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LA's Animal Dept Needs a Qualified New GM at the Reins

ANIMAL WATCH - With the recent and ongoing tragic attacks by Pit Bulls in Los Angeles Animal Services’ shelters and in homes to which they are adopted,

the selection of a new permanent General Manager is also a chance to restore the public’s faith that this tax-funded agency truly has the public’s and the animals’ best interest at heart and has the integrity to make the tough decisions that may not always be popular. 

The City also needs new and ethical leadership for this Department, because a sugar-coated description of what the dog “could become” is tantamount to a deliberate lie—if that dog has intentionally harmed anyone, other than an intruder, and the City is aware of it. 

Los Angeles must also rid itself of the ugly heritage of Brenda Barnette’s decade of ignoring the physical and moral responsibilities to develop and maintain a safe and supportive workplace, rather than perpetuating what has been called a “legacy of tyranny, stress and retaliation.” 

During the many attacks on employees and even the horrific event where the owner of a Pit Bull slit the dog’s throat in front of employees at the shelter, no member of upper management (including current Acting-GM Annette Ramirez) reported to the scene to address the trauma to staff and/or volunteers. (See: Owner Cuts Pit Bull’s Throat at L.A. Animal Services Shelter after Managed Intake Rejection.) 

So, when the announcement was made last month that Assistant GM Annette Ramirez has been selected as Acting General Manager and she assured the Commission and attendees she will maintain the same course for the Department, we need to ask:  Do we really want more of the same? 

STOP “INFLUENCING” AND BRING BACK HONESTY 

Can the City continue to gamble with the lives and safety of adopters who trust that the animal they take home—and may have adopted based on of the glowing descriptions by internet “Influencers”—is known to be of the temperament and history they were provided in the social-media description? And, are volunteers and staff at the shelter telling the whole truth about the animal, or a sugar-coated version? 

Allowing an innocent adopter to walk out of the shelter with a metaphorical “loaded gun” is a crime (no matter how well-intentioned) perpetrated by volunteers and staff under pressure by management to empty overcrowded shelters and restore the 90% “No Kill” rate touted by Best Friends Animal Society. 

Post-attack statements that prior behavior by the animal was “discussed” or “described” to the adopter is not enough, and shelter notes are often convoluted and difficult to translate—especially when a dog has looked longingly into your eyes or a child is bursting into tears at the prospect of leaving this “new friend” behind. Adopters need to see whatever reports the City has on the dog’s background and shelter behavior to assure it meets their needs and expectations.  

WHO’S RESPONSIBLE FOR “INFLUENCING?” 

The use of “influencing” must not be allowed by LAAS, unless it accurately describes the animal. However, if the shelters are open for people to visit, and a Pit Bull or any other dog has maintained good behavior under the daily stresses, it probably doesn’t need social-media help to find a loving home—honesty is enough. 

The bottom line in any business—or any animal shelter—is that the “buck stops” at the door of the top decision-maker, the General Manager (or the Acting General Manager). The policy must be absolute honesty, with reasonable explanations about training.

Here’s how the “influencers” work for shelter adoptions. If a dog has had a long stay at the shelter, the heavy push for adoption is often escalated by e-mail and shelter “alerts” to an Internet “rescue” group with a large presence and followers. 

They describe every dog in glowing (repetitious) terms—which almost always includes “loves to give kisses” and “takes treats gently” or “loves to snuggle,” without ever having personally met the dog. Bad behavior is never the dog’s fault, but explained away as due to a former terrible life, and the sales pitch is filled with assurances the dog will change in a loving home and after being socialized and “taught good manners.” 

The problem with this is that, while some dogs respond to training by an experienced owner or a professional—as world-renown trainer/behavior expert Sue Sternberg says—“The dog is who it is.”  And, its genetics and past behavior are far better predictors of its future actions than a handful of treats. 

Certain breeds—such as the Bully breeds—should be assumed to require extreme caution around any other dog and can be aroused to the point of attack merely by the sounds of a small dog cry, playing children, or adults arguing. It usually comes without warning because fighting breeds (especially) do not “warn” an opponent in advance of crippling or killing. 

Never assume, no matter how convincing the sales pitch, that your newly adopted Pit Bull can be taken directly to the dog park!  Because, once the paper is signed and you are the owner, you also have full liability for any injury or harm by the dog. The “influencers” don’t mention that in their ads! 

IS THE NEW LAAS ACTING GM PART OF THE PROBLEMS AT LAAS? 

