ANIMAL WATCH-GM Brenda Barnette did not present the “Fear-Free Sheltering” concept at the April 13 Los Angeles Animal Services Commission meeting,
but deferred to LAAS Chief Veterinarian Dr. Jeremy Prupas to describe how impounded aggressive/dangerous dogs and cats exhibiting stress or anti-social behavior will be drugged with anti-anxiety medications to modify their reactions and speed up adoptions.
Of course, this is couched in politically correct terminology for the public and reduced to the designation, “Fear, Anxiety and Stress,” as the root cause of any unwanted or violent behavior.
Just two weeks ago, Barnette and Best Friends Animal Society announced that Los Angeles Animal Services has reached its “No Kill” goals and is the largest city in the U.S. to reach a 90% “save” rate. So -- if this success is accurate -- why does Barnette need to drug impounded animals?
During her decade as General Manager at Los Angeles Animal Services, Brenda Barnette has continually released Pit Bulls and other known-dangerous dogs that have attacked, paid for them to be sent to prisons for obedience training, and implemented a program that puts them in multiples in confined yard areas, calling them “play groups” and endangering not only the dogs, but her own employees. (See: “GM Brenda Barnette’s Decade at LA Animal Services – Transformation or Tyranny?”)
She has also refused to demand more responsibility and accountability by cat owners in order to curtail the abandonment of cats and the increase in feral kittens born in the streets and flooding shelters and rescues. Barnette, Best Friends Animal Society and Councilman Paul Koretz assured passage of a $60 million tax-paid TNR (Trap/Neuter/Release) program over the next 20 years -- and have now gone silent on the issue of how to implement it.
“No Kill” is just a statistic for LAAS shelters and does not take into consideration those animals left in the streets to suffer and die under Brenda Barnette’s “Finders, Keepers” plan, which encourages not bringing lost/stray animals to the shelter and/or finding a new home for an unwanted pet via the Internet.
Nor does it include animals that die of starvation, injury, attacks or being hit by vehicles because they are not taken to the safety of one of the six Los Angeles City animal shelters. (See: “Pet Owners Alert! LA's New 'Finders, Keepers' Law Would Legalize Dog, Cat Theft.”)
Certainly, the stress of being taken from a home or street and placed in an atmosphere filled with strange people and animals, barriers that restrict movement, loss of family routines and attention (if a pet) is hard on any animal, but there is also a high-level of responsibility in deciding whether the behavior demonstrated in the shelter (especially if aggressive and/or unpredictable) is caused by the shelter environment or inherent.
Can it all be attributed to “Fear, Anxiety, Stress?” and can that be truthfully determined if an animal is drugged/sedated immediately upon entry and potentially during impoundment?
Also following is a brief review of the legacy that will be left by Barnette as she retires, which began last week in “GM Brenda Barnette’s Decade at LA Animal Services – Transformation or Tyranny?”
WHO TAKES RESPONSIBILITY?
So, who pays for the liability of the City and these “leaders” if drugged dogs, whose behavior has been intentionally masked by the shelter, attacks or kills because its FAS (fear, anxiety, and stress) reverts to normal after being adopted into a new home with other animals, noisy children, and screaming adults and no longer has its meds to help it cope?
If the meds “implied” to the new owner that the animal’s propensities can be controlled or rehabilitated, do the taxpayers end up paying the claims/lawsuits? At some point this government immunity must end, and GM Brenda Barnette, Chief Veterinarian Jeremy Prupas and all political appointees must also be held responsible for any malfeasance of their duty to public safety.
The entire colorful/cartoon-filled presentation at the Commission meeting (with a gleeful animal characters -- most of whom appear to already be high on something) can be seen on the report for Item 6A here. We would probably rather read a dry, technical discussion that gives more facts and less “feel-good” hype -- with no acknowledgement that this could backfire, especially because of the labor and veterinary intensity. Dr. Prupas enthusiasm is understandable -- it will undoubtedly require at least doubling the veterinary staff to even begin this program, as pets begin to flow back into the shelter post-COVID.
