LA Animal Services GM Offers Shelter Pit Bulls for Holiday 'Sleep-overs' and Furry Field Trips

ANIMAL WATCH-Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette issued a media release with three Pit Bulls at the top,  just before Thanksgiving, announcing a Short-Term Foster Program that invites the public to foster shelter dogs and cats for a few hours, perhaps for a Furry Field Trip, or up to a couple of weeks, until January 10. 

This same plea was also aired by KTLA-5 (Nov. 5) as LA Animal Shelters Offer Short-Term Fostering, which also added that "Animal Services hopes the new program will help it land some of the $55,000 in grants being offered to organizations with short-term fostering by Maddie’s Fund." 

Barnette said the pets would be "selected." What wasn't shared is that most of the dogs in LAAS shelters are strays with uncertain backgrounds or dogs impounded because of dangerous or concerning behavior toward animals and/or humans. 

There is also the very real danger to the animal by releasing it to someone who is making NO investment and a Department that Barnette continually complains is not fully staffed yet has ample budget to do so. It is possible these animals will be stolen or offered on Craigslist or, in the worst case scenario, brutalized, tortured or killed. Pit Bulls could be used for dog fighting. There is no way to do background checks on walk-in fosters nor to trace the outcome of a dog or cat that "disappears." 


A quick survey of the first four pages of available dogs on the LAAS Adoptable Search showed that 60 to 70% on each page were Pit Bulls and the dogs available were, with few exceptions, from 8 to 15 years of age. 

Should a municipal animal shelter (with high-liability risk claims paid out of taxpayers' funds) encourage that these dogs--some of which have already been adopted/fostered and returned because of aggression--be taken into your home at the busiest time of the year?  

During the holiday season, children are excited and animated, rushing in and out of doors that won't always get closed, strangers and family members are visiting, holiday events and shopping takes up much of most people's time and present a stressful environment--even without a new dog.

Barnette says that the socialization and love from being in your home with your family during the holidays will relieve overcrowding in the City's "No-Kill" shelters and make the animals more adoptable. This implies that we should ignore that warehousing dogs with histories of behavioral challenges for a life sentence at taxpayer expense are the reason Los Angeles city shelters are overcrowded. 


The City pays an Assistant GM of LA Animal Services, MeLissa Webber, for "lifesaving;" i.e., to assure that animals are not euthanized. Employees say that exhibited aggression or bite histories or pleas from experienced shelter staff that workers are endangered are not a consideration in this decision.  The goal is a 90% live-save rate to meet the Best Friends' goal, which means merely getting the animals out of the shelter alive. 

This lack of protection is not a new concern by employees, who say that the union also has made no effort for their safety, even after the horrendous attack on Priscilla Romero, a beloved and respected ten-year veteran Animal Care Technician (ACT) at LAAS North Central shelter, (LA Animal Services' Employee Mauled by Pit Bull ... Who Cares?) 

Barnette assures us that the animals will be "selected" but does not mention the criteria. Mugsy, the Pit Bull that attacked the wife of drummer and LA music instructor Noel Jasso, on July 11, 2019, came with assurances that, although he was aggressive with dogs, he was "good with adults and children."  But shelter records showed that Mugsy's had been adopted and returned to the shelter twice for aggression towards humans, including children. ('Fostered' Pit Bull Attacks Wife of L.A. Drummer/ Instructor Noel Jasso.)   

The German Shepherd, Boss, at the LAAS shelter, that savagely attacked a 7-year-old child in the face  on July 20, 2019, so severely injured him that it was reported that he may lose one eye, was "selected" by a volunteer to show to the family. Boss's record shows he bit a child before being impounded. 


At a recent Commission meeting, Barnette casually admitted and dismissed an October 31, 2019, brutal attack on a volunteer at the North Central shelter. Although she was hospitalized for a prolonged period and there were serious initial concerns that one arm or her hand might be amputated. The dog--a German Shepherd--had been reportedly relinquished for aggression. 

