ANIMAL WATCH-If anything will get viewers for TV news, it is reporting that animals are going to be killed at a shelter. Activists know this well. Occasionally, frantic calls to reporters come from well-meaning--but misinformed--visitors or volunteers, because there is little time for quiet, detailed communication while managing facilities with hundreds of animals leaving and entering daily.
Most stations know this and confirm the full facts with the agency's management so the broadcast can, hopefully, provide a positive way the public can be part of the solution--if there is a problem.
But, on Thursday, KTLA News completely caught LA County Animal Care & Control by surprise when it broadcast and posted, “Some local rescue pet organizations are upset over a new policy at LA County Animal Services. They say the policy allows shelters to euthanize animals that are deemed 'unsafe,' instead of being made available for adoption by rescue organization."
Sayalan Orng, identified by the station as a shelter volunteer, said ominously, "My concern is that, if this continues and we can't save dogs that are deemed aggressive, this will be a “mass murder.”"
Although reporter Kareen Wynter announced that shelter volunteers had started a petition opposing the change, the on-line document which KTLA posted for the convenience of critics indicates it was actually started by a woman in Littleton, CO, who does not appear to have affiliation with L.A. County shelters or any other animal organization.
A spokesperson for LACAC&C said they were not aware of the broadcast. When they were notified that an e-mail to one of their Carson rescue partners had been misinterpreted, the Department promptly posted a media release on the LA County Animal Care and Control website to clarify:
As an animal care organization DACC is committed to finding homes for all adoptable pets sheltered that are not reclaimed by their owners. While we strive for adoption outcomes for all dogs, we also have a responsibility to public safety. In some cases, dogs that find their way to our animal care centers have a documented history of such aggressive tendencies that they pose a threat to public safety.
Eighty-four percent (84%) of the dogs that come into our Los Angeles County Animal Care are adopted to families or placed with our very valued adoption partners (rescues). However, because of our commitment to public safety, DACC will not place dogs—even with our adoption partners—when the dog has a documented history of aggressive behavior, or has exhibited a pattern of threatening or aggressive behavior while in our care.
The reality is that very few dogs in our animal care centers will be deemed to pose a risk to public safety. We want to reassure concerned animal advocates that fears that have recently been conveyed to us -- that any dog that shows fear in the stressful kennel environment will be euthanized -- is simply not correct. Our policy is limited to dogs whose documented history demonstrates a high likelihood that they will injure or kill another animal or attack a human.
We do not take lightly the decision to euthanize a dog for behavioral reasons and are committed to taking that action only when the dog poses a very strong propensity to do harm if placed in a new home. We will continue to evaluate each dog as an individual, taking into consideration all available information including temperament test, documented history and behavior while in our care.
We continue to collaborate with our adoption partners to place dogs with less serious behavior issues, such as those whose evaluation would suggest special placement that our adoption partners may have the resources to address.
The release also cites State law supporting the department’s policy.
It is hard to believe that most County residents and rescuers would not support a decision to reduce the risk of harm to people, their pets and other animals by dogs which have a documented history or pattern of aggressive behavior—especially with attack reports on shelter employees, volunteers and the public by impounded or adopted animals increasing at an alarming rate.
Here are just a few:
RECENT DOG ATTACKS IN SHELTERS
On January 23, 2017, CityWatchLA told the story of Priscilla Romero, Animal Care Technician for L.A. Animal Services, who was savagely mauled by a dog that had bitten before while in the shelter and had other notations by employees that the dog was not safe.
On February 24, 2017, according to the Orlando Sentinel, “Lake man is recovering from attack by pit bull at animal shelter, -- “The victim of a pit bull bite in the Lake County Animal Shelter talks ... A worker came running with a mop and used it to beat the dog off.”
On March 18, 2017, the Daily World, wrote, Pit bull attacks worker; animal shelter shut down – Stacey McKnight was alone in the back of the St. Landry Parish Animal Control shelter Thursday when the unthinkable happened. ... ‘The dog's aim was to attack me,’ she said.”
WHO ARE ‘ANIMAL RESCUERS’?
Responsible animal rescuers perform a valuable service for the shelters and homeless animals by keeping them in a quiet, safe environment while they seek adopters that are a good match for each dog's personality, energy level and potential needs for the rest of its life.
Some rescuers believe they are able to change the behavior of even a very aggressive dog or that behavior assessment tests do not show the dog’s true nature. Because of the increase in breeding and ownership of certain breeds of dogs for property protection (or to guard criminal enterprises), often those impounded in shelters have serious anti-social behavior or genetic propensities which have caused them to threaten or to have already attacked a person or kill other animals.
There is no clear legal definition of a “rescuer” or a “rescue organization” in California or most states. Anyone -- including those without dog-handling, training, or other animal-management education or experience -- can become a “rescue” and solicit donations merely by obtaining or being remotely covered under a federal 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt umbrella.
There are no other federal laws, nor is there a state or local agency in California that maintains jurisdiction, monitors or reviews "rescue" activities for compliance with laws or ordinances. Nor are there prescribed background checks to start a "rescue" or determine qualifications for employees or volunteers.
