No More Bellas

Neighbors help starving dog when animal control fails

By Cathryn Rakich
February 2023

This is about Bella and the system that failed her.

Dec. 4, a neighbor calls 311 about a dog at her apartment complex in South Natomas. The canine is left 24/7 on a small uncovered patio with no food or shelter. Storms are raging, temperatures are in the 30s.

Photos taken over the fence show a short-hair, medium-size, brown dog on a 3-by-5-foot cement patio. Her ribs protrude. She stands in her feces.

The caller reports the “dog looks very skinny and is always hungry.”

Dec. 5, the call is cleared by a Front Street Animal Shelter staffer who mixes up the abuse report with a feces complaint from the same apartment complex. No animal control officer is dispatched.

Dec. 6, the neighbor calls again. Call log states: “Dog still doesn’t have food or water, looks like dog is dying. Severe malnutrition looks like he hasn’t eaten in months. Shows ribs. Maybe a German shepherd. Dog has been outside without a dog house, getting rained on. Crate is full of water.”

Again, no animal control officer is dispatched.

Dec. 7, the caller tries a third time. By that evening, still no officer.

Desperate, the caller goes to her neighbors, Dan Aderholt and Claudia Cardoza, who head the nonprofit American River Homeless Crews. They help the homeless and their pets with food, clothing and supplies. They know animals.

Aderholt calls 311. He’s told it will be five to seven days before an officer can respond. “The dog would have been dead by then,” he says.

“I’m not going to leave a dog that is obviously neglected by the system and everybody else,” Cardoza adds. “She had nothing. No bed, no shelter, no food. Nothing.”

Aderholt and Cardoza take matters into their own hands. They knock on the dog owner’s door.

“At first he said he didn’t want any problems,” Cardoza says. “That’s when we saw the opportunity to say, obviously you cannot take care of the animal. Just surrender her to us.”

Not wanting trouble, the man signs a surrender form and lets Aderholt and Cardoza take Bella. He says Bella is his girlfriend’s dog. They split up. The girlfriend moved out and left the dog behind. He put Bella on the patio and closed the shutters. “Basically, the dog paid the high price of the girlfriend leaving him,” Aderholt says.

Dec. 8, an animal control officer goes out. But Aderholt and Cardoza have already saved Bella.

“We were not able to get to it on the seventh,” says Jace Huggins, chief animal control officer for Front Street. “Based on the information we had at the time, I don’t think we would have found the apartment anyway because of the way the buildings and apartment numbers are.”

When the officer responds Dec. 8, she looks at an outdated map that shows the right building but not the apartment. She phones the caller for clarification, leaves a message and moves on.

Despite four 311 calls in four days regarding a starving dog, the officer does not investigate further. If she went to the building, she would have heard Bella cry and seen the emaciated, traumatized dog over the patio fence.

“We have 500 other calls pending for service,” Huggins says. “The reality is that everybody feels like their call is an emergency.”

The reality is Bella almost died.

“Use your common sense,” Cardoza says. “You can’t find it on the map, get off your ass, go to the office and ask. If nobody’s there, look for the building, get out of your truck and do your job.

“The fire department has to do it. The police department has to do it. The pizza delivery man has to do it. The Grubhub driver has to do it. For them to give us that lame excuse is not acceptable.”

Under Aderholt and Cardoza’s care, Bella is now thriving. A criminal investigation is pending.

Aderholt and Cardoza shared Bella’s story with Fix Front Street, a local animal group that brings attention to what they call the city shelter’s mismanagement. They say problems at Front Street lead to more euthanasias and fewer animal saves.

“We get stories two or three times a week about stuff that goes on at Front Street because we’re the clearinghouse trying to hold them accountable,” says Julie Virga with Fix Front Street.

Front Street Manager Phillip Zimmerman says there are multiple welfare complaints that animal control officers juggle every day. “You have to make a choice and unfortunately, somebody’s going to have to wait,” Zimmerman says.

In this case, it was Bella.

“We don’t want more Bellas,” Cardoza says. “People get away with things because the laws that are supposed to protect the animals are not being upheld. And they are not being upheld by the entities that are supposed to help them.”

Cathryn Rakich can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento

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