ANIMAL WATCH-On February 18, 2021, Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette (photo above) submitted a brief two-page letter to Councilman Paul Koretz and the City Council, abruptly revising her recent reconstitution proposal,
"Long Term Plan for the West Valley Animal Shelter," and reinstating the shelter's original purpose of serving and protecting the lost, abandoned and unwanted dogs, cats and other animals in West Valley communities.
This was announced after months of GM Barnette's bully tactics to deprive the West Valley communities of a critical municipal animal shelter for which they pay taxes, and it would have left 40% (260 square miles) of the city of Los Angeles and over 1.77 million residents and their pets with only one animal shelter, the smaller East Valley Animal Shelter in Van Nuys.
Barnette -- supported by Mayor Eric Garcetti -- attempted to force a "reconstitution" of the Los Angeles West Valley Animal Shelter into a public/private partnership, called a "Consumer Services Center" with kennels rented to non-profit "rescuers" providing only adoptions of pets brought from other areas of the city and owned by private corporations (rescues).
Any animals picked up in the West Valley or brought to the shelter by local owners or finders would have been transported to the already-overcrowded East Valley shelter. (Read more here).
The "Center" would also have included a dog-trainer and an eviction-counseling office for the many tenants Barnette prophesized would soon be evicted. (Coincidentally, the Mayor's appointed Commissioner and three-term President of the Los Angeles Animal Services Commission Larry Gross is the founder and head of the "Coalition for Economic Survival" -- a leading tenants' rights group in LA.)
Finally, the tireless efforts of former-shelter volunteers, Friends of the West Valley Animal Shelter, Neighborhood Councils, Councilman John Lee -- in whose District the WV shelter is located, numerous advocates, residents and supporters -- including CityWatchLA.com -- paid off.
NO SERVICES PROVIDED WITHOUT AN APPOINTMENT
Last month, while Barnette was planning the intended "reconstitution," (whether West Valley residents liked it or not), there was no mention in her elaborate 76-page Plan that mandatory appointments would be needed for the public to access any of the adoption or other services that would be offered at the Consumer Services Center, allegedly due to her fear of transmission of COVID-19.
However, after the decision by the City Council to maintain the public animal shelter, West Valley residents or pet owners wishing to adopt or surrender an animal must make an appointment -- which is said to take up to two weeks. And, Barnette says there will be NO counter services for accepting an unwanted pet or stray, or for dog licensing, spay/neuter vouchers, or other services.
BARNETTE'S DOOM-AND-GLOOM (REVISED) PROPOSAL
The COVID19 / West Valley Animal Shelter file proposal by GM Brenda Barnette (and adopted by the Council on 2-19-2021) can be read in its entirety here. Following are some highlights (in italics) that indicate a less optimistic expectation by Barnette since her public/private partnership was rejected.
It also appears from her sudden change in attitude and enthusiasm that she is insinuating, if the shelter cannot be opened as planned, it will be due to the lack of precautions by employees causing an increase in COVID cases.
The OSHA postings for 2020 do not indicate that there was any "spike" in illnesses involving employees.
Certainly COVID-19 precautions are necessary, but let's give the employees credit for their remarkable record of dedication and observance of safety precautions to assure that the animals and citizens of Los Angeles have been served throughout this public health crisis.
CF-20-1114 COVID-19 – WEST VALLEY SHELTER – LONG-TERM PLAN – ADDENDUM SUMMARY
Subsequently a decision was made to open all six Animal Services Centers with our current staffing as soon as the COVID cases have been reduced to allow this to be done safely. The anticipated opening date is March 14, 2021 COVID cases permitting.
(Author's note: There have been no recent/current reports provided by LAAS of COVID-19 cases affecting LAAS employees.)
If there is a spike in COVID cases, we may delay the reopening for six weeks until the end of April.
. . .In light of the fact that our staffing levels are very low. . .
(Author's Note: Barnette's staffing chart in her earlier public/private reconstitution plan only showed four Animal Control Officer vacancies and a minimal reduction in other shelter staff. The number of shelter animals is an average of only 50% of normal capacity.)
. . . it is more important than ever for our team to follow the instructions and scripts they have followed throughout COVID if we are to be successful and to not have to re-think this decision. As we reopen North Central and West Valley, we will continue: COVID precautions: masks and social distancing at all Animal Services Centers. Adoptions, Surrenders, Fosters will continue to be handled by appointment only. Intake without an appointment is for SICK or INJURED animals only.
Counter services will be limited.
(Author's Note: At the February 23 Commission meeting, Barnette said NO animals would be taken over the counter.)
