Pandemic alters operations at Westminster Animal Control


Animals don’t take a vacation or holiday.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has kept most in their homes, Animal Control units’ workloads have only increased as stay-at-home orders coincided with the onset of animal baby season —meaning countless newborn animals were now roaming the streets.

Though Westminster Animal Control continued its work serving the community, certain safety precautions were put into place to protect officers and community members.

New protocol and procedures—including officers not entering residences, limited person-to-person contact, thorough vehicle cleanings and licensing extensions—helped ensure limited transmission of the virus while allowing Animal Control Officers to continue to keep animals safe.

“For our safety and the safety of others, we are limiting contact as much as possible,” said officer Crystal Sheldon. “To honor social distancing, we had to find different ways to reach people in the community.”

Animal Control Officers of the Westminster Police Department are, from left, Kyle Fortner, Lisa Serrato, Police Aide Terri Surls, Faviola Núñez and Crystal Shelden.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Though new protocol due to the pandemic has changed Sheldon’s day-to-day, the onset of COVID-19 has not made the job particularly more difficult.

“We just had to learn to adapt,” said Sheldon.

The pandemic also brought other unexpected changes to the daily operations of Westminster’s Animal Control Unit.

With more people at home and able to provide their pets proper attention, Westminster has witnessed a large decrease in stray dogs, said Sheldon.

Similarly, there has been a large increase in animal fostering and adoption.

Westminster Animal Control is responsible for responding to any animal emergencies and rescuing strays. After getting animals off the streets, Animal Control brings the animals to their contracted shelter, WAGS Pet Adoption, where the animals are housed and cared for.

WAGS typically relies heavily on volunteers to run daily operations. Amid COVID-19 and social distancing measures, however, WAGS has restricted volunteer accessibility at the facility and now relies almost entirely on its eight employees.

Initially, the shelter experienced difficulty in providing all the animals the attention and care they need—typically volunteers spend time socializing the animals and taking them on daily walks. To continue operations and help provide proper attention to the rescues, WAGS launched a foster-to-adopt program that allows volunteers to house rescues and care for them with the hopes that fostering will lead to adoption.

“The program has been incredibly successful,” Sheldon said. “From what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard from our shelter, we have been able to get most of our animals out to foster homes and animals are being adopted now more than ever.”

Hundreds of animals have participated in the WAGS foster-to-adopt program and 549 animals have been adopted since March, said Cortney Dorney, WAGS Pet Adoption Director of Operations.

Two full-time officers and two part-time officers conduct operations at Westminster Animal Control, providing 24/7 service. Though a seemingly small unit, Westminster Animal Control’s workload and team size are on par with other agencies in the area. The officers investigate cases of neglect or cruelty and potentially dangerous animals, issue animal-related permits, and strive to educate the community to create a safe environment for both people and pets.

The Westminster Animal Control Unit and their officers can be reached at (714) 548-3201 for animal emergencies or to answer animal related questions.