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LA Animal Services’ Mission Shelter Cannot be a “Gift of Public Funds”

ANIMAL WATCH - Best Friends Animal Society finally vacated the Los Angeles Animal Services Northeast Valley (Mission) shelter at the end of its contiguous $1-per-year contracts from 2011 to December 31, 2022, but it left behind another non-profit Pit Bull “rescue” organization, which appears to have no official authorization by the City to occupy this facility. 

Two representatives of “Paws for Life K-9 Rescue” appeared before the Los Angeles Animal Services Commission on September 27 to announce they are doing “training and intervention” for aggressive Pit Bulls and other dogs in “the backyard of the Mission shelter” and want to stay. 

They stated they will not operate it as a public shelter and described their focus as providing behavioral training for L.A. shelter and community dogs that could be relinquished to the shelter, and that they provide a free first training session with appointments for additional classes. They also send the shelters’ aggressive Pit Bulls for training by prisoners before releasing them as “family pets,” transport excess impounded animals from L.A. city and county shelters to the Pacific Northwest, and “work with Angel City Pit Bulls to get spays and neuters performed.” 

L.A. Animal Services posted a notice on July 27, 2022, opening requests for proposals/qualifications for support services at the Mission shelter, as it does for other non-shelter facilities. But the presence of Paws for Life K-9 Rescue predates any contract under that request for bids. No matter how noble the intentions of the two people who appeared before the L.A. Animal Services Commission, these activities do not meet the criteria under Prop. “F” to run the $154-mllion public shelter for which Los Angeles city property owners are still paying. 

PROP. “F” FUNDS REQUIRE “MISSION” FACILITY TO BE FULL-SERVICE ANIMAL SHELTER 

L.A. voters were promised in 2001 that if they approved $154-million Prop. F funding, the money would be used to renovate or replace the City’s six dangerously antiquated animal shelters and add a new full-service shelter to serve the Northeast Valley (NEV). 

This added shelter reportedly had been identified in a City study as necessary to meet community needs caused by the NEV’s rapidly expanding residential development and an increasingly dangerous stray-dog problem, especially in low-income areas. 

Additionally, wildlife injuries or conflicts with humans in the rural areas of the NEV were more frequent and required response by City animal control officers to guarantee public and animal health and safety. 

$19-million of the Prop. F funds was specifically designated for the construction of the Mission shelter described below, which received wide community support: 

NE VALLEY ANIMAL SHELTER COMMUNITY IMPACT STATEMENT (SUPPORTING) PROP. F:

 

This project consisted of constructing a new Northeast Valley Animal Services Center (or Mission shelter). The new 47,300 square foot facility consists of a public lobby, dog kennels, cat cages, medical facilities, spay/neuter clinic, conference/training rooms, and administrative areas. The facility also provides shelter and humane care for sick, injured, stray, and unwanted animals to serve the community of Mission Hills and its surrounding communities. The work also involved outdoor exercise yards, public and staff parking, walkways, landscaping, underground utilities and off-site road improvements. 

WHY WASN’T THE MISSION SHELTER OPERATIVE AS PROMISED? 

The large number of non-English-speaking Latino residents in the Northeast Valley not having adequate political representation was at first blamed for this being the only shelter that was never staffed, but City officials blamed it on an unexpected economic downturn. 

The City knew when it floated the bond that it would need to be staffed. 

However, 22 years later, the City is still claiming insufficient budget to staff this shelter. Is that just an excuse to justify it being a gift of public funds to another non-profit organization? 

BEST FRIENDS $200,000 DONATION TO THE CITY PAYS FOR LAAS AUDIT 

During the construction of the Mission Hills (NEV) facility, in 2006 Best Friends Animal Society made a $200,000 donation to the City Council (Council File No. 06-2109 - Clerk's file) for an “audit of Los Angeles Animal Services.”

It was never fully explained why the City accepted a financial donation from a non-profit organization for a service that should have been performed by the City and/or  independently, but the City announced in 2008 (upon completion) that, due to an economic downturn, L.A. could not afford to staff the Mission shelter. 

Although the Northeast Valley has never had its shelter open to the public or full field services staffed at this location, for three years (2008 – 2011) Los Angeles Animal Services used the NEV shelter as a holding facility for evidence animals awaiting court action—including animal cruelty cases; mothers with puppies or kittens, or animals requiring isolation for medical reasons. 

Even though not fully operated as an open-entry municipal shelter, it served to decrease the population in the other shelters which also helped serve the needs of the NEV community. The NEV shelter is capable of housing up to 175 dogs. 

Then, in 2011, Best Friends entered into a contract with the City to occupy the Mission shelter as a “lifesaving-center” (CF11-1345) for $1 per year and, with contiguous extensions, this continued (including expensive maintenance and repairs done by the City) until December 31, 2022. 

