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LA Animal Services GM Barnette Less Than Truthful about the New ‘Finders, Keepers’ Law

ANIMAL WATCH--Los Angeles Animal Services' General Manager Brenda Barnette has been trying since 2017 to pass a law that allows strangers who find lost dogs in the city to keep them and not bring them to the shelter, so she can avoid euthanizing warehoused aggressive Pit Bulls and feral cats, and preserve LA's  mythical "no kill" status.

Finally, on August 16, 2019, the City Council passed a vastly modified--but still unenforceable and unworkable--Ordinance 186287 (CF 18-0130), effective October 8, 2019, which allows strangers to keep dogs (or cats) they find and merely notify the shelter and distribute flyers in a two-block area for two weeks.  Then after 30 days the shelter will waive adoption fees and give them legal title to the dog (or cat).

But when Barnette and her Assistant GM MeLissa, who oversees shelters, issued the Policies and Procedures for staff, they reverted to her initially submitted wording to the Commission, which was reported in our first article and rejected by the City Attorney.

'SHELTER-AT-HOME' A MONEY-MAKER FOR RESCUES

GM Brenda Barnette has advised the media that "shelter-at-home" programs relieve shelter overcrowding but she has not told the whole story. What has not been mentioned in the ordinance is that: finders are often reluctant to return a pet to someone they feel is unworthy because it got loose; and people feel obligated to monetarily reward the rescue group or person who has "sheltered" their pet even when it is obvious the pet did not receive good care (sometimes the reward is just to assure they get possession of the pet.)   And they can also be asked to reimburse for expenses. It can also provide an incentive to steal someone's pet.

Thus, this process--which does not include vaccinations and licensing and the opportunity for a microchip, all of which are offered at the shelter--can prove costly to the owner.

Similar programs have reportedly worked in some small communities with humane societies in other parts of the country but have not been instituted in large cities for obvious reasons. Municipal shelters are obligated to provide public health and safety--something which cannot be done when anyone can pick up your pet and keep it--or sell it on Craigslist.

It is also dangerous because inexperienced owners may take in a dog of unidentified breed which is violent with other animals and injures/kills their pets or one that attacks unknown children.  Dogs do not always show their temperament immediately. Within a week or two, the animal relaxes and can start to exert its territorial instincts and may attack a family member or friend who visits.  Finders become "agents" of the shelter, and the governmental entity then has liability for their actions or omissions.

Barnette told KTLA TV News that statistics (she didn't identify whose statistics) show lost pets are easier to find if they are closer to home.  Of course, if your pet has only walked down the street and is sniffing the flowers or visiting a friendly neighbor, it is easy to find.  However, a dog that has traveled a mile or two or is locked inside someone's home is not going to be found as easily as if it were brought to the nearest shelter. Anyone who brings a lost animal to an LA Animal Services' shelter can request "first right to adoption" if the owner does not come within the legal hold period.

 Also, the pet may escape a strange home or yard and/or be injured and the finder not notify the shelter. And, if an animal is held 30 days (or even less) and the finder does not want it, the owner may have given up checking the shelter for the pet and it merely becomes another homeless animal.  

Shelters are the ‘lost and found office’ for pets.  Not turning lost pets into a shelter—where owners can find them, and they will get proper care in the interim—is like finding a wallet or set of keys in the parking lot and leaving them by the nearest lamp post.

BARNETTE'S POLICY ENDANGERS SHELTER STAFF, PETS AND THE PUBLIC

GM Brenda Barnette and Assistant General Manager MeLissa Webber, who issues shelter policy, are rarely seen in the kennels of the six city shelters, according to staff, and should be immediately removed from their highly paid positions for deliberately issuing instructions (see below) which DO NOT follow the new City law written by the City Attorney and which add dangerous provisions.

In an era when public-safety employees (especially uniformed) are the specific targets of violent attacks--including shooting and stabbing--shelter supervisors, animal control officers or kennel staff telling someone the City's policy is to allow an unknown stranger to keep their pet, and redeeming it is dependent upon that person's cooperation, can engender exactly the volatility and hostile reaction that results in tragedy to an individual staff member or an entire facility, and includes members of the public.

NOT PROVIDING BREED ID ALSO CREATES TENSION / ANGER

In addition, under another LAAS policy, dogs are NOT listed by identifiable or best-estimated breed at L.A. shelters (although the finder or owner who relinquishes it may indicate a breed on the surrender form, Barnette and Webber's policy prohibits staff from conveying that information to callers.)

