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LAAS GM Brenda Barnette’s Last-Day Plan for At-Risk Pets – Humane or Dangerous?

ANIMAL WATCH-At 1:00 p.m. on May 7, her last day as General Manager of Los Angeles Animal Services, Brenda Barnette issued the announcement that she launched the Safety Net Foster Program for LA City residents “facing a crisis and needing short-term housing for their pet.” 

On the surface, this may sound like a humane idea, but the timing raises immediate suspicion. Why would a retiring General Manager issue a media release of a new program during the last few hours of her tenure? And, why is there no mention of agreement to this by incoming Interim General Manager Dana Brown

In fact, where is the concurring approval of the Mayor and the City Council of a program which results in the City taking responsibility for pets still owned by the homeless, incarcerated, hospitalized and victims of domestic violence but placed in foster homes by LA Animal Services? 

SO MUCH IDEALISM – TOO FEW FACTS 

Barnette assures us, “Pets will stay in a comfortable and loving foster home, while LA Animal Services’ volunteer case managers maintain regular, weekly check-ins with the pet’s owner to see how they’re doing, providing updates, like photos and videos provided by the foster family, and connect pet owners to other community resources, if needed.”

She continues later, “Pet owners and their foster families do not directly communicate with each other during the program, and instead, all communication is conducted by LA Animal Services’ Safety Net Foster Program volunteer case managers.” 

(Is this the same General Manager that just weeks ago was planning to close the West Valley shelter due to a lack of staffing and budget?) 

Barnette states that a lifesaving grant received from Petco Love guarantees that LA Animal Services “will be able to provide any needed support to the pet during its stay with a foster family.” 

At the April 13 meeting, a Petco Love grant for $100,000 was approved by the Commission for deposit into the Animal Welfare Trust Fund. However, City records do not show a Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee or Council meeting where this acceptance was officially authorized. Nor was there any discussion by the Commission that it would be used for this program.  

When did Barnette make this agreement with Petco Foundation on behalf of the City? 

LA ANIMAL SERVICES BECOMES LA CITY SOCIAL SERVICES 

Who are these “LA Animal Services’ volunteer case managers?” 

And how can an animal shelter guarantee that someone who signs up online (with no background check) and takes a free foster animal will be capable of providing a suitable “comfortable and loving foster home” environment for animals that have already been subjected to unknown trauma? 

And how can safety be guaranteed when there is no documented, objective history of the animals’ past behavior? Are they accustomed to running the streets? How do they respond to arguing or dissension between adults or children? Are they escape artists? Have they lived with children and other pets? Have they become accustomed to attempting to defend themselves or family members from assault?  

Can an LA Animal Services volunteer case manager legally delve into intimate, confidential details of lives (either the pet owner or foster), which may involve criminal conduct or adequately interpret and respond to restraining orders -- or the lack thereof? 

And what qualifications are required for these “volunteer case managers?” Are they shelter volunteers or are they employees volunteering for this position -- in which case the City would be paying their salary while on this assignment? 

Has this been discussed and approved by the Personnel Department and the Union prior to issuing this media release? 

(Civil Service Rules Sec. 2.5 reads, “. . .except for training purposes or to maintain essential operations no employee shall regularly be assigned to perform duties which differ substantially from those that were included in the class for which the employee was examined and appointed.”) 

NOW THE REALITIES 

Although Barnette mentions it toward the end of the release, the following describes participation in the  Arizona State University/Virginia Tech Maddie’s Nationwide Fostering Study, to which participants must agree. 

This disclosure is provided ONLY after clicking the link, “Pet owners looking for temporary care for their pet can apply by going to ow.ly/9Mw050Ek51d.” It describes the potential danger to participants: “We cannot promise complete secrecy.” 

Safety Net Foster Program Application 

Our shelter is dedicated to helping the people and pets in our community. We are piloting this Safety Net Fostering Program with help from researchers at Arizona State University and Virginia Tech in order to better understand the need for these programs in our community and how we can best serve you. 

Nationwide Deployment and Evaluation of Fostering Programs in Animal Shelters

I am a post-doctoral student under the direction of Dr. Clive Wynne in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University. We are conducting a research study to investigate the benefits of temporarily fostering owned animals. This research is being funded by Maddie’s Fund.

