. The process is going so well now that some dogs (and cats) are adopted straight out of the city facility, but with the spcaLA staff handling the paperwork. All adopted pets must be spayed or neutered and up to date on all vaccines.

Staff from both the city and spcaLA often work together to prosecute cruelty or abuse cases, and the groups partner on education efforts as well. Both staffs have the same goal, Bernstein said.

“In the future, we would really hope at some point we will have fewer and fewer stray animals,” she said. “It may seem like an impossible dream, but we’re actually seeing some of it come true. In the last year, the adoption side has actually had more animals than the stray side.”

Stevens, who worked in the city’s recreation services before transitioning to management of the animal care services, said he is happy with the job — most of the time.

“I do like it,” he said. “It can be the most rewarding thing in the world, but it can be the most frustrating, too. When you see an animal saved after coming in on the verge of death, it is truly heartwarming. But when you see what cruelty a human being is capable of when it comes to an animal, well …”

For more information about the animal care services bureau, go to www.longbeach.gov/acs. For more about the spcaLA, go to spcala.com. The P.D. Pitchford Village is at 7700 E. Spring St. 

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at hsaltzgaver@gazettes.com.

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