Yesterday another tragic attack was reported at the South LA shelter, where an ACA (one of the targeted-hire employees the City is employing at $15 per hour) was attacked by a Bull Terrier with known "neurological issues." This employee was also taken to the hospital by ambulance, according to an eyewitness. 

Both employees were in some process of "showing" the animal to a potential adopter/rescuer. (Recent reported attacks occurring at Los Angeles Animal Services' shelters have been during daytime hours when visitors were present.) 

Although GM Barnette , with the support and vote by the Los Angeles Animal Services Commission, established a policy of identifying all dogs as "mixed breed," so you won't know you are getting a Pit Bull or have to report that to your landlord, AHC (Animal Health Center) confirms that "Bull Terriers. . .originated in Britain in the 1800s. The colored version was created by cross-breeding with a brindle Staffordshire in the early 1900’s. They were created as pit fighters but are now bred for companionship."  (Read:  Is LA Animal Service's GM Trying to Hide Pit Bull History to Hype Adoptions?)  


How socialized or loving will an animal be that has just begun to adapt to new people and a new home and is then dumped back at the shelter because it is not housebroken (even if it was housebroken when entering the shelter, relieving itself in a kennel where it eats and sleeps may have tarnished that habit) or digs up the yard,  barks persistently or shows food aggression? 

And, the “foster” undoubtedly signed up for a snuggle-buddy to show off to holiday guests, without considering or committing to long-term problem solving and may have little or no animal-handling/training experience. A short visit by an unruly dog can expedite its return by a short-term foster to the shelter faster than an adopter who has made a financial and emotional investment to obtain and live with this particular pet. 

Dogs that are not quickly adopted and are creating overcrowded shelters are often those that  have been adopted and returned one or more times because they are problem animals in some way (not all behavioral problems are aggression--some animals have anxiety disorders and destroy home interiors and/or yards, some howl incessantly when left alone or even break through windows). These issues cannot always be resolved, or at least certainly not within a few days. 

Dogs (or cats) also may have serious animal or human aggression issues which are not immediately demonstrated. All these issues are also dangers in the LA Animal Services program which encourages that stray or found animals NOT be brought to the shelter but be "sheltered at home." (LA Animal Services GM Barnette Less Than Truthful about the New ‘Finders, Keepers’ Law.) 

Colleen Lynn, founder of Dogsbite.org, asked, "What greater cruelty and threat is there for a cat than to be suddenly thrust into a new environment with no time to adjust before the busy holiday season?" 

She also advised strongly that dogs need time to "decompress and chill" in a new environment.

She stated that the highest number of attacks and fatalities by new pets are in December, with the majority occurring between Dec. 16-31, when there is the most activity and celebrating. She added that in statistics kept for the past three years, 25% of fatal dog attacks occur within the first two months of a new dog coming into the home. 


And, what do you do if the "sleep-over" dog bites or threatens someone? LA Animal Services has few Animal Control Officers after a recent bailout to other City departments by many of the most experienced, skilled employees. Even if LAAS can respond at that time, they are being distracted from other calls help and possibly life-threatening situations for other animals, and it is at taxpayer expense. 

It is very likely--in an emergency situation--that LA Police Department will also have to be called. 

Dog Bite Law Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips cites statistics regarding studies by health care providers that "establish pit bull attacks are associated with higher median Injury Severity Scale scores, a higher number of hospital admissions, higher hospital charges, and a higher risk of death." 

He also states that in nearly all the cases where he has been consulted because a Pit Bull killed a person, "the Pit Bull owners had no insurance and therefore the victim's family received no justice in the form of compensation." 


The Los Angeles Foster Application states that the foster will be responsible for the pet and assumes all liability for its actions while in their possession. 

According to legal experts and CA State law, this is not true. There are two issues: (1) LAAS does not fully inform about known faults/dangers of fostering the animal, based upon its prior history; and (2) the fact that the owner of a dog has strict liability for the animal even if not in its/his/her possession. (Although the foster would undoubtedly also be sued and possibly have secondary responsibility for inadequate control of the dog.) 