Cats may become an even greater problem, because Barnette has also refused to demand more responsibility by cat owners -- in the form of microchipping and/or licensing, in order to curtail allowing them to roam outside and/or be abandoned, and to avoid the now-reported increase in feral kittens born in the streets.
Barnette, Best Friends and Councilman Paul Koretz assured passage of a $60 million TNR (Trap/Neuter/Release) program over the next 20 years -- and have now gone silent on the issue of how to implement it. (See: LA Citywide Feral Cat-TNR Program Adds Fee for Pet Cats.)
HOW MUCH SEDATION IS BEING GIVEN TO DOGS BY RESCUERS AND SHELTERS?
In “Rescuer Viciously Attacked at LAAS Shelter While Giving "Pill" to Sedate Aggressive Dog” a dog so vicious that neither the experienced Los Angeles Animal Services’ shelter worker nor the rescuer who was “saving” it could curtail it. When the rescue-driver bent over to “give it a pill,” the dog viciously bit her and would not let go. Where are rescuers obtaining those drugs and under what law are they administering restricted substances to animals?
Dr. Jeremy Prupas, long-time Chief Veterinarian overseeing all Los Angeles Animal Services shelters and medical staff, and who is always professionally reserved and serious, was uncharacteristically almost giddy during this presentation of cartoon characters jumping and playing across the pages of what was to be considered a “report” on one of the most serious decisions that can be made for an animal shelter and one that poses serious threat to animal and human safety.
(Listen to his presentation on the Commission Audio of the April 13 meeting and be sure to see it yourself here, Item 6A, posted immediately after the minutes of the last meeting. I do not want to extract just selected parts of this presentation.)
HERE’S A BRIEF SYNOPSIS
The Commission was not asked for its vote of approval. It was just instructed that this program is being instituted at LA Animal Services shelters, which they legally head. And not one of them disagreed or asked any serious questions. All Commissioners are selected and appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti’s highest-level staff members for the openly admitted purpose of carrying out “what the Mayor wants.”
So, do the Mayor and City Attorney Mike Feuer (who has already made the public commitment to running for election for Mayor next year) know about this program and the potential political liability of promoting a shelter full of drugged animal?
Although Dr. Prupas assures us that ALL behavior will be reported to potential adopters, if that is done in terms of only its level of FAS, the vast majority of which is when it is under the influence of sedation, how accurate can observations by different employees be?
Attempting to remove anxiety in a busy, noisy, active environment may make it cheaper and easier to run an animal shelter, but does Dr. Prupas intend to send the dog to its new home with drugs also? Is that even legal?
Pit Bulls, for instance, are known to attack a husband or wife that argue and shout at each other. Anyone who knows this breed should be aware of this common trigger -- don’t fight in front of your Bully dog!
A dog that may be taken home under the influence of an anxiety-reduction medication may be an entirely creature when the drugs wear off -- in the same way that humans addicted to drugs have sudden personality changes.
So, Los Angeles will now be the City that is trying to get its homeless population off drugs and its pets hooked on them? How does that make any sense?
WHAT OTHER SHELTERS ARE USING “FAS”(Fear-Anxiety-Stress) - DRUG TECHNIQUE?
There is discussion on the Internet and by Dr. Prupas at the meeting about shelter medicine experts and veterinary research opinions on the success of treating dogs and cats with (Gabapentin and Trazodone), but numerous Google searches failed to provide any names of shelters which have already adopted this veterinary approach. It seems to have been developed by a veterinarian for clinics -- not for shelters.
Is Los Angeles Animal Services going to become the experimental location, as it has for Brenda Barnette’s other programs under a nation-wide effort by HASS -- a system encouraged by Barnette and her newly appointed Interim-Assistant General Manager Annette Ramirez.
