Los Angeles – Ladies and gentlemen, it’s sad times. Sad times for many, including our best friends, our companion animals. Cruel shelter conditions are so merciless and widespread inside Los Angeles Animal Services (LAAS), that the situation is now at a crisis point. Big, new ideas are needed but where are they? No Kill strategies have not and will not solve L.A. Animal Services’ problems. The L.A. County District Attorney’s animal cruelty unit has even been investigating LAAS for heartbreaking, inhumane conditions and financial misconduct. Including, like a cherry on a sundae, LAAS Commission President Larry Gross, for allegedly enabling corrupt practices by using multiple email accounts to conduct city business and avoid public records requests.
Every homeless or lost animal deserves care and yet conditions at LAAS have gone from bad with Brenda Barnette as LAAS General Manager (GM), to worse with an incompetent Annette Ramirez as interim GM for a few years; years marked by retaliation against whistleblowing shelter volunteers, 30+ fired, abuse of power, choosing to kill pets over saving them and plundering funds donated for the care and comfort of animals in LAAS’s custody.
Mayor Karen Bass hired Staycee Dains to replace Ms. Ramirez. Ms. Dains couldn’t do a good job with one shelter (Long Beach) so how was she given power over six Los Angeles shelters in a state of disaster? An interview process with a “confidential panel” made up of her associates from Human Animal Support Services (HASS) and run by former GM Brenda Barnette, maybe that’s how. Because we have not hired a leader committed to reform, our tax funded public shelters are a disgrace: filthy feces-filled kennels with no food and algae-green metal water bowls, extreme overcrowding, floors constantly wet leaving no place for a dog to rest except on wet cement. ‘Hallway Dogs’ are crammed into crates and take an anxiety sedative (Trazadone per kennel cards) in order to tolerate the confinement, sitting in their own feces in hallways where no one will see them and taken out 5 minutes a day, leading to unhygienic conditions and preventable behavioral problems. We have dogs not being walked for weeks, and for some, their first walk is their last walk – to the euthanasia room. Animals are paying the price of a toxic culture lead by a GM who came to LAAS with a bad reputation as far as her concern for and care of the animals entrusted to her system.
In stark contrast to the status quo style of those officially in charge, the powerhouse women of Women United For Animals, WUFAW, are voluntarily cleaning East Valley cages every week. After months of begging the new GM for change (that is not coming) they’ve plunged ahead doing laundry, socializing and exercising the dogs. They bring love for the animals and relief for the overburdened staff who try within the overwhelming mess that is LAAS.
On Sunday September 10 animal advocates spoke up for the voiceless victims suffering in our shelters by protesting in front of the Mayor’s Mansion. We held signs, marched and chanted. So much to chant about: whistle-blowing shelter volunteers fired for speaking out about inhumane/illegal conditions, misappropriation of Animal Welfare Trust Fund donations, exposing the No-Kill lie and the pitiless systemic neglect that runs rampant at our six shelters.
The way to a better shelter system isn’t complicated. Simple solutions like those suggested by former South LA Volunteer Joy Freiberg work:
#1 Get the animal population under control
Enforce spay/neuter laws and provide free spay/neuter
Stop allowing animals to leave the shelter unfixed
Stop selling breeder licenses with zero oversight especially to unhoused individuals on Skid Row
Crack down on backyard breeders
Market and promote adoptions – use the Animal Welfare Trust Fund for the animals, not for staff pizza parties and $1.54 million on a revamped website that does nothing to promote them.
Investigate the volunteer program, only 14% of applications accepted
Hold staff, top to bottom, accountable
Those of us who care about how the voiceless suffer have our eye on LAAS.
We will not stop until laws are changed.