An animal rescue group has filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, its pound system, the City’s mayor, and the General Manager of the pound for failing to take in stray and injured animals. It claims that animals are being turned away in two ways. First, by closing two of the city’s six shelters. Second, by often failing to accept them at the other four, using the pandemic as the excuse. According to the Complaint, the City’s failure to take in stray and injured animals is not only illegal, it burdens rescuers, including the group filing the lawsuit, with having to accept “a significantly higher number of stray dogs and cats than it is accustomed to.”

While I am not familiar with the group which filed the lawsuit, I have interviewed rescuers who were actually threatened with citation by L.A. officials if they tried to feed or trap the cats released by the public in the parking lot of the pound; abandoned there because the pound was closed and not accepting them.

The Complaint alleges that municipal law in the City compels the taking in of stray animals. Specifically, L.A. Muni Code Sec. 53.04 “declare[s it] to be their duty” to do so. Although not cited in the Complaint, it is also illegal under state law for municipal shelters not to shelter stray dogs. Food & Ag Code Sec. 31105(a) mandates, “The taking up and impounding of all dogs which are found running at large…” Likewise, Pen. Code Sec. 597.1 (c) (1) requires injured cats to be taken in and seen by a veterinarian. The rescue group is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, not money damages. It wants the court to declare that not taking in stray and injured animals is illegal and compel them to do so.

I am admittedly torn by litigation that demands pounds take in animals, but does not provide a concomitant demand that they also place them (see, e.g., the Companion Animal Protection Act). If those pounds are going to kill them, I would rather they not take them in. Those need not be the only two possible choices, however, as countless communities have already proven: saving90.org.

Indeed, many communities rose to the challenge provided by the pandemic by embracing ingenuity, a “can do” attitude, and technology to save the animals. Communities like Rosenberg, TX, continued operating as an essential service and turned to their community and surrounding communities for help, achieving unprecedented results thanks to an overwhelming response by the public. Many placed record numbers of dogs and cats and some, like Rosenberg, found themselves empty for the first time in their history: “Big dogs are leaving, behavior cases, cats with special needs… No one is being left behind by our community.”

Tragically, Los Angeles is not the only city to use the pandemic as an excuse to turn its back on animals. Austin Animal Center (in Texas) told people to release stray dogs where they were found because they were not taking them in. An internal memo released to the public showed that the director wanted to continue this practice even after the pandemic by permanently closing the doors to all healthy strays and eliminating kennel space for them altogether.

Likewise, when a local resident found a pregnant, blind cat walking in circles, she called the pound in Salt Lake County (Utah) for assistance, but Animal Services told her to abandon the cat: “We told them we thought the cat was pregnant, walking in circles, sick and acted like [she] couldn’t see… It was just heartbreaking… They told us to release the cat.”

In San Francisco, the pound director issued a statement saying they would no longer take in healthy stray cats and kittens, instead telling people to leave them on the street.

In Broward County, FL, volunteers claimed that the pound killed hundreds of dogs and cats in March and April, including those with rescue commitments, and that “many potential adopters were turned away, the gates firmly locked.

Officials in these cities say “they’re adhering to pandemic protocols outlined by the National Animal Care and Control Association,” but NACA has a long, sordid history of defending regressive practices. Moreover, such reliance does not trump legal and ethical obligations.

The case is Ady Gil World Conservation vs. City of Los Angeles, et. al.

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