Thus, if you call the shelter to ask if your dog has been turned in or is being held by a finder somewhere, staff is prohibited from identifying  any impound by breed and you will be told to go online (all dogs are identified as "mixed-breed") or visit all the shelters to physically look at every dog to find your pet. (See: I'm a Pit Bull! I'm Not a Pit Bull! LA Animal Services Playing Games with Breed ID Labels?)

This proposal was vigorously protested since May 2017 on CityWatchLA (see below) and  in oral and written objections to Councilman Paul Koretz' Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee and the City Council, both for the violation of Constitutional rights to private/personal property and the danger to which it subjects lost or loose pets and members of the households who take in a stray animal without knowledge of its behavioral propensities.

'Finders, Keepers': LA Doesn't Want Your Lost Dogs or Cats in City Shelters..

Los Angeles Proposes "Finders Keepers" Bill Regarding Lost Pets

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

LAAS GM Brenda Barnette's 'Finders-Keepers' Plan Can Result in Dog Attacks and Lost-Pet Scams

ANGELENOS  PAY TAXES FOR  LOST PETS AND STRAY TO  BE SAFE

Los Angeles taxpayers spend $47 million a year for L.A. Animal Services under the Public Safety Budget for the impounding of stray animals who may pose a danger to public safety and to assure that, if lost, their owned pets can are kept safely and with proper care at one of the city's six shelters until redeemed.

Stray dogs without visible licenses are picked up by animal control agencies to avoid any danger of contracting or transmitting rabies. Although dogs (not cats) are required to be licensed, unlicensed dogs (or dogs not wearing a visible license) do not have less rights to safety and protection by L.A. Animal Services. 

Finders who want to keep a pet can merely remove its collar and tag.  And, while it is true that up-to-date microchips are the best ID, they are not required by law.  In reading the following ordinance and Barnette's dangerous Policies and Procedures (which do not match the ordinance), imagine that the lost animal is found at 10:00 p.m. or later at night, when many loose animals roam.

L.A. CITY ORDINANCE ON FINDING LOST DOGS/CATS (Effective 10/8/209)

This is an ordinance which legal experts say violates personal property rights was approved by the City Council on August 16, 2019 (CF 186287 - READ IT BELOW)

(NOTE:  Comments/opinions by various legal experts are in italics below but are NOT to be considered legal advice. Such commentary does not exist in the City's published Ordinance No. 186287.)  

Here is the link to the 1967 law which preceded it: LAMC SEC. 53.09.  STRAY ANIMALS. NOTICE REQUIRED.

ORDINANCE NO. 186287                                                                      

An ordinance amending Section 53.09 of Article 3, Chapter 5 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code to allow temporary home care for a lost or stray dog or cat.

THE PEOPLE OF THE CITY OF LOS ANGELES DO ORDAIN AS FOLLOWS:

Section 1. Subsections (d), (e), and (f) are hereby added to Section 53.09 of Article 3 of Chapter V of the Los Angeles Municipal Code to read as follows:

    (d)     If the animal is a stray dog that is not wearing a license tag or a stray cat and the person finding the animal wishes to provide the animal with home care, the person shall comply with the following within the first four hours of finding the animal:

(QUESTION: HOW DOES THE CITY KNOW THE LICENSE WAS NOT JUST REMOVED?  HOW DOES THE CITY DETERMINE THE TIME OF "FINDING THE ANIMAL"?)

  1.    Notify the nearest City animal shelter that the animal is in their possession and provide a description of the animal, the location where the animal was found, the location where the animal will be maintained, as well as the person's name, address, and contact information.

(QUESTIONDO MOST RESIDENTS KNOW L.A. CITY SHELTERS ARE OPEN 24-HOURS OR WHERE THEY ARE LOCATED?)

  1.      Note and maintain the animal ID number from the Department to be used in all future communications.

(THE CITY HAS NOW MADE THE FINDER ITS "AGENT" BY PROVIDING A NO. AND THE FOLLOWING DUTIES WHICH MUST BE PERFORMED ON BEHALF OF THE CITYRATHER THAN INSTRUCTING THAT THE ANIMAL BE BROUGHT TO THE SHELTER.)

  1.     Provide two or more photographs (of different poses and at least one head shot) of the animal to the Department suitable for posting on the Department’s website.

(TRAINED SHELTER STAFF HAVE A DIFFICULT TIME TAKING PHOTOGRAPHS OF QUALITY THAT MAKES THE PET IDENTIFIABLE, HOW CAN FINDER’S BE EXPECTED TO, AND WHAT HAPPENS IF THEY DON’T?)