For a number of years, Ramirez has been at various levels of shelter/field management at Los Angeles Animal Services and thus cannot claim immunity from legitimate complaints. Volunteers and concerned parties testify weekly that the shelters are rife with functional problems—an undependable or inadequate communication/phone system, washing machines that haven’t worked dependably (or at all) for months (and, in some cases, for years), security cameras that are not connected. There are also legitimate concerns about how statistics are developed for public reports, and accusations of outright fraud. 

Recently then-GM Dana Brown announced that there is no money in the spay/neuter fund for mobile surgery vans, especially in low-income communities. The public and volunteers report that it can take up to three months to schedule an appointment for spay/neuter with a local veterinarian. 

At one time in her tenure, GM Brenda Barnette had a $5-million surplus in the Animal Sterilization Fund. No programs were developed to consistently replenish that. These are just a few of the things that are brought up continually and the same excuses are heard. 

How long can LAAS function with more of the same? And, why has this been allowed to continue? 

HOW THE NEW LAAS ACTING GM SEES HERSELF AND OTHERS SEE HER 

Replacing a General Manager can—and should be—a lengthy process. And there is also a possibility that the Acting GM may move into that position, so a simple Internet search was made to see Annette Ramirez’s accomplishments, education and how she describes herself. 

The first place to learn how someone presents him/herself is their Facebook page.  Annette Ramirez is photographed with a very large grey Pit Bull and posts as “bullygirl151.” 

She is also known as “bullygirl151”on Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, etc., and has numerous e-mail accounts with that username. 

Google quickly brought up an old post which appears to indicate that Pit Bulls have been her passion for a long time.  When she was on the LAPD/LAAS Animal Cruelty Taskforce, Annette Ramirez posted the following plea on Defend-A-Bull Blog. 

Bernice is a Special Treatment And Recovery dog, please help her. 

PLEASE READ! This dog has been abused and needs a home!

Bernice is a Special Treatment And Recovery dog, please help her.

From the Department website here: http://www.laanimalservices.com/bernice.htm 

Original plea for help from Department Officer. 

I'm reaching out to the humane community for assistance with fostering out this poor girl. I am an officer with LA's Animal Cruelty Task Force and this dog, Bernice is from one of my cases. I can't disclose much information because the case has yet to be heard in court. I'm attaching some of what she looked like when seized from her owners [sic] property. She had pressure necrosis from an embedded chokechain [sic], and her head is swollen as a result. She was very thin with her ribs, plevic [sic] bones, and lumbar vertabrae [sic] easily visible, and she had pressure sores on her hips. She was very scared and timid. 

She has been at the shelter since December, had the choke chain surgically removed, and has gained weight. She looks great, but does have some scarring. This girl has been locked in a kennel for too long, and has to have the chance to see what life could be with a loving, caring guardian. Every time I visit her she gets extremely excited and start [sic] jumping on everything. She is dog aggressive, and will need to be the only pet until she can be properly socialized. It's not her fault she has never been shown manners, or love, yet she has been so forgiving!!! She would make an excellent companion. [Emphasis added.] 

*Anyone interested in fostering her e-mail me at: [email protected] , or [email protected] . 

I don't want to see her sit in the shelter for a year or more or be euthanized when she is trully [sic] a victim of an irresponsible persons actions, lets show her what life can offer!! 

(Note: There is no doubt about the sincerity of Ramirez’ concern, but could this be a confidentiality issue or conflict of interest for an officer still involved in a criminal case?) 

QUALIFICATIONS FOR A GM OF L.A. ANIMAL SERVICES 

Official personnel records are confidential but, in her Linked-in profile, Ramirez states that she was an Animal Control Officer II, Director of Field Operations “Lifesaving,” and Acting Assistant GM of “Lifesaving” at L.A. Animal Services. 

The City’s website currently does not define the academic, business or professional qualifications required for running LAAS, with an annual budget of almost $50-million dollars per year. 

RAMIREZ’ EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND 

There is no formal education shown for Annette Ramirez, which caused some concern and questions by other City employees when she was previously selected as Assistant General Manager—a position which has traditionally required a four-year college degree or five years executive, policy-setting experience. 

This position has been responsible for preparing intricate reports, including cost analysis and forecasts, as well as containing City Attorney opinions on any aspect of programs considered for implementation for the LAAS shelters or involving its trust accounts.  (Thus far, since her appointment, no written report by Ramirez has appeared officially for Commission consideration at meetings.) 

