The Animals of Los Angeles Are Looking toward Sacramento

The animals of Los Angeles are looking toward state legislators in Sacramento, our state’s capitol, to help lead them out of a quagmire of systematic killing, neglect, and abuse. The California Legislature has taken the first step toward a bold and powerful statement that rejects the failed paradigm of shelter killing. Assembly Concurrent Resolution 74 states that:

That the Legislature encourages No Kill animal shelter policies and procedures as the foundation for animal sheltering; and be it further Resolved, That the Legislature urges all local animal services agencies, local animal shelters, agencies under contract to provide animal services, societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, and humane societies to embrace the philosophy of the No Kill movement, and to immediately begin implementing programs and services to reject failed kill-oriented policies and end the mass killing of sheltered animals…

Sadly, the resolution is just that: a resolution, which does not have the same binding authority of a state mandate. Nor is it perfect. But it is start and worthy of support. And it could not come at a more appropriate time in California for three reasons: 1. The State’s largest shelter system (in the County of Los Angeles) continues policies that allow, indeed cause, mass killing. It also continues to neglect and abuse animals in its care; 2. The state’s largest city (the City of Los Angeles) is increasing the number of animals it kills thanks to legislation passed last year which gave them greater powers to do so; and 3. Los Angeles area activists who embrace death are seeking state legislation to give all shelters in California this power.

Channel 2 News in Los Angeles recently did a story about abuse of animals in the Los Angeles County shelters by staff members who are supposed to be the animal’s protectors. Undercover video shows officers throwing animals, kicking animals, and choking animals. See the expose by clicking here.

In addition, the No Kill Advocacy Center, which filed a lawsuit against the County shelter in 2007, is telling members of the Board of Supervisors that if they don’t take immediate steps to end inhumane conditions at County shelters, they’ll be headed back to court:

By way of introduction, our agency was one of the plaintiffs in the December 2007 lawsuit against Los Angeles County and its Department of Animal Care and Control (DACC) for illegal and inhumane treatment of animals at its six facilities. You are aware that a Stipulated Order was entered in settlement on this case on October 20, 2008.

Since the Order went into effect, we have investigated numerous complaints about continued illegal and inhumane treatment of animals. One of the complaints involved a two-year-old poodle mix. Despite showing symptoms of illness, she was never treated and found dead in her kennel on March 1, 2009, over two weeks after she was impounded. These facts are remarkably similar to those of the dog posthumously named “Zephyr” for which the Board of Supervisors held hearings in February, 2008. In that case, a ten-month-old puppy named Zephyr died while in the custody of DACC. A subsequent necropsy revealed the cause of death to be pneumonia, with marked emaciation (“starvation”). Administration of the antibiotics does not appear in the original Shelter Management Software records. Staff did not respond to her failure to eat. The dog died in her filthy kennel, without intervention by DACC staff, and without treatment or release from her suffering. The only difference between the prior case that occurred before the lawsuit was filed and the case of the above poodle-mix is that DACC does not have a rescuer to blame for their own failure, as the Department tried to do in the former case.

Another complaint involved five Persian cats. None of the cats were vaccinated, nor were they provided veterinary care on impound. Because of filthy conditions, one of the cats contracted Panleukopenia and died a week later, another died thereafter, and an additional cat died after adoption. The cats were finally given an examination and treatment, but not until a week after they were impounded.

A further complaint involved a litter of highly adoptable Pug puppies killed by DACC despite DACC’s awareness that there was a rescue group willing and able to save them, a clear violation of state law.

These do not appear to be isolated incidents. Complaints also include a stray dog not scanned for microchip on intake in violation of state law, only to be scanned when adopted and forced to be held an additional ten days, putting further pressure on available kennel space. We have a complaint involving a cat classified as “male” with “gastro” issues only to be found to be a female who was pregnant after she gave birth to a litter of kittens in the shelter. We have other cases of animals receiving no veterinary care, adequate food, or clean water; of dogs fighting in the shelter and left with torn ears and gouged eyes; of killing animals who were not irremediably suffering before the statutory holding period; and of keeping animals in filthy conditions.

We have subsequently demanded that DACC abate those conditions pursuant to the Stipulated Order. Because of DACC’s unsatisfactory responses, we have also sought mediation with DACC of some of those complaints. Unfortunately, there is ample evidence that conditions continue to fall short of legal minimums, the requirements of the Order, and the mandates of compassion and decency.

