Guest Commentary - Free Zeus To Free Space At The Max-Capacity Elk Grove Animal Shelter

Photos compliments of Kabir Family. | 

By Kyle Jaeger | Guest Commentary | Special to Elk Grove News |

Elk Grove Animal Shelter is at “critical capacity,” officials said this week. 

But at the same time that the city is pleading the public to adopt or foster—waiving fees in the hopes of making space at the shelter—it is doggedly unwilling to free up at least one kennel that’s been occupied by a one-year-old German Shepherd for more than 100 days. 

Zeus was taken away from his family by Elk Grove Animal Services on July 15. Not because of the incident that led to his questionable designation as a “dangerous animal,” but because of the city’s pathological deference to municipal codes that attorneys have characterized as “defective.” 

The city has found itself tied up in multiple federal and state lawsuits over Zeus. At one point last month, the city was temporarily enjoined from euthanizing the dog by a federal court. Elk Grove City Council has heard desperate testimony from family and friends of Zeus at its recent meetings.

One ally to the family, a woman named Amy who’s lived in Elk Grove for 24 years, told the Council on Wednesday that she’s visited Elk Grove Animal Shelter “several times,” and she painted a grim picture of the facility’s max-capacity state, with dogs “stepping in their own feces.” 

Zeus, she said, has been “neglected, ignored, and treated worse than we treat inmates in our local jails.”

If Elk Grove Animal Services needs more room in its kennels, it can immediately start with Zeus. If the city needs resources to hire more Animal Services staff or make improvements to the shelter, it can stop spending money on lawyers defending the dog’s ongoing detainment. 

But Elk Grove is evidently determined to draw this out in perpetuity, keeping Zeus caged with the mighty authority of municipal code. 

Again, the dog was not taken because he caused a minor injury to a person who alarmed him walking near the driveway of his owner’s house. He was taken because an Elk Grove Animal Services officer paid the owner’s house a visit and left unsatisfied that she’d checked off every one of the “dangerous animal” compliance requirements. 

While carrying out the inspection around 3pm on July 15, the officer didn’t dispute that the owner had until at least 5pm to get an outdoor ground-in enclosure, in addition to the myriad other requirements that she’d already fulfilled. But the officer told the owner flatly: “You are not going to get a ground-in kennel in this backyard by 5 o’clock.”

“What do you mean? I can do that, yes. Within an hour, you don’t think I can do that? Yes I can,” the owner pleads. 

“I know you can’t do that, ma’am. So can you please go get the dog and load him onto the vehicle?” Elk Grove Animal Services Officer Crystel Mocek says. 

“No, that’s not your decision. I have until 5 o’clock,” the owner explains again.

“It actually is my decision,” Mocek says, apparently satisfied that her assessment of what was or wasn’t possible in that timeframe was so unimpeachable that the owner wasn’t even given a chance to try. 

Under Elk Grove code, compliance violations for dangerous animals “shall constitute a misdemeanor.” It doesn’t explicitly require the city to seize the dog over the owner’s alleged non-compliance. That’s a discretionary liberty that Elk Grove Animal Services was quick to exercise.

But the end result of that discretion has been litigation, investigations, financial expenditures, media scrutiny and a dog taking up space in a “critical capacity” city-run shelter while his family begs and fights for his release after over 100 days. 

Free Zeus, free space. It’s that simple.

I’ve reached out to Elk Grove officials, police, Animal Services, and city attorneys on multiple occasions in recent weeks. Representatives have either not responded or cited pending litigation when asked for comment or policy clarification.

Bio: Kyle Jaeger is the Sacramento-based senior editor of a congressional drug policy news site. His work has appeared in outlets including VICE, The Hollywood Reporter, and more. 

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