A local animal-law attorney stated that under a foster program, the City of Los Angeles and the Department of Animal Services retain ownership of the animal and cannot just waive liability by saying so. 

He quipped that, in approving this Short-Term Foster, and the "Finders-Keepers' program, and not indicating breeds of dogs on shelter documents, it appears City Attorney Mike Feuer may be deliberately creating business for local attorneys. 

Can government immunity include deliberate withholding of prior knowledge of danger/liability?  

The government's chief responsibility is public safety and it cannot waive liability for deliberate acts of gross negligence or intentional misrepresentation or failure to disclose known faults/dangers, so that the consumer/adopter can make an informed decision. 

California is a "Strict Liability" Dog Bite State. This means that an owner cannot escape liability for a dog bite by claiming that he or she had no idea the dog would act aggressively. The owner is responsible for all damages resulting from a dog bite, even if the dog has never bitten anyone before, says AllLaw.com.   


On December 11, 2019, Merritt Clifton of Animals 24/7 wrote a must-read column, Brother Wolf: "Warehousing is not working," says director of no-kill experiment, in which he quotes a recently posted statement by the Brother Wolf Animal Rescue's Executive Director Leigh Craig Fleser (Asheville, NC), titled,  “Keeping aggressive animals isn’t the solution for lifesaving.” 

Here is just a portion of this important post:  

We are warehousing aggressive animals at Brother Wolf when we know this isn’t the solution for lifesaving,” executive director Leah Craig Fieser acknowledged in “Warehousing is not working,” a December 5, 2019, social media statement inspiring heated debate nationwide. 

“We inherited this way of operating,” Fieser said, 11 months into her first year as executive director of one of the most prominent U.S. no-kill shelters, “but we will not continue it.  We are simply not doing our best for animal rescue as a whole by warehousing aggressive animals and we’re not going to do it anymore." 

She also states, "At its best, the No-Kill movement inspires a nation’s shelter system to save those who can be saved. At its worst, it pressures shelters to warehouse or adopt out animals who are not safe to be placed into communities, and confuses the public into thinking that the way to create change is to attack responsible shelters who are making humane choices." 

Adopting out animals who have a history of aggression is not responsible. 

It’s also not responsible to have highly aggressive animals interact with shelter staff and volunteers. In the end this does more harm than good as victims suffer, animals are returned, and a narrative develops about the undesirability of shelter animals as a whole. Brother Wolf has adopted out aggressive dogs in the past and by doing so has created some serious consequences for children, adults, and animals. (Read more here.)  


The Brother Wolf sensible candidness and sensibility is in sharp contrast to the Best Friends' pronouncement that we must make the entire nation "no kill" by 2025. Who set that goal and has a right to dictate policy for the nation? 

When we see employees, volunteers, adopters, rescuers and innocent adults and children frequently dying as victims of aggressive dogs and the animal, themselves, being warehoused in misery, we have to wonder, what is the real reason behind "no kill"?  

Why are our animal shelters and politicians nationwide passing laws and resolutions to preserve ONE breed of dog? Why are legislatures/councils passing laws prohibiting mandatory spay/neuter of a specific breed, namely, Pit Bulls? Pet product analysts estimate that there are approximately 4.5 million Pit Bulls in the United States, with approximately 1 million in shelters. 

Although Best Friends Animal Society and GM Brenda Barnette claim that Pit Bulls cannot be identified, websites for both have no problem picturing and identifying Pit Bulls to promote them--including for the current Foster program. 


Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer, Councilman Paul Koretz and members of his Personnel and Animal Welfare (PAW) Committee, and the five LA Animal Services Commissioners have a duty to the employees of LA Animal Services and the residents and visitors to the city of Los Angeles to ask questions and review the policies and management of LA Animal Services. 

They, along with GM Brenda Barnette and AGM MeLissa Weber must be held personally and professionally accountable for deliberately endangering City employees and the public by dereliction of their duties to provide safety. Does government immunity protect elected officials and department heads from liability for deliberate, knowing acts or omissions that cause injury and death? 

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