By comparison, the other Assistant General Manager, Curtis Watts, lists on Linked-In among his credentials, the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Loyola Marymount University (MBA), University of Southern California (MA), University of California, Los Angeles (BA). 

PUBLIC RECORDS 

The following public records are available for Annette Ramirez and are provided for information, because the A/GM position places her in charge of one of the City’s most important law-enforcement agencies, along with LAPD and LA Fire Department. 

S.M.A.R.T. Movie  

Ramirez’ shared the spotlight with Animal Control Officer Armando Navarette in a widely distributed movie about the activities of the S.M.A.R.T (Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team), which can be accessed or purchased on-line.

(See also: Why is GM Barnette Protecting L.A. Animal Services SMART Leaders?)

 

 

However, then-Assistant City Attorney Dov Lesel confirmed at an Animal Services Commission meeting that, although he was aware of the movie, the City Attorney’s office had not approved nor reviewed the contract to produce a film using City equipment. 

According to Lesel the only person involved in the approval and production was GM Brenda Barnette, who also appeared in the film.  

Annette Ramirez - Subject of T.R.O. Per L.A. Court Records 

As the now-temporary head of a law-enforcement agency, or even as an animal control officer, conduct on and off the job is important. She will now have ultimate power over the hiring, discipline and firing of City employees, including ACO’s. 

During a public records search, her name also appeared in the following Los Angeles Superior Court file: 

(Note:  ACO Annette Ramirez was married to former-LAAS Animal Control Officer Clarence Clegg, III. They had one daughter.) 

According to public court records, on 05/02/2017, Clegg, who had previously filed for divorce, filed for a Domestic Violence Restraining Order based upon “DV Prevention w/Minor Child (On Behalf of Petitioner: Clegg, Clarence),” which resulted in issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order against Annette Ramirez.  (Case No. BD454271.) 

The full public documents are available at (CLARENCE CLEGG III VS ANNETTE RAMIREZ | Court Records - UniCourt 

Annette Ramirez’ – Non-Profit Corporation 

On February 14, 2018, the CA Secretary of State Business Search shows that three LAAS animal control officers (Annette Ramirez, Ernesto Poblano, Byron Criddle) filed a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, with the same name used for with the City: Animal Rescue Team LA. 

All three were working for LAAS at this time. Ramirez and Poblano were also on the SMART team. (TaxExemptWorld here.) 

According to the California Secretary of State’s ‘Business Search,’ Animal Rescue Team LA filed with that office on May 08, 2017 (CA Corporate No.:  C3932501) which is now marked “Suspended.” 

THE PUBLIC’S RIGHT TO KNOW 

There has been no announcement regarding the current salary for the GM position; however, Brenda Barnette was paid $334,706.66 (including benefits in 2020.) She is now enjoying a hefty retirement check, paid by our taxes. 

Recently, undisclosed records about elected officials and their staff members have had a serious (and expensive) impact on the City, and our taxes pay for this. 

LAAS SHELTER POLICIES MUST CHANGE 

Our shelters need room for dogs that have proven to be good pets and good friends.  Turning them away—or under the current policy, leaving them in the street—while paying millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money per year for lawsuits resulting from LAAS dogs that have attacked and must be held for long periods, is not an acceptable program—and Pit Bulls are by far statistically the most frequent offender. 

Also, allowing any dog to go crazy in the isolation of a kennel is not a solution; it is cruelty and cowardice. And, encouraging the employees and volunteers at Los Angeles shelters to allow adopters to walk out the door with a known “loaded gun” on the end of a leash is a moral crime, even if an “influencer” promised it will behave differently. 

Nothing is more inhumane than leaving dogs that will never be suitable for adoption in cages for months or years or having innocent children, pets and adults maimed or killed because the public is pressured to “save” a life. The shelter needs also to have the adopters’ best interests at heart. 

It is time for Los Angeles Animal Services to conduct a serious, professional search to locate and hire a General Manager who will not be swayed by what is popular or continue the failed policies of their predecessor, but will assure that this Department is run according to the best practices for this City—regardless of what policy brings major donations and grants from large organizations that profit from the sale of animal-related products and services. 

When the public enters our shelters to find a pet, they must know they will be told the truth—not “influenced”—and that their family, the animal, and the community’s safety is LA Animal Services’ first concern.

 

(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a contributor to CityWatch and a former Los Angeles City employee. The opinions expressed by Phyliss Daugherty are solely hers and not the opinions of CityWatch)