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Monday, July 28, 2014

Rebecca Katz, Ousted Animal Control Director, Posts Message on City Facebook Page

Posted By on Mon, Jul 28, 2014 at 2:08 PM

click to enlarge Rebecca Katz during a great chihuahua airlift of yore - VIRGIN AMERICA
  • Virgin America
  • Rebecca Katz during a great chihuahua airlift of yore
Update: Deposed director Katz talks about her departure SEE BELOW. 

News broke over the weekend that Rebecca Katz, the ideally named longtime head of the city's Department of Animal Care and Control, had been forced out of her position

It's a rarity for a department head to be relieved of his or her duties in this town. When evidence mounted that erstwhile Rec and Park boss Yomi Agunbiade sexually and religiously harassed agency spokeswoman Rose Marie Dennis — in writing — it eventually led to a $91,000 settlement and new city job for the aggrieved subordinate. But Agunbiade wasn't canned. He was given the opportunity to resign — and, in a surreal touch, was later feted by the Board of Supervisors for his years of meritorious service. 

So, for Katz to be out-and-out relieved of her $167,000-a-year job is a bit of a shocker. 

In any event, the text of her message, which Katz today posted on Animal Control's Facebook page — at which time she apparently was no longer employed by the city —  is pasted below. It was quickly deleted by the powers-that-be.  
SF Weekly has not yet heard back from the department; Katz, who was stepping into a meeting when we reached her on her cell, said she'd return our call later.  

That message follows. And, yes, the last paragraph is the zinger: 

Friday, July 25, 2014 was my last day at SF/ACC. Many of you may know that despite my commitment to the department and its objectives, I did not feel that there was support for me from my supervisor to fulfill the agency's mission and our difference of opinions led to her asking me to leave.

Nonetheless, I want to take a moment to let everyone who follows this page know that it has been my great honor and privilege to serve in an agency that makes such a tremendous difference for so many residents of San Francisco. I have often said that SF/ACC has the most amazing and compassionate staff who are underappreciated and under-recognized but continue their work out of a commitment to the mission of improving the lives of both animals and people. Similarly, I have praised the dedication of volunteers who steadfastly support the animals and the agency. And, I have thanked the partners whose allegiance and assistance has allowed SF/ACC to continue protecting animals from inhumane treatment as well as preserving safe relationships between animals and humans. But I'd like to emphasize it again to pay tribute to those who are too often taken for granted.

Over the past six years, the team of staff, volunteers and supporters has accomplished amazing feats. With the economic downturn that began in 2008, the number of dogs coming into the shelter increased dramatically. Despite a nearly 31% uptick in dogs impounded, SF/ACC's save rate increased from 83% to 88% for canines. Much of that success is due to the strong outreach efforts of staff and volunteers that resulted in a 37% increase in dog adoptions. For cats, the intakes dropped significantly (37%) but both the save rate and adoption numbers increased as well. The save rate for small animals has increased also due to the heavy lifting of ACC staff, volunteers and, of course, partners. I proudly note that SF/ACC has always been mindful of the value of all animals' lives, including those that often go unnoticed such as pigeons, rats, mice, lizards, rabbits, etc. Even with its success, SF/ACC recognizes that there is more to do and refuses to rest on its laurels. SF/ACC has programs in place to constantly try to help all the animals regardless of age, condition, or species in addition to enforcing animal welfare laws, investigating complaints, and more.

In addition, the SF/ACC team created innovative programs such as WOOF which paired shelter dogs with people in supportive housing and gave training and life skills to both. In collaboration with the Mayor's HOPE office, WOOF helped to demonstrate that the relationship we have with animals and the bond we form with them can help us to better ourselves. Improving the lives of both animals and people is something the agency does every single day in so many different ways. Also, with the support of partner Pet Food Express, SF/ACC opened its first satellite adoption center on Market Street which has helped to place hundreds of felines as well as many rabbits and raise awareness of SF/ACC's work. SF/ACC also increased attention to the sudden overpopulation of Chihuahuas in California shelters when, with its partner Virgin America, "Operation Chihuahua" moved over 50 dogs from the shelter here to the East Coast where there is demand for them. Another success over the past six years was the growth of Friends of SF/ACC's assets by over 500% — an achievement that allowed the agency to expand behavior and training resources for dogs as well as for cats and small domesticated animals.

