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County of San Diego Department of Animal Services

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless by the storm’s destruction. But Gulf Coast residents weren’t Mother Nature’s only victims—their four-legged friends were also left without shelter and, in many cases, without their masters. As evacuees were displaced across the country, so were their pets. Thanks to organizations like the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services (DAS), more than 100 dogs are currently receiving care in San Diego, awaiting reunions with their owners.

A government agency, the San Diego DAS operates three shelters in San Diego County: one in Bonita, one in Carlsbad and a third, the Kroc-Copley Animal Shelter, on the Campus for Animal Care in Linda Vista. Each year, all three shelters take in 27,000 animals: dogs, cats, horses, reptiles. “You name it, it’s been here,” says Dawn Danielson, DAS director. “We are the lead agency in San Diego for animal rescue after any disaster.”

In fact, when San Diego suffered the devastating wildfires in 2003, the DAS worked with the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA to rescue more than 3,000 animals. This year, the two organizations were part of a coalition of seven shelters that rescued 102 dogs from the Gulf Coast region, performing medical triage and serving as a temporary home for the displaced pets.

In addition to rescue, sheltering and adoption services, the DAS also provides microchipping, licensing, spaying, neutering and animal-related law enforcement.

“Our officers enforce state regulatory and cruelty laws, protecting people from dangerous animals and protecting animals from dangerous people,” Danielson adds.

The Kroc-Copley Animal Shelter is the largest of the three DAS shelters, funded, in part, by a $2 million donation from Joan Kroc and a $2 million donation from Helen Copley. Constructed three years ago, the shelter shares its campus with the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA, an organization Danielson calls a great complement to the DAS. While the Humane Society does public education and adoption services, the DAS is the only agency allowed to take in stray animals. Partnerships with other animal organizations, such as FOCAS and the San Diego Veterinary Medicine Association, aid the DAS in vaccinating, treating and placing its needy animals. Volunteers at the shelter provide cleaning, training and exercise for the pets, as well as to help match people with the right dog or cat—a relationship that Danielson believes is essential to the community.

“The human-animal bond is so important, and the residents of this county demand that strays and all animals are treated very well,” she says. “We are lucky in San Diego to have elected officials that listen and are supportive of this department. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

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