Dog Licensing will be done online or by phone and no trapping permits will be issued over the counters at this time.
The Animal Services Centers will not allow general public access to maintain social distancing and safety for staff, volunteers, and the public with appointments to adopt, surrender, or foster. Animal Control Officers will pick up injured, sick animals or those running in the street who are likely to cause an accident or to be hit.
(Author's note: Isn't any animal in the street likely to cause an accident or be hit?)
A temporary schedule for all six Animal Services Centers is being developed. This schedule may mean that, like other City Departments, our hours of operation could be impacted.
. . .We have not yet experienced the evictions that are likely to occur here in Los Angeles due to the economy. We must keep space for these displaced pets in our service centers; we must keep space in our service centers for animals left behind by their humans’ deaths, and other unforeseen emergencies.
(Author's note: We would like to believe this is a compassionate comment, not just another excuse to not take in stray animals -- animals who ALSO need not to be left behind and are already in an emergency situation.)
That is why we must be as strict as reasonable in following our intake protocols developed during COVID. COVID is not over, although there does seem to be a decrease in cases. If the decrease continues, we plan to reopen North Central and West Valley by mid-March. If the COVID cases increase, depending on the recommendations that inform the decisions, we could delay re-opening until late April.)
Volunteers will work in 2-hour shifts in specific areas and will not socialize with staff and others when entering or before leaving at the end of their shift.
Like Democracy, this is a grand experiment. The success of reopening these two shelters will fall on DAS shoulders and require teamwork and community cooperation...If we are not successful, we will have to reevaluate in the future.
Sincerely, Brenda F. Barnette General Manager
BARNETTE'S ‘SOCIAL EXPERIMENT’ LACKS LAW ENFORCEMENT
Banette's plan for the future of animal sheltering is that the community and "rescuers" will find homes for all pets or the owner can find a publication where adopters are eager to provide "furrever" happy homes. None of her plans include an emphasis on law-enforcement.
To listen to her discuss strangers taking in pets off the street, offering your pet to a stranger on Craig's list or Home-to-Home is a wonderful way to know who has your pet. That is not necessarily true. It avoids any legal requirement to provide identification that can be verified and/or the right to copy personal information regarding the person who promises your free pet a "furrever" home.
Selling a pet can be dangerous because the buyer often convinces someone eager to get rid of a pet that they want to visit the animal at your home. Craigslist arrangements in the past have resulted in some horrific torture, abuse and neglect cases that have been later reported in the media.
Rehoming your own pet also bypasses the legal requirements for a veterinary health check, spay/neuter, rabies vaccinations and microchipping. This can soon result in rampant health and safety dangers to the public. And it is the beginning of the end of the rigid spay/neuter enforcement that has caused the current major reduction (and continuing decline) in pet overpopulation.
LA ANIMAL SERVICES' PERPETUAL PHONE DISASTER
After several years of updating the Department's phone system, at the last meeting there was discussion of the LAAS' antiquated pen-and-paper system of calculating how long callers are currently waiting to talk to an LAAS office or for a call back. The current average wait time was indicated at one and a half hours. A Commissioner asked why, with 2021 technological advances, this is not being done automatically and electronically.
Incidents such as an attack on another dog (someone's pet) needs a quick response by Animal Services. Most issues involving animals are not under the jurisdiction of any other City agency. Since LA Police Dept. is no longer responding to non-criminal activity, it is unlikely police officers will be dispatched.
COUNCILMAN JOHN LEE'S GRACIOUS POST OF ‘THANKS’ AND HOPE
We need to all work to keep the West Valley shelter open. Obviously, GM Brenda Barnette does not seem to be even at the "cautiously optimistic" level, and we do not want the animals and their owners deprived of this important service (for which they pay taxes) now or ever.
The residents of Los Angeles have had enough doom and gloom. We all know to wear masks, socially distance and be considerate of others. No one is more observant of this than LA Animal Services' employees who are there to serve the public and the animals with caring and expertise.
Here is part of the message of hope posted on February 19, by Councilmember John Lee, West Valley Councilman, District 13:
"I am pleased to report that tentative plans are in place to re-open the West Valley Animal Shelter in Chatsworth. . . .
"While there are still a few issues that need to be resolved, I want to thank so many who joined my fight to reopen West Valley Animal Shelter. Re-opening this facility as a City-operated animal shelter was a top priority. Without this shelter the San Fernando Valley would be left with only one animal shelter for intake, surrender, and other animal issues."
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of Los Angeles employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.