This was highly controversial and contested by residents and taxpayers all over the City (See Council File documents and letters of opposition). An undisputed allegation (confirmed by a Best Friends director at a public meeting) was also made in the many comments of opposition that Best Friends was paying “rescuers” $100 for each animal they “pulled” from the shelter and that this encouraged them to support the takeover of the NEV shelter by Best Friends. 

HOW BEST FRIENDS CONTRACT DIFFERED FROM CURRENT BID POSTING 

From 2011 until December 31, 2022, Best Friends Animal Society enjoyed the ($1 per year lease) possession of the Northeast Valley “Mission” shelter, including all repairs and maintenance done by the City, in return for a minimal requirement to take in at least 3,000 animals annually from the Department of Animal Services shelters and to perform at least 5,000 spay/neuter surgeries for the public and shelter animals.  

L.A. MUST TAKE BACK THE MISSION SHELTER FOR THE BENEFIT OF NEV COMMUNITY AND THE CITY

   

Identification of the Northeast Valley Animal Shelter as a City of Los Angeles Animal Services’ facility has almost completely vanished online, having been re-designated by the internet as the “Best Friends Lifesaving Center” on Google. 

A recent Google search of the address, 15321 Brand Boulevard, Mission Hills, also produced only an ad and link to People and Pet Innovation Center - Paws For Life K9 Rescue. Paws for Life identifies itself as “living in Best Friends’ backyard,” and calls it “a dream come true.” 

This shelter cannot be used as a gift of public funds. 

Community activist Glenn Bailey commented that it is time to give serious consideration to the City operating the NE Valley facility. He questioned why there was no mention of taking over this operation in the L.A. Animal Services’ recent budget proposal to the Mayor’s office and asked, after 22 years, why the City still hasn’t figured out a way to staff it. He added that it is unacceptable that the stakeholders in the NE Valley were not made aware of this. 

Animal Services’ Commission President Gross responded that the Mayor’s budget was approved, and there is no additional funding to operate this shelter. 

POTENTIAL MISUSE OF PUBLIC FUNDS 

It appears that a Paws for Life bid to take over the shelter would be a misuse of public funds, according to a legal expert, in that they are not intending to run an open-entry animal shelter to meet 24-hour needs of all members of the community—for which Prop. F funds were approved—but a private “intervention program benefiting only a few pet owners.” 

In a highly irregular move, on September 27, 2022, a presentation by Paws for Life K-9 Rescue appeared as an agenda item for the Los Angeles Animal Services Commission and seemed to catch the Commissioners by surprise. 

It ended in a verbal conflict with Commissioner Jose Sandoval regarding the shelter being available as a public facility with programs available to meet the needs of the NEV Latino community. 

“INTERVENTION” PROGRAM IS NOT AN “ANIMAL SHELTER”

  

 

(See: LA Animal Services "Prison Dog Training Program" Flyer.) 

The announcement of this bidding opportunity was approved for release by the Commission on July 26, 2022. 

It seemed odd that representatives of Paws for Life K-9 Rescue, an intended bidder, would be on the Commission Agenda as an “information item” in September and be allowed to make a pre-emptive presentation. (A comment was later made by a contract specialist that this irregularity could potentially disqualify their bid.) 

However, an “intervention program” does not qualify for the Prop. F money because it serves the needs of a few individual pet owners (who are also encouraged to “donate”) and not the general public welfare. 

An animal shelter provides—among other required services—animal impoundment and adoption, veterinary care, issuance of licenses, field services by animal control officers enforcing laws regarding lost, found, stray and injured pets and also addressing wildlife concerns that could create a public safety and health threat or harm to the animal. 

Presentation provided by Paws for Life K9 Rescue on Shelter Intervention

Programs (Information Item) 

When Paws for Life K-9 Rescue appeared before the Commission to introduce their programs, they provided the “Waiver of Liability” form (shown below) as a sample of their work, and emphasized that they require all dog owners to sign this waiver before the dog will be handled or receive services. 

It describes the dangers of serious injury or death during dog training or introduction to another dog and releases itself from any liability but does not release of the City of Los Angeles from liability when the dog is on the City-owned premises, or for injury or death otherwise occurring as a result of the presence of a dangerous dog being “trained” at the Mission shelter. 

A private attorney who read this commented that, not only does it not indemnify the City, but it also requires any person who uses their services or sues to indemnify (or pay the legal costs of) Paws for Life K-9 Rescue. 