A Maddie’s Fund description states, “Human Animal Support Services (HASS). . . .has emerged and it has one clear goal: to keep people and pets together by empowering local communities. “As the Maddie’s® Implementation Director and Pilot Implementation Director, I want to reinforce the message that we are truly just facilitators. We are just finding a safe place for people to come together to reimagine the future of sheltering.” (There is no mention of drugs in this HASS presentation.)
Is part of this “reimagining” the provision of drugs to sedate animals and change their behavior upon entry and impound period at the shelter? Or are isolated enthusiasts and certain member-shelters independently adding “Fear Free Sheltering” which includes drugs to their HASS program?
And the pertinent question is, “Will LA Animal Services becoming an experimental laboratory for any new concept that will dump animals out of the shelter ASAP or impede their impoundment? And are these shelters placing drugged animals with the explanation that “Fear, Stress, Anxiety” are temporary conditions due to the shelter environment, rather than emphasizing it is possibly a natural behavior that can result in dangerous and deadly attacks?
Are they also admitting that some should be humanely euthanized for their own and the public’s safety, rather than placed in a “rescue” which may not fully disclose the dog’s past because they also become overcrowded and cannot afford costly, labor-intense drug programs?
IS FORMER “LIFE-SAVING” GM MELISSA WEBER STILL INFLUENCING LA?
A lengthy search revealed that only one shelter system prior to LAAS seems to have publicly announced giving drugs to animals that will be adopted, and that is Animal Care Centers of New York City, which made the public announcement NYC animal shelters to give incoming dogs anti-anxiety medication on June 13, 2018.
“The city’s animal shelters plan to give stray dogs that come through its doors a dose of anti-anxiety medication to minimize their stress,” AmNewYork revealed.
“Some rescuers balked at the idea,” according to AMNY, “saying it’s unwise to give dogs any kind of drug without knowing their medical history.“
One questioned whether the drug, called Trazodone, would allow an accurate assessment of a dog, adding, “You need to know these things before you place them. And if a dog comes in without behavioral issues, why would you medicate them?”
Ironically, in 2018, at the time of this announcement, MeLissa Weber, was employed by NYC Animal Care Centers. Soon thereafter she was hired by GM Brenda Barnette and moved to Los Angeles Animal Services as its, Assistant General Manager of “Livesaving.” She left after a short tenure of overcrowded shelters and vicious attacks on employees, adopters and visitors. (See: “LA Animal Services' Assistant GM of "Livesaving" Resigns Amid Dog Attacks and Shelter Overcrowding.”)
Barnette still praises Weber at Commission meetings. Could this have any influence on the LAAS decision to become “FearFree”?
“NOT-SO-SMART” PROMOTION MAY BECOME A LEGACY OF BRENDA BARNETTE
While we are discussing Barnette’s legacies, one more of Brenda Barnette’s poor decisions will haunt General Manager Dana Brown and Mayor Eric Garcetti, unless they quickly review and evaluate the recent “emergency” appointment of Annette Ramirez to Interim Assistant General Manager.
During much of her career, Barnette used the widely publicized escapades of the SMART (Small Animal Rescue Team) to hide her lack of commitment to uphold laws and manage the responsibilities of Los Angeles Animal Services.
SMART (the three primary members of which were ACO’s Annette Ramirez, Armando Navarette and Ernesto Poblano) along with a local producer, starred in a video in which Barnette appears and which she has praised, which is filled with profanity by Navarette, who was living with Ramirez and her children at that time and home shots appear on the film. (It can now be viewed for $2.99 on Amazon.)
On August 6, 2018, we asked "Why is GM Barnett Protecting LA’s Animal Services SMART Leaders?"
SMART was an exception to City rules in many ways. Its members engaged in LAAS rescues using City equipment to record and publicize videos (which raised money for its non-City non-profit organization).
Also, the video (made as LA City Animal Control Officers) is still sold on Amazon was not made under a legal contract with the City, according to then-Deputy City Attorney Dov Lesel and public records, and it is filled with profanity.
Also, there was no record that the outside non-profit associations were ever officially reviewed or approved by the City Attorney -- considering the content, that is unlikely.