We invite you to take part in the research study by completing this program application. The application is to participate in the Safety Net program, 
and the research team is seeking permission to review the application to evaluate the program and share those findings in research publications. Your information can help animal shelters better serve the need for temporarily housing owned animals in your community. The application will take approximately 15-20 minutes to complete. 

You are free to decide whether you wish to participate in this study. You must be 18 or older to participate in the study. There are no foreseeable risks or discomforts to your participation.

Efforts will be made to limit the use and disclosure of your personal information, including research study records, to people who have a need to review this information. We cannot promise complete secrecy. The results of this study may be used in reports, presentations or publications but your name will not be used.

Shouldn’t the GM of Los Angeles Animal Services have included this specific information clearly in her media release, rather than give the impression this is an altruistic program by the City of Los Angeles? 

PETCO LOVE GRANT 

But Barnette assures that the lifesaving grant received from Petco Love, guarantees that LA Animal Services “will be able to provide any needed support to the pet during its stay with a foster family.”  

“Now, with the Safety Net Foster Program, LA Animal Services can match these pets with a foster family, giving pet owners the time they need to address and resolve their crisis, with the knowledge that they’ll be able to reunite with their pet, once they’ve [sic] back on their feet,” she writes. 

While idealism is admirable, the first glaring reality is that people who have suffered chronic financial instability, have become (or were) homeless, are incarcerated or hospitalized, or who are escaping domestic violence, often do not recover sufficiently to provide the necessary housing, care, and stability to take back a pet.  

How long is the City expected to take responsibility for their pet as a “foster” (which could be a 30-day revolving door into new foster homes), and is this truly kindness to the pet? 

In domestic violence cases, if the victim becomes one of the very-high recidivism statistics, they may take the pet right back into danger. The victim (usually a woman) may have to provide for small children -- meaning obtaining training or finding a job, providing a babysitter, and attaining a steady income that will fully support the family, and the additional cost and burden of a pet (including veterinary costs) may not be practical -- if possible. 

An owner who has been incarcerated may also be suffering from anti-social behaviors, including addiction -- and return to living in a tent or on the street. They often take out their rage on the nearest living being -- often a pet -- which is far from an ideal life.  

The time needed to make a change of lifestyle, if they want to do so, may far exceed a temporary (or even prolonged) “fostering” period. 

While helping in these situations is a laudable humane undertaking, it is not the job of a municipal animal shelter to assure that an animal is fostered until the owner can become financially and/or emotionally stable.  

And when was the public asked if it wants to take on this additional burden? 

THE UNDERLYING MESSAGE FROM BRENDA BARNETTE 

Barnette could be reacting to the fact the Mayor appointed Dana Brown, former LA Animal Services Assistant GM, and a highly qualified, experienced City employee with extensive administrative and management skills, as Interim General Manager.  

At the last meeting, Barnette informed the Commission that LAAS is under excellent leadership and on track to move to the next level (she didn’t define “level”) with Annette Ramirez, former member of the SMART Team, recently appointed as Interim Assistant Gm.  (Read here.) and Chief Veterinarian Jeremy Prupas, who recently promoted drugging animals in the shelter to improve their behavior (Read here.) 

Barnette does NOT want animals to be taken to the shelter because she wants LAAS  to maintain her mythical “No Kill” status. However, unlike humane societies, a public shelter is obligated to accept and impound any animal in need, keep it safe, and humanely euthanize suffering or dangerous animals. 

LA ANIMAL SERVICES TRADITIONALLY GIVES CARE IN ‘HARDSHIP CASES’ 

A former senior officer with LAAS advised me, “This is something Los Angeles Animal Services has historically done by taking in and keeping -- without charge -- dogs or cats brought to the shelter when the owner was incarcerated, hospitalized, or facing a serious economic or other emergency situation, or a domestic violence incident, forcing temporary separation from their pets.” 

The City is looking forward to the leadership of Interim GM Dana Brown, with sound evaluation of proposals and sensible programs that insure honesty, full-disclosure, compliance with laws, and protection of all animal and humans in the City of Los Angeles.

 

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