  1.     Transport the animal to a veterinarian or to the nearest animal shelter if the animal requires timely medical care.

(QUESTION:  HOW DOES THE UNTRAINED FINDER KNOW IF THE ANIMAL REQUIRES "TIMELY MEDICAL CARE?"  INJURIES OFTEN ARE NOT APPARENT UNDER FUR!--A dog/cat taken to a shelter receives an automatic initial examination by a veterinary professional or is taken to an emergency clinic if deemed necessary by a shelter employee.)

    (e)     Within the first 24 hours of finding the animal, the person finding the stray dog or cat shall comply with the following: 

(QUESTION:  THE LAW HAS NOW SWITCHED TO 24 HOURS AND ADDED MORE DUTIES FOR ITS AGENT.  HOW DOES THE CITY DETERMINE THIS TIMEFRAME IS MET, AND IS STAFF AVAILABLE TO FOLLOW UP IF IT IS NOT?) 

  1.   Transport the animal to one of the City animal shelters for a microchip scan and veterinary care, or bring the animal to a licensed California veterinarian at the finder's own  expense for a microchip scan and veterinary care.
  2. Provide the Department with a record of the microchip scan and the veterinarian’s diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis.

(THIS IS CONTRADICTORY.  IF THE FINDER HAD IT SCANNED AT A CITY SHELTER WHY WOULD THEY NEED TO PROVIDE A RECORD OF THE MICROCHIP SCAN?)

  1. Make and distribute posters with the animal’s photo in a two-block radius of the location where the animal was found and include the finder’s contact information.

(QUESTION: WHAT IS TIME LIMIT TO DO THIS AND WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF "DISTRIBUTE?" Here is LAMC Sec. 28.04, which prohibits posting flyers (called hand-bills)

HAND-BILLS, SIGNS - PUBLIC PLACES AND OBJECTS

Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 28.04

(a) No person shall paint, mark or write on, or post or otherwise affix, any hand-bill or sign to or upon any sidewalk, crosswalk, curb, curbstone, street lamp post, hydrant, tree, shrub, tree stake or guard, railroad trestle, electric light or power or telephone or telegraph or trolley wire pole, or wire appurtenant thereof or upon any fixture of the fire alarm or police telegraph system or upon any lighting system, public bridge, drinking fountain, life buoy, life preserver, life boat, or other life saving equipment, street sign or traffic sign. (Read more.)

IS FINDER OBLIGATED TO "DISTRIBUTE" POSTERS INSIDE PRIVATE YARDS/ON DOORS/HAND OUT TO INDIVIDUALS?  IF PROPERTY IS ENTERED, IS THE CITY LIABLE FOR POSSIBLE TRESPASS BY ITS AGENT?)

  1. Complete the Department’s form foster care agreement and submit it to the Department in person, by fax, or electronically. The Department’s form foster care agreement shall include an agreement by the person to accept all legal and financial liability for the animal.

(QUESTION:  HOW DOES THE CITY EXEMPT ITSELF FROM LEGAL AND FINANCIAL LIABILITY WHEN THE PERSON IS ACTING AS ITS 'AGENT?'  THE CITY CANNOT 'FOSTER' SOMEONE ELSE'S ANIMAL--THEREFORE, THE AGENT IS ACTING AS AN EXTENSION OF THE SHELTER AND THE CITY ASSUMES ALL OBLIGATIONS.)

    (f)    In addition to the requirements in Subsections (d) and (e) above, the person finding the stray dog or cat shall comply with the following:

    1,  Agree to maintain the animal at the identified location and notify the Department within 12 hours of any change to the location where the animal is kept.

(QUESTION:  NOW A 12-HOUR TIME PERIOD HAS BEEN ADDED. HOW DOES THE CITY KNOW WHEN/IF THIS HAS OCCURRED?)

  1. Immediately notify the Department if the animal is lost, stolen, or has attacked, bitten, or injured any person or other animal.

(QUESTION:  IF A DOG ATTACKS, BITES OR INJURES ANY PERSON OR OTHER ANIMAL, THE CITY IS LIABLE, THE FOSTER IS LIABLE AND IN CALIFORNIA THE LAWFUL OWNER OF THE LOST DOG HAS STRICT LIABILITY, EVEN THOUGH THE DOG IS NOT IN HER/HIS POSSESSION.)

