Under what many say is a say is a cruel policy when a vet or animal control was unavailable Merced police officers would take severely injured animals to the department shooting range and put the animals down, hopefully, with a single shot.
A big policy change went public Tuesday as Merced police announced officers will now be required to have a veterinarian assist on calls involving severely injured animals instead of dispatching, or putting them down themselves, when they're near death.
"They're still in incredible pain, and they're not easing the pain of being hit by a car by shooting them in the head," said Kathleen Emerson. She's a UC Merced student and one of the first who criticized the policy publicly.
What followed was an online backlash against Merced officers. Some on Facebook called the policy 'barbaric' and 'horrific.'
"That's the only approved area our officers could properly discard or dispatch the animal," said Merced Police Lt. Bimley West.
Merced police say the old policy did not break the law and it was rarely practiced. But because of the public outcry the policy was revised. "They have spoken, we have heard them clearly and we have made a change in our policy," West said.
West added, "a local vet will be contacted to come to the animal's location and evaluate the condition of the animal."
Emerson, a life-long animal advocate, is happy to see the change. "I'm really glad to see that the community rallied around it," she told Action News. "It's definitely not me who made the change. It's the whole community that came together."
What's not known now is how much it will cost to hire a vet to examine the severely injured animals. Last year the department spent almost $90,000 to euthanize, dispose of and treat stray and injured animals.
The city has not contracted with a particular vet to assist with the new policy, though there is only one in the county that is open around the clock.