ANIMAL WATCH-PETA supporters dressed as a cat and a dog demonstrated their dismay on Oct. 3 over the failure of Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles Animal Services' General Manager Brenda Barnette to fix a phone system that continuously fails LA callers needing help for animals.
The PETA pair and friends carrying signs reading, "Mr. Mayor - Make LA Animal Services do its job!" and "Mayor - Please Help Them!" took to the streets of Century City, where the Mayor and other officials were celebrating the re-opening of the opulent Westfield mall.
“Too many animals are being left to suffer and die because of fixable issues like tied-up phone lines and long or non-existent response times,” said PETA Senior Vice President Lisa Lange. “PETA is calling on Mayor Garcetti to make LA Animal Services a working resource for people who want to help animals in distress.”
PETA states it has written to Mayor Garcetti and LAAS General Manager Brenda Barnette multiple times over the last year pointing out the dysfunctional toll-free number -- which takes callers to a difficult-to-navigate menu and often subjects them to "long, silent hold times and incessant busy signals, which are failing animals and humans alike."
LATimes reporter Emily Reyes Alpert cited similar frustrations in researching her Sept. 5 article, "You might as well be calling the moon: Animal activists complain that LA City phone system is a nightmare.” According to Reyes, “The Times tried to reach LA shelters through the number and frequently got busy signals. In a few cases, a reporter was disconnected after a message saying the call could not be transferred."
Then, something equally -- if not more -- alarming was revealed at the September 26 Animal Services Commission meeting. Apparently, PETA's complaints, the Times article and tremendous public outrage sent GM Brenda Barnette into her customary knee-jerk, crisis-management mode, which resulted in an announcement (extracted in part from the official minutes but also available on audio) by Asst. GM Dana Brown, that:
“The Department has been working very closely with ITA [Information Technology Agency] and the Mayor's office to identify short-term and long-term solutions.
“Short-term includes changing the greeting and the phone tree options so that emergency calls go to the shelters and non-emergency calls go to 311. [The] 311 staff needs training to familiarize them with incoming LAAS calls....
“On Oct. 9, ITA will disable the transfer option available in their phone tree that transfers to LAAS. There are approximately 2,000 calls per month that exercise that option. ITA is concerned about having enough staff in place to handle the calls for LAAS and they are working with their Human Resources unit to facilitate getting sufficient staff. The training includes clarifying the difference between urgent service requests and emergencies.”
Yikes! Does this mean thousands of Angelenos (many not fluent in English) may not even have a way to speak with LA Animal Services' experienced shelter personnel for initial advice on handling a critical issue or get requests for help to Animal Control Officers because all calls will go to ITA (311), which doesn't have enough personnel and no expertise?
And, what exactly is the dividing line between an "urgent service request" and an "emergency?"
Also, If ITA can get calls through to the phones at the shelter that don't work for the public, why don't they just fix those phone lines for everyone?
Last Thursday afternoon, I needed to reach LA Building and Safety but discovered all public calls must be made to 311 -- which I then made. After a long series of rings, I was put on hold for 19 minutes, during which I was invited repeatedly to enter my request for a call back. Finally, a pleasant young man came on the line but obviously had no idea what I was asking for. I was then put on hold for another five minutes, at which time he attempted to come back on the line, but we were promptly disconnected.
Animal Services' calls are often about a serious injury or life-threatening situation -- to either animal or human -- and are too big a risk for this experiment!
This is very embarrassing to Mayor Garcetti -- especially since A/GM Brown said LAAS was "working closely with the Mayor's office" on this plan.
The LA City "award winning" website boasts, “…the City of Los Angeles was named America’s top digital city by the Center for Digital Government in the 2016 Digital Cities Survey. In an effort to stay at the forefront of technology, the City of LA has integrated the City's Calendar with Alexa, a digital assistant developed by Amazon.com…"
Wouldn't you think Mayor Garcetti's “top digital staff” could make the LA Animal Services' phone system work also?
Besides Garcetti's efforts to keep LA at the forefront of technology, he recently took worldwide credit for bringing the future Olympics to LA, sparked speculation about a political future in Washington, D.C., and announced that LA animal shelters will be "no kill" by the end of the year.
With the thick layer of insulation surrounding him as the chief executive of the city, is it possible our "get LA back to basics" Mayor is relying on representatives focused exclusively on the trendy, illusory, politically correct facade of "no kill" -- an important part of which is not filling the shelters with desperate, suffering, ill, injured, stray and homeless animals, some of whom might need to be humanely euthanized?
Has Garcetti, the former "hands-on" Councilmember who regularly met with constituents and community advocates, personally read even one letter from PETA?
Has he been truthfully informed of the on-going testimony by PETA and others about the phones and the lack of substantive response from LAAS management and the Commission, or is he relying on information filtered through aides, volunteers, and fund-raisers motivated more by politics than compassion?
Is he aware of the angst and anger throughout many Los Angeles communities where residents fear being attacked by stray or loose dogs and having small pets killed when they walk out their door -- but can’t reach Animal Services?
Has he been told that LAAS trucks driven by employees trying to reach animals in peril are dangerously 15 to 17 years old? And, has he been informed that after over three years of verbal and written pleas and warnings to GM Barnette, the Commission, and Councilman Paul Koretz' PAW Committee about the constant mechanical failures and absence of air-conditioning for the animals, a Boxer, named Mugsley, died from overheating during transport just four weeks ago?
The inexcusable revelation that there is no dependable way to reach this highly funded (but poorly equipped) department which is the sole source of rescue and treatment for the neediest animals in Los Angeles, and this has not been of primary concern to the Mayor's personally selected appointees -- GM Brenda Barnette, the Commission, and his staff -- until PETA brought it into the public eye, is appalling and inexcusable.
PETA is reaching out to Mayor Garcetti, hoping he will reach back and stop the unnecessary suffering of animals in Los Angeles, which is an unbearable source of pain for millions of Angelenos who truly love them.
The Mayor needs to meet with PETA-LA and act immediately to repair or replace the phone system at LA Animal Services and address the overall dysfunction of LA Animal Services.
The PETA “dog” and “cat” have made sure the Mayor is personally aware of the issue and, as Senior Vice President Lisa Lange told City Watch on Sept. 11, "PETA is not going away!"
All they are asking is for him to "fix LA Animal Services' systemic failures to help animals.”
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.