The board members of that 501(c)3, and the co-Presidents Jane Tobin & Lisa Stanziano in particular, have worked tirelessly to support the agency and the absurdly high number of hours they give are without any personal financial compensation. The increase in funds has allowed Friends to establish a special medical fund for animals that the City won't pay to treat and to work on developing a foster program that has, heretofore, been improvised at best. Those programs are in addition to the support Friends has given SF/ACC for many years, including purchasing equipment the City should have provided, awarding grants to rescue partners, sponsoring low-cost veterinary clinics and more. This year, SF/ACC received funding to increase staffing by 6+ employees  — a boost greater than any since SF/ACC opened its doors 25 years ago. The list goes on...

The general public often misunderstands the work of open-admissions shelters, especially when the public is inundated by the marketing of well-funded, private agencies. Further, government officials rarely appreciate the work done by their municipal departments, instead assuming that staff spends their days playing with animals and feeling privileged to receive any salary whatsoever. Meanwhile, I can tell you that the staff at SF/ACC faces extraordinarily challenging situations every day — people with mental illness, violent criminals, peculiar rituals, and haunting cases of abuse. They don't do it for the glory, they don't do it for the perks, and they certainly don't do it for satisfactory salaries — they do it because they feel devotion to the animals and to all residents of San Francisco. And for that, I do not regret one day of working with this outstanding crew over the past six years. I thank them all and wish them continued success under the skilled leadership of Eric Zuercher — another dedicated and caring animal advocate — and hope the City will recognize and support this amazing department of which it should be very proud!

With gratitude and sincerity,

Rebecca Katz

Update, 3:25 p.m.: Katz tells SF Weekly she "suspected this was coming for a while. I knew I wasn't well-received by the city administrator [Naomi Kelly]. So, I expected she wanted me out. But I didn't expect it'd happen Friday." 

Kelly's spokesman, Bill Barnes, said he couldn't comment on a personnel matter. But he did send along the email Kelly wrote regarding Katz's ouster, which is pasted below. 

Katz said she "was not supported making the decisions I felt were in the best interests of the agency and the animals we served." When queried if that lack of support was monetary or ideological, Katz replied "both." 

Asked if the department's percentage of animals saved will remain at its present level under her successor, she responded "I certainly hope so. I hope it improves. The staff at Animal Care and control always wants to do more rather than less." 

***

From: Administrator, City (ADM)
Sent: Friday, July 25, 2014 2:35 PM
To: Zuercher, Eric (ADM); Bukowski, Kenneth (ADM)
Cc: Leung, Vitus (vitus.leung@sfdpw.org)
Subject: Management Changes at Animal Care and Control

Dear ACC Staff:

As City Administrator, I have made health and safety my top priority. One of my first on-the-job experiences was riding along with animal control officers. I came away with a better understanding of this division and its important role in serving our City.

I write to inform you that effective immediately, Eric Zuercher has been named Acting Director of the Department of Animal Care and Control. As Animal Care Supervisor, Eric has led an incredible team of employees at one of our most important public safety departments. With support of Mayor Lee and the Board of Supervisors, the Department will see staffing increases this year. Together, we will be able to better respond to the needs of San Francisco’s animals and their guardians. We are also working to improve our relationships with volunteers and external stakeholders.

This transition includes a new process for human resources requests. Moving forward, these requests will be handled through the General Services Agency Human Resources Division. Requests such as paid or unpaid leave, approval for overtime, or requests for reasonable accommodation should be directed to Eric for review and final determination. GSA HR will provide technical assistance in handling individual requests. Questions about this policy or about individual concerns should be directed to Vitus Leung, Human Resources Director, at (415) 554-XXXX.

Finally, I want to take a moment to thank Rebecca Katz for her service to the City and County of San Francisco, and wish her well in future endeavors.

We will share additional information as it becomes available. In the meantime, thanks for all you do on behalf of Animal Care and Control.

Sincerely,

Naomi M. Kelly
City Administrator
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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Bio:
Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

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