    3.. If the animal is returned to its lawful owner, immediately notify the Department with the name, address, and contact information of the person to whom the animal was released.

(QUESTION:  WHERE IS THE PROVISION IN THIS LAW FOR THE FINDER TO DETERMINE WHO IS THE "LAWFUL OWNER."  WHAT TYPE OF PERSONAL ID CAN HE/SHE REQUEST?  THERE IS NO REQUIREMENT FOR THE DOG TO BE TAKEN TO THE SHELTER TO BE LICENSED/VACCINATED IF IT IS NOT—DESPITERABIES SHOTS BEING MANDATED.  THERE IS NO INDICATION OF HOW THE FINDER WILL RECOVER COSTS FOR NECESSARY VETERINARY CARE, AS PROVIDED UNDER STATE LAW AND THIS ORDINANCE.  IF A CONFLICT RESULTS BETWEEN THE FINDER/FOSTER (CITY AGENT) AND THE "LAWFUL OWNER," ISN'T THE CITY LIABLE?)

  1. After 30 days, bring the dog or cat into the nearest City animal shelter and either surrender the animal to the Department or complete the process to adopt the animal, including having the animal vaccinated and sterilized. If the found animal is a dog, adoption also will require the adopter to license the dog. The Department shall waive the adoption fee for any animal adopted pursuant to this section.

(IF THE CITY CONSIDERS THE "FOSTER" AS NOT A CITY AGENT, THEN THE ANIMAL MUST REMAIN AT THE SHELTER FOR A LEGAL HOLD PERIOD IN ORDER TO TRANSFER OWNERSHIP.  HOWEVER, SINCE THE "FOSTER" HAS BEEN ACTING AS A QUASI-SHELTER FOR THE ANIMAL--EVEN THOUGH THE OWNER DID NOT HAVE ACCESS TO FIND THE ANIMAL--THEN THE CITY IS ACKNOWLEDGING THAT IT HAS ALL RESPONSIBILITY DURING THE "FOSTER" PERIOD.)

BARNETTE'S POLICY FOR STAFF DIFFERS FROM ORDINANCE AND IS DANGEROUS

Barnette's chaotic, unenforceable, sloppy POLICIES AND PROCEDURES statement will deliberately place pets, finders, owners and shelter staff in danger!  (Note:  Any spelling and grammar errors are those of Brenda Barnette--no change has been made to the following document.)

WHERE IN THE ORDINANCE ARE THESE AUTHORITIES PROVIDED?

The City cannot escape liability for any harm to humans or animals because it is designating "finders" of pets as agents of the City, prescribing specific tasks they must perform--but in a chaotic, jumbled manner that will incite misunderstanding and anger.  

For instance, it will require staff to provide the name and address of the owner to the finder so they can demand reimbursement for any expenses they have incurred.  Does this not make the City liable? 

(The following is the policy as issued.  It is filled with grammar and punctuation errors. Some areas have been bolded only for emphasis.)  Note the Additional Important Information. 

POLICY ISSUED OCTOBER 8, 2019, UNDER ORDINANCE 186287:

 

 CITY OF LOS ANGELES

                                                                        Department of Animal Services

                                                       POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

 

 

                                                                                                                    SHELTER AT HOME                                                                                                                                                           

Date: October 8, 2019                                                                                           Division Code: OPS                                                                                                                                                                                           

 POLICY

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, at which time the animal must be brought to the Department so the owner can identify the pet or determine that the pet is not theirs.

RESPONSIBILITY OF THE FINDER

The individual wishing to provide temporary home care for the dog or cat on the loose will be agreeing to these conditions.

  1. To advise the closest Los Angeles Animal Services (LAAS) Center after finding an animal on the loose, a person must, within four hours or within two hours thereafter, if the animal is attached or hitched to a vehicle give notice to the LAAS that he has such animal in his possession, and provide a description of the animal, including weight, where he found and where he has confined the animal;

 

