Contra Costa County Animal Services is investigating why two dogs were mistakenly euthanized after local rescue groups proposed saving at least one, a department spokesman said Thursday.
A 4-year-old pit bull named Barbie should have been taken off the Martinez-based animal department's list of animals slated to be euthanized on June 18 but wasn't for still-undetermined reasons, spokesman Steve Burdo said.
"Everyone here is heartbroken about it," Burdo said. "We're going to take this opportunity to learn and improve our process so this never happens again."
The dog was identified as a candidate for euthanasia after a series of evaluations by the department's staff and medical team, Burdo said.
Rescue groups called the department expressing interest in saving the dog, which Burdo said should have triggered a process in which the dog was taken off the list for euthanasia.
Karen Conover, founder of Beau's Bridge Club, said her animal welfare organization was among the groups that proposed rescuing the dog. Conover said Petaluma Pet Pals had also reached out to Animal Services first and it was anticipated that the dog would be given to that organization.
Jewel Pfaffroth of Beau's Bridge Club said it was a "miracle" that "a group [was] willing to take" Barbie.
Both groups thought Barbie would be safe from euthanization, but they were mistaken.
"Something in the paperwork, something went wrong," Pfaffroth said.
Word later got around in the tight-knit animal welfare community that Barbie had been euthanized, Conover said. Worse still, she wasn't the only dog to be put down.
"The same day that Barbie was euthanized, there was also another oversight with another dog named Tommy," Pfaffroth said.
Despite having concerns, Conover said she was not pointing fingers at the county department. She said the agency has "bent over backwards" to help Beau's Bridge Club rescue animals in the past.
Burdo said the department is investigating the incidents internally to figure out what happened and prevent it from happening again.
"Our priority is saving lives," Burdo said. "Clearly, we didn’t hit the bar this time, but we are going to use it as an opportunity to learn, get better."
He explained that the agency has nearly doubled its live animal release rate between 2011 and May of this year.
"We're saving more lives than we ever have before," Burdo said. "What happened ... is an exception rather than the rule. And that's not to say that it was OK. We've got to identify the problem and fix (it)."
In the case of Barbie, Burdo said a coding mistake most likely contributed to the dog's erroneous euthanization. In fact, on the day she died, Barbie was supposed to be spayed and have a biopsy on a tumor.
"When our medical team went to do the biopsy, they had seen that Barbie was not in the kennel where she was supposed to be, and checked the system and the system had coded it as being euthanized," he said.
Meanwhile, a rescue group hadn’t officially rescued the second dog, Tommy, and that’s why he was euthanized, Burdo said.
"That shouldn’t happen," Pfafforth insisted. "In a place where every day is literally life and death, any mistake can mean death."