ANIMAL WATCH - At the January 10, 2023, Los Angeles Animal Services Commission meeting, Interim-GM Annette Ramirez discussed handling the crisis of kennels filled with “big dogs” (the first 12 dogs on the LAAS site were adult Pit Bulls), as she again offered special discounts for adopting “family pets” to clear the six L.A. City shelters. This is becoming the norm, not the exception.
Not all animals are adoptable, contrary to the hype by Best Friends Animal Society’s “No Kill” policy. It is wrong to continue convincing vulnerable pet adopters that Pit Bulls—most with records of aggressive tendencies which brought them into the shelter—just want “love” and should be taken to their homes and communities.
And, the City should not risk being part of that deception for legal reasons we will explore.
MORE MONEY FOR FAILING MANAGEMENT
Interim-GM Annette Ramirez, who has no high-level management or administrative background or experience continues to condone inhumane overcrowding of animals that would make an individual or a “rescuer” subject to prosecution for hoarding under Penal Code Section 597.1 or 597(b) and potentially under Civil Code Sec. 1834, for failure to provide care—rather than euthanize those animals that are a known-threat to public and animal safety based on their histories. What is the City Council’s sole response—a bigger budget but no plan!
IS THERE A MANAGEMENT PLAN IN THE LAAS FUTURE?
I asked Cathy Serksnas, an outspoken critic of L.A. Animal Services’ continued mis-management and an experienced volunteer at the West Valley shelter, for an opinion on the City Council’s proposal to just throw more money at this problem without assuring the quality of a “management plan” to assure better service to the public and animals and guarantee improved shelter conditions.
Ms. Serksnas served as a VP/GM for a major telecommunications company (a name we all know) and has extensive experience in the budgeting process, finance and operations, as well as background in IT.
“I guess the best way I could sum it up in one sentence, would be: They are asking for way more money and employees to get back to performance/metric levels they achieved years back with way less money/employees,” she responded.
WHAT IS GM RAMIREZ PROPOSING FOR A 56% BUDGET INCREASE?
High level review of Department of LA Animal Services Proposed Budget for FY 2023-2024
The Department of LA Animal Services is proposing an astonishing 56% increase for next year’s 2023-2024 budget over the current Fiscal Year (FY).
“The current 2022-2023 FY budget total is, $26,941,178 compared to the proposed budget for next FY at $42,078,166—or an increase of $15,136,988,” Ms. Serksnas stated.
She explained that, “The increases are mainly driven by additional headcount, hence full-time salaries. The current fiscal year shows 343 Regular positions and 21 Reso positions. The proposed budget is requesting 371 Regular positions and 129 Reso positions for a headcount increase of 8.2 % and 514.3% respectively. (Note: “Reso”--or Resolution-- positions are defined as positions that exist as long as funding is available.)
“One should expect some pretty darn impressive Performance Metrics or new initiatives when proposing a budget increase of 56%, that are measurable in terms of quantity and quality,” Ms. Serksnas added.
Four Long Term Priorities were listed by the Interim GM in the proposal (Executive Summary), which were:
- Maintain No Kill
- Removing All Appointment Requirements for Visiting Animal Service Centers
- Increase Animal License Processing
- Increase Animal Enrichment Activities
So, what do we actually get from LAAS for our added $15M tax money?
She continues, “However, in reviewing the measurable 2023-24 Performance Metrics, detailed in the budget, there are six (6), two of which are “obsolete”. The four (4) remaining metrics show levels the department accomplished years back.
For example, the Number of Animal Licenses Issued metric shows 120,000 for the proposed budget, BUT they issued over that amount back in both FY’s 2017-18 and 2018-19.
“Additionally, they don’t even match the 4 stated in the Executive Summary.” (See: Image of Performance Metric Outlined in Budget)
“The Department needs to come up with NEW concrete measurable metrics for this kind of budget request and someone needs to be held accountable for meeting those goals.”
For instance, a request on page 44 (more detail on page 132) shows $4.6 million for Contract Services for canine enrichment. Ramirez needs to spell out how $4.6M is going to translate into increased adoptions and put that in their Performance Metric so that they are held accountable for this tremendous undefined cost.
GET MORE EMPLOYEES—OR GET PAID EMPLOYEES TO COME TO WORK?
According to Ms. Serksnas’ analysis, LAAS already has enough employees to get back to pre-pandemic levels. “The problem is they don’t have enough people showing up for work to put on the schedule because they are still taking off under provisions of the City’s Covid policy and the biggest part is compensatory time off being taken from overtime earned in previous pay periods,” she summarizes.