  1. To provide a picture (two poses preferred) of the animal within four hours;
  2. To post picture and finder contact information, on the website at, www.laanimalservices.com/xxxx, with the animal description and will indicate that the pet is being temporarily sheltered in a home, waiting to find the owner, and to call the shelter if you believe this is your pet, to arrange a meeting at the shelter to see the pet;
  3. To go to a veterinarian, or one of our six LA Animal Services Centers, and have the animal weighed and scanned for a microchip, within four hours;
  4. To be willing to be a Good Samaritan, and make sure that any medical needs are taken care of at their own expense, understanding that a refund can be requested from the owner if the owner is located;
  5. To make and distribute posters with the pet’s picture and their contact information in the area where the animal was found, within four hours of finding the pet;
  6. 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 Animal Services Centers;
  7. Finder must agree to keep the animal at the location provided for the full 30 days and any changes must be filed with LA Animal Services, either at a Center or by updating the information provided on the website;
  8. If the animal is lost or stolen, it must be reported to LAAS immediately;
  9. If requested to do so by LAAS, the finder shall surrender such animal the the General Manager, or their duly authorized representative upon demand;
  10. If the found animal has any medical needs, the finder MUST obtain veterinary care at their own expense, and a record verifying that an injured animal received treatment immediately, by a licensed veterinarian, must be submitted to the LAAS Chief Veterinarian within 24 hours, along with the diagnosis, type of treatment, and prognosis provided by the veterinarian. If the owner is located, the owner can be expected to reimburse the finder for any medical expenses incurred on behalf of the animal;
  11. After 30 days, but before 32 days, the finder can either decide to keep the animal and get him/her vaccinated, alter and licensesOR they surrender the animal to one of our six LA Animal Services Centers;
  12. If finder returns animal to owner in their neighborhood, the must immediately notify LAAS and provide the name and address of the owner.

Additional Important Information:

  1. Failure to release the animal to the shelter if owner is identified could result in an officer going to the location and attempting to seized the animal and possible charges for theft against the finder;
  2. If there have been mandatory veterinary care expenses incurred by the finder, the owner will be advised that those must be paid and that his or her name and address will be provided to the finder for collection;
  3. If the animal is attached [sic] by another animal, or in any way injured, or contracts a disease while in the care of the finder, the finder will be liable to the owner of the animal’
  4. If the animal bites, attacks, or otherwise inflicts harm on a person, or animal, while the found animal is in their custody, the finder will be liable for the actions of the animal while in their custody;
  5. If the animal escapes and causes an automobile accident, in which someone is injured, the finder will be liable;
  6. LAAS may demand that the keeper of the animal show proof of insurance, has no history of animal abuse,and lives where the animal will be allowed and will not cause the finder to be in violation of the 3 dog and 3 cat Los Angeles City limit;

 

If the animal is pregnant (whether or not it is obvious), the finder will be required to notify the shelter and to determine whether the finder is prepared to foster and bear the expenses through whelping, and until the offspring are weaned. After which, all offspring and queen or dam, will be returned to LA Animal Services Center, to be altered. The offspring will be the property of LAAS, and will carry all of the rights for the finder that any foster volunteer has. http://www.laanimalservices.com/found-pet/

 

WHAT OTHERS WRITE ABOUT TAKING LOST PETS TO SHELTERS 

The Hayden Bill -SB 1785 - reads (in pertinent part): 

 

(e) 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.

 

   (f) The Legislature finds and declares that shelters should be

required by law to take in lost animals and properly care for them

with prompt veterinary care, adequate nutrition, shelter, exercise, and water.

American-Humane 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." 

In a May 25, 2019 Los Angeles Times OP-ED, Carol Mithers, advises, When you find a stray dog, the best thing you can do for it is take it to a  shelter. She writes, "There may be a lot of 21st century ways to hunt online, but when a pet goes missing, the first place most owners look is the local shelter. 

BRENDA BARNETTE IS LETTING DOWN THE LOST PETS OF LOS ANGELES 

LAAS General Manager Brenda Barnette states on her (BB) blog We provide shelter to lost animals until we are able to reunite them with their owners and help stray pets find their new homes." 

Depriving an owner of the fastest way of finding their lost pet--at their local shelter--is to "deliberately cause pain and suffering" which is the definition of sadistic. Under her "Shelter-at-Home" plan, a homeless person could pick up your pet and keep it at a filthy, disease-ridden encampment, where its life is continually threatened by violence and rage.

 Everyone should license and microchip their pets, but L.A. Animal Services licensing statistics have fallen pitifully, and the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee and Mayor Eric Garcetti need to ask why. These are the fastest ways to get an animal home--if that is GM Barnette's goal. 

It appears that, by focusing on the statistics of “No Kill,” GM Barnette is abandoning her primary mission to care for animals, and increasing the potential for suffering by as many lost pets as she can.  If GM Barnette cannot uphold her own commitment to provide shelter and reunite pets with their owners, then the City of Los Angeles should replace her with someone who can.

Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of Los Angeles employee and a contributor to CityWatch.)

-cw