LA Animal Services GM Sends 'Finders, Keepers' Plan to Council … City's Lost, Stray Pets Ignored 

ANIMAL WATCH-Why don't LA Animal Services’ General Manager Brenda Barnette and the LA Animal Services Commission want lost, stray, abandoned or unwanted animals brought to the Los Angeles City “No Kill" shelters (as recently announced by Mayor Eric Garcetti) for safety and quick return to owners searching for their furry (or feathered) family member? Barnette reports that dog impounds are down and owner redemptions are up at LA City shelters, so, why not continue a good thing? Could it be the stats aren't really telling the whole story? Or, could numbers have been achieved in a manner that is not sustainable and a new elusion is needed?  

However, under no political convenience -- lost/homeless animals have become lucrative political and financial pawns -- should appearing "No Kill" allow the City to risk entering agreements with unknown, unvetted individuals to keep lost, helpless, voiceless pets while their sleepless owners search frantically through shelters, obsessively scan online "found" ads and Craigslist, and agonizingly call their pet's name on dark streets at night, hoping for the slightest familiar whimper, bark or meow. Maybe the LA Animal Services Commissioners and GM Barnette have never lost a pet? That should be a prerequisite for managing a shelter! 

On May 29, 2017, ‘Finders, Keepers’: LA Doesn’t Want Your Lost Dogs or Cats in City Shelters informed CityWatch readers that the Animal Services Commission -- with no singular or collective animal-sheltering experience among them -- on May 23 approved Barnette's "finders-keepers" proposal to allow lost pets to stay with any person who picks them up and reports this to the shelter. 

This isn't a program where the finder comes in and is background-checked. It would place your pet in a location unknown to you, in potential danger of harm, and eliminate your ability to get it home. 

Experts in law say it is inadvisable, and possibly illegal, for the City to purposely enter into such an agreement in regard to lost personal property, which changes the dynamic from merely notice to the Department to a contract with prescribed "guidelines" imposed by LA Animal Services. But, Deputy City Attorney Dov Lesel was present and made no objection.  

'FINDERS, KEEPERS' PLAN MOVED FORWARD TO MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL 

On February 14, 2018, Council File No 18-0130, "Found Dogs and Cats / Home Care by Private Citizens / Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) / Amendment,” was activated by the City Clerk and is now "pending" in Councilman Paul Koretz' Personnel and Animal Welfare (PAW) Committee. 

This is not about the protection of lost pets. It is about emptying the shelters and not having lost animals counted in impound or euthanasia stats. 

It is also the attempt to legally create quasi-animal shelters, run by local rescue groups in residences. Simultaneously, Councilman Paul Koretz is also attempting to change City zoning to allow unlimited animals throughout the City.  

Barnette is, according to a prior presentation to the Commission, planning to enter into agreements with rescuers -- as well as individual finders -- to allow them to keep your pet without impounding it for the legal-hold period at the shelter. Rescues cannot charge impound fees. Will they rely on rewards or some hold pets hostage for unregulated “fees” to cover their costs of care of found strays? 

This would also deprive the animal of the required veterinary check it receives in LA's public shelters and the safety of separation in industry-approved kennels. It would also mean that a found animal could be in close contact with other lost or rescued animals without vaccinations and possibly aggressive behavioral propensities. 

GM Barnette is allegedly basing her "finders-keepers" plan on the theory that everyone who finds an animal and reports it has good intentions and the ability to provide the same (or better) care than her own animal shelters. 

State law and national and local experts do not agree. Barnette is relying on her interpretation of LAMC Code Sec. (53.09), which provides that the finder must provide a photo to the shelter and distribute flyers where the animal was found (which may be miles from where it was lost), but it does not include that the City can enter into an agreement/contract to grant continued possession to the finder. This changes the arrangement and expands the City's liability, legal beagles agree. 

EXPERTS RECOMMEND TAKING PETS WITH NO ID TO ANIMAL SHELTER 

The CA Hayden Law states, "The Legislature finds and declares that it is better to have public and private shelters pick up or take in animals than private citizens. The Legislature further finds that the taking in of animals is important for public health and safety, to aid in the return of the animal to its owner and to prevent inhumane conditions for lost or free-roaming animals."  