SEE  PAWS4 LIFE SITE HERE AND ITS RELEASE/WAIVER OF LIABILITY (below/emphasis added): 

DOG INTRODUCTIONS RELEASE/WAIVER OF LIABILITY 

 The undersigned … hereby represents, acknowledges and agrees as follows: 

  1. I acknowledge that, due to the unpredictable nature of animals, certain risks and dangers may occur while participating in PFLK9 programing and/or handling and introducing dogs, including risks of injury to person and property, and that I voluntarily agree to participate in PFLK9 programing and/or allow PFLK9 to introduce my dog to other dogs with the full knowledge of such risks and hereby voluntarily assume all of such risks. 
  1. I agree that I will not make any claims against, sue or attach any property of PFLK9, its directors, officers, agents, employees and/or volunteers for any injury or damage arising out of any of PFLK9’s programming, activities or facilities. 
  1. I hereby voluntarily release, discharge, waive and relinquish any and all actions or causes of action for personal injury, property damage or wrongful death as a result of any action or activity arising out of my participation in PFLK9 activities and/or which occur at the PFLK9 facilities, including against PFLK9 and any of its directors, officers, agents, employees or volunteers, whether the same shall arise by the negligence of PFLK9 or others.  IT IS THE INTENTION BY THIS INSTRUMENT TO EXEMPT AND RELIEVE PFLK9 FROM ALL LIABILITY FOR PERSONAL INJURY, PROPERTY DAMAGE OR WRONGFUL DEATH CAUSED BY NEGLIGENCE OR OTHERWISE. 
  1. I hereby agree to hold PFLK9 and its directors, officers, agents volunteers and/or employees harmless and defend and indemnify them from and againstany liability, claims, judgments or expenses arising out of any incidents arising out of my and/or my animal’s participation at PFLK9, including but not limited to introducing my dog to other dogs. 

https://www.pettravel.com/aboutUs.cfm

(Emphasis added; end of quoted material.) 

If an organization intending to conduct programs for the City requires the above release from liability from its own negligence and provides this as a “sample” of their work, should they be selected to occupy City property under contract? 

WHAT DETERMINES A GIFT OF PUBLIC FUNDS 

An advisory regarding the CA constitution, Gifts of Public Funds | Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, The Gift That Keeps Giving: Gifts of Public Funds, April 6, 2017, by Hengameh S. Safael, explains: 

“The Constitution states, in relevant part, ‘The Legislature shall have no power ... to make any gift or authorize the making of any gift of any public money or thing of value to any individual, municipal or other corporation.’ Courts have interpreted this provision to include all payments of public money for which there is no authority or enforceable claim, even if there is a moral or equitable obligation.” 

A further explanation in City of Oakland v. Garison clarifies further that, “the primary and fundamental subject of inquiry is as to whether the money is to be used for a public or private purpose. Districts should exercise due care and diligence in determining whether or not a particular expense serves a primary public purpose.” 

Would the proposed contract for the Mission shelter to become an intervention center for behaviorally challenged Pit Bulls (including prison training) and transporting local animals to unknown outcomes in other states merely to “clear the shelters,” be considered a primary public purpose or merely continue to mask the fact that “No Kill” has failed (as admitted by Best Friends Animal Society)? 

See: 'No Kill' Has Failed. 'Best Friends' Leaves LA City Animal Services… 

Los Angeles Animal Services needs to be legally and morally distanced from political and outside financial interests, which may gain influence or control of a vital City department to gain donations. 

The primary purpose of a municipal shelter is to provide public and animal safety—not just transfer or excuse dangerous animals for statistical purposes. 

It must also enforce animal cruelty laws for itself—including not hoarding unadoptable animals or releasing dangerous animals to the public to individuals or groups that claim to perform miracles but may endanger innocent adopters or the community. 

When any (for-profit or non-profit) company is either seeking donations or charging for dog-training or any service at/through the shelter, this must be thoroughly reviewed by the City Attorney. 

It appears Paws for Life has potentially circumvented this imperative at the Mission shelter and could, thereby, leave the taxpayers of Los Angeles liable for any negative occurrence on the Mission shelter property as a result of their program. 

Did Best Friends Animal Society act without consulting the City when it allowed the Paws for Life Intervention Program to be conducted on City property which was purportedly being run as an animal shelter and adoption center, not a training center for dangerous or vicious dogs? 

THE CITY’S OBLIGATION IS TO PEOPLE AS WELL AS ANIMALS

 

 

The City must fulfill its obligation under Prop. F bonds and provide a safe, family-oriented environment and facility where employees can work without fear and potential adopters can spend time selecting a pet without the risk of being subjected to unnecessary dangers. The public also is entitled to the reasonable availability of animal control officers when either a human or animal needs their help as well as a place in their community to take stray and unwanted animals. 

The Prop. F. funding of the Mission shelter was a promise that the animal sheltering and care needs of Valley animals and communities would no longer be ignored and that the L.A. Animal Services would provide the same safety and full services to Northeast Valley residents that it does to other Los Angeles communities. 

This was at that time—and is now—a promise that must be kept!

(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former Los Angeles City employee, an animal activist and a contributor to CityWatch.)