Why is GM Brenda Barnette ignoring known problems involving the leadership of SMART -- including setting up non-profit organizations using the same or similar names as used by LA City and LA Animal Services -- an act for which other employees have received severe disciplinary action based merely on allegations. And why is she ignoring LA Superior Court documents and blatant decisions by Annette Ramirez to disregard City policy? (See here.)
Without addressing any of these issues, on February 22, 2018, Barnette promoted Ramirez to Director of Field Operations (Emergency Appointment) and she recently announced her current promotion to Interim Assistant General Manager.
IS THIS REPRESENTATIVE OF THE FUTURE OF LAAS MANAGEMENT?
Below is a recent review on a shortened YouTube version of the SMART movie, posted by someone identified as “Rance Walton,” which mirrors the opinion that appear on the Amazon page regarding the profanity and impropriety in a Barnette-endorsed film.
You can read about SMART here. This group of employees are on City time but performing “rescues” that are done in a manner not necessarily within the scope of LAAS animal control -- such as, rappelling down buildings, trees, and mountains.
Dramatic, but not necessary, and, because of all the expensive special protective equipment, not as dangerous as Animal Control Officers catching Pit Bulls that have just attacked or are attempting to attack humans or other animals.
There is a posting of what appears to be the profanity extracted from the SMART film and following is a comment by a reviewer named Rance Walton on YouTube, followed by a review on Amazon:
SMART. . .Not so much.
This is from a documentary called SMART. These are just the segments that should NOT have been in this documentary and after watching this documentary that was supposed to be for all age audiences about saving animals, I found it laced with filthy language, hate speech, talk of employee favoritism, alienation of affection, wooing a married coworker away from her husband, unsafe actions while doing so-called animal rescue, talk of masochism which included desire to attempt electrocution, wanting to stick fingers under a moving rocking chair, etc. A city employee in uniform at home drinking a beer and admitting to drinking too much…WTH, your tax dollars at work folks. Also is it just me that thinks it’s wrong to use a city owned ladder to hang Xmas lights on your private home…yeah that’s there too. The behind the scenes only caused doubt and disgust not to mention a bad influence on children. If they had just stuck to rescues this would have been a fine and a really good humanitarian documentary. By the way this team solicits donations under non-profit so where is the accountability on that? Hope it’s not for beer. The main rescue guy appears that he’d be good at his job although his behavior and ethics are questionable, to be polite.
Here’s another review posted by J.M. on Amazon in 2018, which seems to confirm the above:
I would have given this four or perhaps even five stars if it wasn't for the rather unnecessary foul language used by Armondo. I was thinking this would be a really fun and informative program for children to watch, but even when I was watching it by myself, I had to turn it off halfway through because I couldn't stand to hear one more f-bomb. Too bad the producers didn't think to bleep the language out.
WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF LAAS AND ANIMAL SHELTERING IN THE CITY?
With the Chief Veterinarian promoting drugging pets in the shelter -- which seems to be conducting an experiment on Los Angeles Animal Services impounds, and an Interim Assistant General Manager with a record that has serious questions of compliance with City rules, a disturbing Court record, and an embarrassing film in which she participated on City time and was sold, Interim GM Dana Brown may have some housekeeping to do.
There are other very questionable activities by retiring GM Brenda Barnette; such as, political fundraising on a Facebook page identifying her professionally, posting naked photos of Melania Trump and forwarding an invitation to her entire staff of an “Adults-Only” party.
Dana Brown is going to need our support and that of the City government which has allowed this travesty to occur and continue. There have been many opportunities to make corrections and rectify violations, which have been ignored.
Let’s hope Mayor Eric Garcetti realizes that his appointments for positions in LA Animal Services are vitally important to this City, its reputation, and its integrity. State and local laws provide for the safe “taking in” and treatment of unwanted and stray animals by shelters. Pets are now family members and must not be treated as subjects of sheltering experimentation by those who are chosen to lead into the future.
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of Los Angeles employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.