American Humane Association advises, Take pets with no ID to an animal shelter. If the animal has no ID tag or microchip, its best chance of being reunited with its owner is generally at an animal shelter. The shelter is the one obvious place where owners are likely to look for lost pets. Many people are not familiar with breeds and coat colors and may not be able to give an accurate description of the animal they have found. Read here.  

NOT POLICY, BUT A CHANGE TO THE LA MUNICIPAL CODE (WITHOUT REGARD FOR STATE LAW) 

Here's Barnette's description of a proposed contractual agreement with unvetted strangers under her “Finders, Keepers” plan to the Mayor and City Council in a letter dated February 13, 2018 (CF 18-0130.) The City will enter this agreement without knowledge of whether this "private citizen" has a history of animal abuse, has unvaccinated/unaltered animals at the home, has a securely fenced yard or the means to properly care for someone's lost pet. 

The plan also purports that, after 30 days, the individual has a legal ownership right and may keep it. That is not contained in State law. Her "guideline" states, "After 30 days, the person providing home care must either decide to keep the animal and get him/her vaccinated, altered and licensed (dog) OR they must surrender the animal to one of our six LA City animal shelters. 

"We propose to allow private citizens to provide home care for a dog or cat on the loose who is not wearing a license tag under certain guidelines. This home care shall be for up to 30 days unless the Department makes a demand for the animal in the event that the owner is located and then the animal must be brought to the Department so the owner can identify the pet or determine that it is not his/her pet." 

If the animal is pregnant when found, or becomes pregnant during the 30 days, her September 22, 2017, report details those "guidelines," which include that the "offspring will be the property of the Department" -- after the "private citizen/resident" cares for them until weaned. (Read more details in original report on file in CF 18-0130.) 

PROPOSED PURPOSE OF THE NEW ORDINANCE (AMENDED LAMC) 

  • Give lost animals home care, and medical care if appropriate. 
  • Keep animals out of the shelter. 
  • Work with residents who are concerned or refuse to turn animals in to the shelter for fear the animal will not be claimed or placed; and . . . 
  • Expand the Department's foster program and increase community involvement in helping find animal's owners, and meanwhile, allowing animals to be held in less stressful environments. (That is not guaranteed--many homes are hell for animals.) 

Barnette states that, "There is no fiscal impact to the General Fund to adopt the changes recommended in this report." However, this change will decrease revenue from redemptions and increase costs because LAAS will have to pay for any injury, lack of veterinary care or lawsuits brought because of the City entering into contracts regarding owned private property, plus the myriad problems resulting from divulging identity of the private party, who will want to recover any costs. 

Also, Brenda states in her first report that after 30 days, the person has a legal right to the animal and can have it vaccinated, altered and licensed or surrender it to one of our six LA city shelters. This requires legal ownership. 

HERE'S THE STATE LAW THAT IS BEING IGNORED 

The "keeper" does not automatically become the "owner" after 30 days. A CA shelter expert explained that, the City or other public agency must impound the lost animal according to law and make it available for the legal "hold" period so that the owner has the opportunity to claim it in order for the requirements of Cal. Civil Code § 2080.3 and 2080.5 to be met and ownership to be legally transferred to the agency. At that time the animal can be sold/adopted with clear title to a new owner. 

"Not impounding the pet in a shelter removes the key method by which the pet could be located by its owner -- one of the primary mandates of the law -- and, does not automatically allow legal transfer of title to the finder," he advised. 

"This is a safeguard in State law to assure this 30-day window cannot be used to hide and essentially "steal" an animal. After that 30 days, the governmental agency must still impound the pet for the legal "hold" period in order to obtain ownership and the right to transfer title." 

The following statutory section comprises California's lost-property laws:  West's Ann. Cal. Civ. Code § 2080 - 2082.  § 2080.3. Advertisement; payment of cost; vesting of title in finder; and § 2080.5. Authority to sell.  

The proposal also applies to cats. This is especially problematic and unveiled theft because it authorizes people to scoop up a “loose” cat, for which even the government does not have impound authority, and permanently take it from the true owner who had violated no laws  

BRENDA BARNETTE'S RESEARCH FOR COUNCIL 

Brenda responded to my written concerns about this ill-advised attempt to empty the city shelters at the cost of having no control over the animals' welfare. She wrote, "Now with the NextDoor app we are learning this is a fairly common practice in many parts of the City. I am also observing it to be a common practice in Aqua Dulce and Acton." (Emph added) These are two cities in Los Angeles County. 

