Council told of poor conditions at LA animal shelters

Council told of poor conditions at LA animal shelters

Dogs doubled up in city kennels. Kittens dumped at shelters. Hamsters going overnight with no food or water.

A Los Angeles City Council hearing Tuesday brought forth new details and committee reports about the dogs, cats, rabbits and other animals at city shelters.

The three-hour meeting brought relief to many volunteers — the unpaid members of the public upon whom the city relies to walk dogs and perform other chores at the shelters — who say they have been raising concerns to city leaders for years.

Councilman Paul Koretz, who chairs the committee overseeing animal issues, held the hearing following a Times report on crowded kennels, staffing shortages and dogs that don’t get walked for weeks. Koretz started the meeting by thanking the volunteers and calling them “brave whistleblowers.”

Koretz said he intended to “scrutinize the indefensible and inexcusable situation of dogs being caged, sometimes for many months at a time, without exercise.”

“We’ll also focus on the other problems in the department, bringing transparency to these important issues,” said the councilman, who is a candidate for city controller in the November election.

Staffing problems, disagreements over the level of care the city should provide to animals and the loss of two key employees have roiled the Los Angeles Animal Services Department in recent months. The city greatly depends on volunteers for a range of tasks — a system that’s under strain as more animals come in.

One of the top staffers who left Animal Services this year did so out of frustration over the treatment of the animals.

More than 50 people spoke at Tuesday’s hearing; about 140 signed up but weren’t able to speak because of the time limit set by Koretz.

Some speakers, including a volunteer at the South LA shelter, asked city leaders to see the conditions for themselves.

“You will see from the moment you do that where the issues start,” the volunteer said. “The entire system needs to be changed.”

Jill Dyché, executive director of rescue group Outta the Cage, called for “disruptive and systemic change” at the Animal Services Department and said city leaders should consider privatizing the shelters.

“Los Angeles taxpayers need experienced outside leaders to take over the shelter system and run it like a business,” Dyché said. Other callers also suggested privatization.

This angered Charles Leone, an organizer for the Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents animal care technicians and other workers. He told Koretz there was a “political agenda” behind such proposals.

Some callers raised red flags over the treatment of small animals at shelters.

“They’re just as important as the dogs and cats, and the hamsters will go all night without having any food or water,” said Sharon Tydell.

Annette Ramirez, interim general manager at Animal Services, didn’t respond to the comments about small animals but spent much of her time talking about staffing problems that have stretched the department beyond “capacity.”

Ramirez said the staffing shortages are partly the result of a city protocol that allows employees to quarantine for 10 days if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19. The policy states that employees are not required to be tested during the quarantine period, Ramirez told Koretz.

“That’s definitely something we should look at,” the councilman said.

These guidelines appear to diverge from those of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, which doesn’t recommend isolating if a person has no symptoms after coming into close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Ramirez talked about how a lack of veterinarians is hurting operations, leading to wait times for animals at shelters. She also said the city is “struggling” with the cat population.

Ramirez noted that volunteers “do a lot of work” at the shelters. “But they should not be the ones we depend on to do the care for the animals. That is our responsibility as the city, as the Department of Animal Services,” she said. “We should have sufficient staff to provide the minimum care for the animals that are in our shelters.”

Koretz said he will hold a second hearing in August and release a report outlining solutions to the shelter problems.

Some callers questions why Koretz was having an “emergency” meeting applicable, that the problems have existed for years.

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