“Rather than pouring in more money, they need to get rid of compensatory time off—it’s a disaster!”
THE “OFFICIAL CONVERSATION” ON ACCEPTING LOST/UNWANTED PETS
Interim GM Annette Ramirez repeats in almost every question by the Commission about requests to turn in a stray or relinquish a pet, that the staff is “having a conversation” with the person and tells them that the shelter is overcrowded and it is the responsibility of the community to “help us out.”
This means either keeping the “found” pet at their home and posting a photo on the LAAS website, posting flyers in the area, walking it in the community and, if no owner responds, re-homing it with someone by using the Internet, or keeping it.
She claims that if they won’t—or say they can’t—keep the animal or find temporary housing for it, the shelter will take it.
A DIFFERENT “CONVERSATION”
But here’s the direct order issued five days before the Commission meeting by District Director Gerald Hill, which indicates that a different “conversation” will take place.
This was sent by e-mail on January 5, 2023, to all LAAS kennel and clerical supervisors, and printed out and distributed to employees:
Good morning, Supers,
We understand that we are completely out of space in our facilities, and if you are not already doing so. Moving forward until further notice. please move all appointments for owner surrenders "that are not sick or injured" as far as possible, 3 to 4 weeks, if necessary."
If you get any complaints please refer them to Jennifer [Curiel] and/or my emails.
Let me know if you have any questions.
COUNTY DOESN’T WANT CITY’S “BIG DOGS”
Ramirez also told the Commission, that LAAS will be joining the County at adoption events and that she would propose that the City could take small dogs—which can be easily sold—from the County, as a trade for some of the City’s large dogs. (“Large dog” is a euphemism for primarily “Pit Bulls.”)
I spoke with Marcia Mayeda, Director of Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control, and she said she had not heard of any such proposal, but she has enough “large dogs” and no problem re-homing small dogs.
So, it appears that prospect will not be on the table for LAAS.
THIS DEPARTMENT NEEDS REVIEW BY COUNCIL PRESIDENT
LAAS has a morale problem, rather than insufficient employees, and this always falls on the person at the top. This is not a secret. Employees are vocal about the horrendous working conditions in the shelter and officers say they cannot get to calls for animal assistance. (LAAS did not respond to the 3/5/22 call for a French bulldog that was being beaten in WLA until 3/21/22.)
The internal management problems of this Department can no longer be overlooked and need to be reviewed and addressed by City Council President Paul Krekorian—who is an attorney and has experience with the long-term challenges facing this Department—before the City becomes involved in a major lawsuit over the “Finders, Keepers” policy that asks the public to potentially violate laws by keeping lost/stray pets without bringing them to the shelter.
Under this plan, the City has no way of knowing how many pet owners have been permanently deprived of their lost microchipped and licensed “family member” because it was not required to be taken to the shelter. And what happens to pets of families that do not know they are supposed to look on the L.A. Animal Services website or Nextdoor for their pet?
Since the recent election, LAAS has been assigned to the Neighborhoods and Community Enrichment Committee of the Council—a new committee with members (Heather Hutt, Eunisses Hernandez, John Lee) that are not familiar with the history or problems at L.A. Animal Services, other than Councilman John Lee, who fought to preserve the West Valley shelter.
Historically, Animal Services has been overseen by the Public Safety committee, due to the fact that it is a law-enforcement department, insuring the welfare of animals and humans during animal-related incidents/crimes and natural (or unnatural) disasters.
Council President Gross stated at the January 10 meeting that he was considering suggesting a bill that would ask Council to designate any dogs adopted during COVID as “emotional support” animals in order to stop landlords from evicting tenants who adopted during this period in violation of “no pet” rules.
However, an expert on animal/rental law opined:
It is not within the Commission or Council’s power to give such an order because it would require a change to the legal definition of an “emotional support animal.”
An emotional support animal (ESA) is a pet that provides comfort and support to a person with an emotional or mental condition requiring the assistance of that pet.
A landlord is allowed to require, as a condition for the possession of that animal in a rental, that the person with the medical/emotional provide a doctor's certification that the person, in fact, suffers from a diagnosed condition of anxiety or depression or similar condition.
Frankly, that diagnosis can then preclude a person from certain activities or occupations and there may be unintended consequences for claiming to have the qualifying condition.”
WORDS OF WISDOM ON KEEPING STRAY/FOUND DOGS
Here are some words of wisdom from the Central California SPCA on how pet ownership works in the state of California:
Pets that can be legally owned are considered personal property (like your TV, your car, your clothes, your wallet, and everything else you own that is movable).