Demographics/economic statistics for Brenda's city models for "Finders, Keepers" program.  

Acton covers 39.28 square miles and has a population of 7,596. 

Median income per worker in 2015 was $75,714, with an $84,375 median for men, and $54,384 for women. Only 6.9% of the population lives in poverty, with 1% of households using some form of public assistance. There are 2,814 housing units of which 2,386 (89.7%) are owner-occupied, and 274 (10.3%) are rented.   

Agua Dulce is 22.86 square miles in size. Population: 3,567. Median income at $99,638 and the median home listing price last month of $927,000.

92% of houses are owner-occupied. 

Compared to Los Angeles

Los Angeles covers about 469 square miles and the 2016 population was 3,976,322. The 2010 United States Census reported that Los Angeles had a median household income of $49,497, with 22.0% of the population living below the federal poverty line. (Author's note: This may have increased with the recent rise in homelessness.) Of 1,413,995 housing units, 61.8% were rented. 

BRENDA'S QUESTIONNAIRE (All responding agencies are outside of CA.) 

Please see all in CF 18-0130 (Found Dogs and Cats / Home Care by Private Citizens / Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) / Amendment) 

DISCLAIMER: Please review these carefully for yourself as they were apparently e-mail responses and were without letterhead. I attempted to extract the most pertinent parts for this issue. The answers were not in any particular order. It appears these were selected by Brenda Barnette as documentation, but NONE indicates that a law/ordinance was changed to enable such a program or that any of these programs match the "Finders, Keepers" program for LA. You decide. 

See: Attachment to Council File report. 

From the file, it appears GM Barnette sent out a series of questions to seek input from various agencies (none included in the file are California animal control or humane societies.) 

  1. The Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA (Virginia) flyer, which includes "I Have Found a Pet." States, "After you file a found report with the SPCA, place a Craigslist ad in the lost and found section or post found dog/cat posters in your neighborhood." 
  1. (NON-LETTERHEAD) FROM Fairfax County Humane Society (Virginia) 

"We can scanned [sic] here, but it is easier to take any animal to the shelter or a vet." "Nothing has changed. We rely on the lost/found email system and the Fairfax County Animal Shelter. 

Kerry Bitterman Office Coordinator 4057 Chain Bridge Road, Fairfax (humane society list address--not a shelter.) 

  1. (NON-LETTERHEAD) response from Jose Ocana, Puma County Animal Services (Arizona), who writes, "PACC files a "found" report and we let them know our call center is available seven days a week to help guide them through this process."  " Pima [sic] County seems different from LA where we don't require actual policies for our practices and programs." 
  1. (NON-LETTERHEAD) response from HumaneRescue Alliance of Washington DC- Site states, "We encourage guardians of lost pets to visit the DC Animal Care and Control facility on New York Avenue to positively identify your pet, as information via phone may not be sufficient. Bringing a current photo will help with identification. Your visit could help expedite a reunion with your pet, as animals may lose their collars and tags."  "If your pet is at the Humane Rescue Alliance/DC Animal Care and Control, he or she will be held for five days. After five days, the animal becomes the property of the Humane Rescue Alliance." 
  1. Humane Society of Pikes Peak Region, Colorado.

We also advise that the pet will never legally be theirs and rightful pet owner can take legal action. If a pet owner comes forward and lets us know that finder will not return pet we advise them to file stolen property report with Police and that it is a civil situation as we are not in custody of the pet. This does not happen often. " 

Humane Society of Pikes Peak Region, CO.     

  1. Washoe County Regional Animal Services, Nevada

In Nevada pets are considered property, therefore we always tell a finder they need to bring the pet into the shelter if owner isn’t located. If they are interested in adopting we give animal id number, just in case it becomes available after 5-day stray period. 

Shyanne Schull Director Washoe County Regional Animal Services 2825A Longley Lane Reno, NV 89502 775.328.2142 Office 775.322.3647 

WHAT DO YOU THINK? 

Has GM Brenda Barnette, as a City manager, provided adequate supportive research and validated data that her proposed "Finders, Keepers" proposal will get more lost animals home than impounding them in our six LA city shelters, where the experts say owners first search? If your pet is lost, do you want it taken in by someone in that area (other than a trusted neighbor) -- or wherever it may have traveled or been transported? What is the first thing you would do to find your lost pet?

 

(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.