On November 23, Mr. Pickles was surrendered by his family to the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care & Control (LACDACC). Although initially scared, Mr. Pickles turned out to be very sweet, rubbing up against the bars of his cage when volunteers or staff walked by and calling out to them with a soft meow. He was so pliable, in fact, a volunteer put Mr. Potato Head glasses on him, caressed his beautiful orange face, and snapped his photo to show others how cute he was.

Mr. Pickles — young, healthy, friendly, already neutered — should have had everything going for him; his stay at an American shelter in one of the richest and most cosmopolitan communities in the world a temporary waystation to a better life. Unfortunately, he entered a pound that did not revere life, did not hold staff accountable to results, did not embrace a culture of lifesaving.

Instead of being made available for adoption, Mr. Pickles was housed in Building 9 at the Downey shelter, one of seven facilities in the LACDACC system, behind a locked gate inaccessible to the public. This is the feral (and medical) building. Here, healthy cats deemed “feral” (like Mr. Pickles erroneously was) are housed next to sick cats, ensuring that those who enter healthy don’t leave that way, if they leave at all.

 

Video of Mr. Pickles meowing for attention and rubbing against the bars of his cage was taken inside Building 9 by a volunteer who was there to pick up another cat for a rescue group. She saw immediately that despite being labeled “feral,” Mr. Pickles was social with people, as if the colorful collar and little orange bell that he was surrendered with weren’t enough of a giveaway. She had hoped the video would get him moved to Building 3 for adoption. Others had the same experience; one of them writing in large block letters with a pink highlighter on his cage card: VERY SWEET CAT.

It would be of no use.

On November 30, he drew his last breath. Staff at the pound killed him with an overdose of barbiturates.

In a bid to cover up their malfeasance, Mr. Pickles was labeled “unadoptable.”

“I have personally verified and therefore, recommend based on the criteria in OPK 120, that this animal is eligible for PTS,” a staff member wrote on his official paperwork. PTS — meaning “Put to Sleep” — is a euphemism for killing. OPK 120 is the policy that authorizes the killing of cats who are alleged to have “a behavioral or temperamental defect that could pose a health or safety risk or otherwise make them unsuitable for placement as a pet.” According to the pound director, policy dictates that cats be killed for the following criteria: “severe injury, untreatable illness, or dangerous/wild temperament.”

Mr. Pickles was not injured. He was not ill. He was not dangerous. And putting aside how unethical and cruel it is to kill cats even if they are truly “feral,” his temperament nowhere near wild. The block letters written in the pink highlighter could not be missed.

But mislabeling cats, something that a whistleblower admits “happens a lot,” isn’t just the result of incompetence or staff covering their trails. It comes from the very top. In response to years of public criticism over neglect, abuse, and systematic killing — including dogs dying of starvation, animal control officers abusing animals, injured and dying animals receiving no medical care, and animals not being fed so that they ended up cannibalizing one another — LACDACC Director Marcia Mayeda launched what she termed “Socially Conscious Animal Sheltering.

Socially Conscious Animal Sheltering is not reform. It does not mandate any programs or services. It does not establish measurable, verifiable benchmarks. It doesn’t require LACDACC to do anything different. It’s a name designed to obfuscate, another in a long line of euphemisms that allow pounds like LACDACC and pound directors like Mayeda to continue business as usual, while taking political pressure off of the Board of Supervisors, who continue to ignore systemic problems. Not surprisingly, it is embraced by some of the most regressive pounds in the country.

True to its intent of whitewashing neglect and killing, Mayeda’s recent report to Supervisors lauded her program of “Socially Conscious Animal Sheltering,” claiming that she and her team are “committed to upholding the highest ethical standards in meeting its mission of protecting people and animals” through “a culture of transparency, ethical decision-making, mutual respect, continual learning, and collaboration.” But all those pretty words don’t amount to much when they fail to protect a VERY SWEET CAT like Mr. Pickles, and the many others like him, from being labeled “feral” and “unadoptable” and poisoned to death (or being killed even if they are feral in the face of a sterilization alternative).

Despite the claims of transparency and ethical decision-making, the large pink letters averring to his kind temperament, the soft meow, the collar and little orange bell, the rubbing up against the bars of the cage for attention, and the Mr. Potato Head glasses, he was killed in a remote building, behind a padlock, with warning signs for parents to guard their children because Mayeda and her team are lying to people that Mr. Pickles, and others like him, pose a severe threat to the public.

He was only 1½ years old.

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