Despite our efforts to work with DACC, we are left with no choice but to conclude that DACC is not making substantial progress and/or good faith attempts to hold its staff accountable to either state law or the Stipulated Order.

We are, therefore, demanding that the Board of Supervisors take immediate steps to ensure that DACC ceases violating the law. Otherwise, you will leave us no choice but to ask the Court to hold the defendants in contempt of the Stipulated Order.

Tragically, animals in Los Angeles City shelters are fairing little better. Despite the Mayor’s promise that the City of Los Angeles would become the “most humane city in America,” his administration has done very little beyond empty rhetoric and photo ops to make it a reality. Indeed, the agency has been rocked by controversy during his administration involving mismanagement, poor care and unnecessary killing. And last year, it passed a punitive law that gave officers the power to impound and kill animals who are not sterilized. While other communities are seeing death rates plummet and lifesaving at all-time highs, during the past 12 months, 3,029 more cats were intentionally killed in Los Angeles city shelters compared to the year before, an increase of almost 33%. Dog killing has also increased significantly. And more animals are dying in their kennels than ever before.

Meanwhile, some Los Angeles activists don’t appear to care that they helped cause this killing and are intent on passing related state legislation. SB 250 is a reworded mandatory sterilization law under the guise of differential licensing. This comes after they failed last year to pass the original version. Sadly, this year—as occurred last year—they continue to refuse to add common-sense protections for animals. These would include, at a minimum,

  • A “no-impound/no-kill” provision, meaning an animal can never be impounded based on a violation of this law and if an animal is surrendered because a person received or was threatened with a citation, that animal cannot be killed;
  • An exemption for feral and free roaming strays, as they have no “owners”; and,
  • A provision for “free spay/neuter” in lieu of a citation based on a legislative approved income schedule. In other words, if someone falls below a threshold on income (e.g., is on any type of local, state, or federal welfare benefit or subsidy), they can demand free sterilization instead of a citation; or the citation cannot be written or the law enforced against them.

I’ve long argued that giving animal control the power to impound and kill more animals is no way to reduce shelter killing. Even the bean counters in the Senate seem to agree. SB 250 has been sent to the suspense file after a committee analysis found that,

costs could increase to the extent that irresponsible pet owners would surrender their animals to a shelter rather than pay for a surgical sterilization procedure, which would somewhat increase shelter populations and related costs.

As much as proponents try to paint all opposition as that of greedy breeders (I’ve never bred an animal in my life), this is the analysis of the Senate Appropriations Committee whose staff actually don’t seem very sympathetic to animals. They call people “irresponsible” without concern about the deaths of animals or how spay/neuter is out of reach financially for those in the bottom rungs of the economic latter. They conveniently ignore that roughly seven out of ten low income pet owners would sterilize their animals if it was free. And they ignore that the communities with the highest rates of lifesaving don’t have these kinds of laws. In fact, they ignore that shelters in communities which take in higher per capita rates of animals than Los Angeles are still saving nine out of ten because shelter leadership embraced the programs of ACR 74. Senate Appropriations staff seem concerned only about costs. But their concern is not speculative.

Since the City of Los Angeles passed its version of the mandatory spay/neuter law one year ago, impounds and deaths—and therefore associated costs—have skyrocketed. The law has led to the only increase in cat and dog impounds and killing at Los Angeles Animal Services in nearly a decade, and the reversal of a decade long trend of declines in both. While the Mayor claims he wants Los Angeles to be the most humane city in America, it appears he is seeking “number one” status of a different sort. The direction Los Angeles is going, he actually seems intent on catching up to Lake County, CA which has the dubious honor of being the pet killing capitol of California. In 2007, Lake County veterinarian Jeff Smith and the President of the California Veterinary Medical Association encouraged Los Angeles to pass its mandatory sterilization law saying he supported such legislation. “It’s worked in our county,” he said. Working? Lake County has the highest per capita rate of killing in California.

The death champions in L.A. conveniently ignore this. In fact, they perpetuate it. It is truly time for change.

Let’s hope the California Legislature agrees by killing SB 250 and passing ACR 74. And then while they’re at it, how about passing the Companion Animal Protection Act?

Read the text of ACR 74 by clicking here.

Read the Companion Animal Protection Act by clicking here.

Find out why some activists embrace death by clicking here.

Read a “New Hope for Los Angeles” by clicking here.