Hoarding, noise or animal cruelty complaints may be made to the local animal-control department -- which is often where the rescue has “pulled” many of its animals to help reduce shelter population.
There is also no statewide agency (such as Department of Consumer Affairs) for anyone dissatisfied with the health or temperament of an animal adopted from a rescue to make a report and have its license or permit revoked, because none is required.
ANIMAL RESCUERS ARE NOT IMMUNE TO DOG ATTACKS
April 5, 2017, Rescue Group Volunteer, Son Injured in Dog Attack … A volunteer and her young son were hospitalized after two large-breed dogs attacked and bit them at “For the Love of Dogs” private animal shelter. "The Rottweilers went up to the children and they started to pet one of the dogs … the dog suddenly grabbed one of the children off the picnic table and took him to the ground, and the second dog started to attack the child as well.” Samuel said, “the volunteer rushed to her son’s aid and was bitten when she tried to shoo the dogs.”
May 23, 2016, CityWatch article, LA Animal Services: Pit Bull with a Violent History Attacks Potential Adopter...
-- "A Pit Bull named Sammy with a prior record of repeated aggression and who had just bitten a Los Angeles Animal Services kennel worker in the abdomen, was released on April 28 to NovaStar Rescue, at the personal instruction of LA Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette."
August 12, 2013, Darla Napora, Pregnant, Killed by Her Pit Bull . .. .
Two Years Ago Father Writes ... "Darla's husband wanted a male pit bull and one was rescued… Darla was described as being "...an avid, long-time supporter and member of Bay Area Dog Lovers Responsible About Pit Bulls [BAD RAP], a Pit bull advocacy group.”
On August 20, 2012, Dog Rescuer Rebecca Carey Killed at Georgia Home by Dogs She Saved ...One or more of the rescued dogs in her home attacked Carey and killed her. ...at the time of her death—two Pit Bulls, a Boxer mix, and two Presa Canarios…”
ANIMAL CONTROL, HUMANE SOCIETIES CAN BE SUED
Aug 5, 2016 -- Animal control director can be sued for dog attack death, court rules ... Court rejects animal control chief Mark Kumpf’s defenses. ... Two complaints specifically alleged that the dogs’ owners, Andrew Nason and Julie Custer, had directly threatened her with attack. Andrew Nason and Julie Custer, above, were convicted of offenses pertaining to. . ."..
April 3, 2017 -- Adopted Pit Bull Attacks Toddler - Animal Shelter Sued for ‘Product Liability’ "Although the dog in Clinton, Iowa, had been listed as a 'Boxer-Labrador-mix,' it was determined to be a Pit Bull that had been transported from a Louisiana shelter. The dog was subsequently declared a dangerous dog by Clinton authorities..."
INCREASE IN FATAL ATTACKS BY RESCUE OR SHELTER DOGS
Colleen Lynn, of Dogsbite.org, compiled the following stats:
In the 7-year period of 2005 through 2011, dogs inflicted 214 deadly attacks in the United States. Only 2% (4) of those deaths involved rescue or adopted dogs. Of these 4 cases, 75% (3) of the dogs were vetted by rescues or shelters.[Vetted indicates a certified rescue or shelter.] All of the victims were children ages 4 and younger.
In the 5-year period of 2012 through 2016, dogs inflicted 178 deadly attacks in the United States. A stunning 9% (16) of these deaths involved a rescue or adopted dog, making it the fastest growing category of the 47 measurable parameters that DogsBite.org tracks per death between the two time periods.
Of the rescue or adopted dogs that killed during the 5-year period, 63% (10) were vetted. 50% (8) of these deaths involved children 7 years and younger and the other half involved adults 23 to 93 years old.
Between the two periods, there has been a 350% increase in rescue or adopted dogs inflicting fatal attacks in the U.S. Combining both periods, 2005 through 2016, pit bulls and American bulldogs accounted for 70% of all rescue or adopted dogs that killed a person in the United States.
PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM MARCIA MAYEDA, DIRECTOR, L.A. COUNTY ANIMAL CARE & CONTROL
The Department of Animal Care and Control is committed to protecting human and animal safety, while placing as many unwanted animals as possible into new homes. Unfortunately, some dogs that arrive at our care centers have documented histories of aggression, or exhibit behavior so dangerous that they cannot be safely placed back into the community. Doing so places other animals, as well as people, at risk for serious injury or death. While, sadly, these aggressive dogs cannot be safely rehomed, this decision is essential to public safety.
To be clear, this policy relates to relatively few dogs. Other dogs may not pass a temperament assessment, but we feel are able to be further assessed and rehabilitated by experienced animal adoption partners (rescue groups). We work closely with many such organizations to provide these dogs with the opportunity for behavior modification and placement into new homes.
It is disheartening that a venomous attack on LA County Animal Care & Control was promoted by KTLA -- which has been a strong supporter of animal shelters -- before the station had determined all the facts. As conveyed by Director Mayeda, a discussion with management could have diffused the angst of those making these claims and this damaging controversy would not have occurred.
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.