If you’re out walking and find a bag full of money, it doesn’t become yours after a certain period of time. The same goes for stray domestic animals.
The only legal way to take ownership of a stray domestic animal (thus preventing the original owner from reclaiming their pet, or claiming you stole it) is by adopting from an animal control agency or rescue organization that has taken the stray animal from an animal control agency after it has served a mandated stray holding period.
HERE’S CA STATE LAW:
597.1 OFFICER SHALL PICK UP STRAY
“… Any peace officer, humane society officer, or animal control officer shall take possession of the stray or abandoned animal and shall provide care and treatment for the animal until the animal is deemed to be in suitable condition to be returned to the owner.” (Emphasis added.)
COULD LAAS FACE COURT CHALLENGE FOR MAKING A FINDER OF A LOST ANIMAL AN “AGENT” OF THE CITY?
If animals are turned away by the shelter, with the finder being told to keep it, post pictures and try to locate the owner and/or find a new home, there may be a potential legal challenge that they are now acting as an “agent” of the Department, potentially giving the City liability for any actions/bites/injuries or hazards resulting in harm to animals or humans by the dog or any lawsuits or charges brought by an owner who does not get their animal back.
SHOUSELAW: A Closer Look at The Liability of Adoption/Rehoming Pit Bulls and Other Dangerous Dogs
The Shouse Law firm has an outstanding page on this issue, which may make any business entity think twice about dogs (or cats) that are known to be dangerous/ aggressive. (Remember that both shelters and “rescues” are “businesses” which sell a product—an animal.)
“The increasing number of businesses (for profit or non-profit) becoming involved in this industry may want to get a legal opinion on contributing to the release of the ‘big dogs’ and other pets with aggressive/behavioral histories to adopters/families.”
This is what Shouse Law says:
Strict liability is a legal doctrine under which a defendant may be held liable for an injury even if the defendant was not negligent or at fault for causing the injury.
California law recognizes strict liability under two circumstances:
- When the defendant has manufactured, distributed or sold a defective product that injures you, or
- When a dog bites you in a public place or in a private place where you are not trespassing.
Shouse also states:
If you are injured by a defective product, you do not have to prove that your injuries resulted from the manufacturer’s mistakes. Instead, you need to show that your injuries resulted from you using the product in a “reasonably foreseeable” way that any consumer would.
ANIMAL SHELTERS HAVE A SERIOUS RESPONSIBILITY TO HUMANS, AS WELL AS TO ANIMALS. The “misconstruing” or avoiding complete disclosure of known or suspected dangers can be costly to the shelter, “rescue,” non-profit or anyone who is party to an attempt to inflate adoption rates by concealing information that could result in harm.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Ex-L.A. Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette and former-Councilman Paul Koretz are directly responsible for the pet population explosion and overcrowded shelters today. Jointly, they removed animal limits per property; rescinded the need for a kennel permit for more than three dogs; increased cat limits with no enforcement of spay/neuter or keeping unaltered cats indoors.
IS IT ANY WONDER THERE ARE TOO MANY DOGS?
LAAS sold 19,529 Breeders Permits between JAN 2017 and 2022.
LAAS sold a total of 2,152 breeders permits in December 2022, alone. (These are the ones that got permits—how many didn’t?)
There are many responsible steps the City can take to reduce euthanasia for space; such as:
- Strict enforcement of spay/neuter laws and roaming animal ordinances.
- Better availability of spay/neuter for public. (Average wait is now three months and cost of $500.)
- Enforce dog licensing.
- Require business license and adherence to local tax laws for breeders.
ANIMAL SERVICES – A SINKING SHIP
The City of Los Angeles seems hell-bent on sticking with “No-Kill” which even Best Friends admitted is a failure. Keeping “No-Kill” as one of its primary goals means maintaining the status quo of overcrowded animal shelters and lack of law enforcement, warehousing dogs and shuffling them around from one shelter and rescue to the other—like passing buckets of water from part of a sinking ship to the other without addressing the huge causative leaks.
This is the epitome of incompetence, combined with a lack of leadership, ineffective management, horrific working conditions for people who love animals and took the job to help them, and a GM employees say is never seen at the shelters.
And, according to Cathy Serksnas, based upon the Department’s proposed decreased performance-goals, GM Ramirez will be going backwards in providing services to the animals of the city due to the many ways the City shelters are trying to get people to keep, give away or leave found animals in the streets. All the while, taking in dramatically more money from taxpayers with no accountability as to where it goes.
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former Los Angeles City employee, an animal activist, and a contributor to CityWatch.)