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LAAS Animal Shelters:  Paul Koretz, Commission and Mayor Share Blame for Mismanagement

ANIMAL WATCH - One emergency meeting cannot solve the neglect that the shelters and animals have suffered under the tenure of Paul Koretz,

as head of the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee, and the L.A. Animal Services Commission hand-picked by Mayor Eric Garcetti, with little experience with animals and none with sheltering.

Commission meetings avoid in-depth discussion and questions of overall effects on animals, no Commissioner disagrees with another, and comments (especially by volunteers) are limited to one or two minutes and then immediately dismissed and ignored.

Koretz is merely worried that the bad publicity which has deservedly fallen on him as the Council reviewer of the deterioration of Los Angeles Animal Services Department and the shelters paid for by taxpayers under Prop F may negatively affect his campaign to become City Controller.  

How dare he now—after his long tenure as head of the PAW Committee—ignore or deny responsibility for the pathetic condition of the City shelters, including the Mission shelter occupied for $1 per year by Best Friends Animal Society. 

Obviously, Koretz (nor the Animal Services Commissioners) has not driven by any of them recently, let alone gone inside.  

The equipment within the shelters is outdated and much of it is malfunctioning and dangerous to employees and animals, they report. The washing machines (and dishwashers) have not worked for months at a time in the past and volunteers—and employees--have spent their own money keeping conditions for animals sanitary and as comfortable as possible.  

City shelters are overrun with rats, even in the dog kennels. Where has Paul Koretz been? The public can see it. The volunteers have been reporting it all regularly. CityWatchLA articles have chronicled the deterioration of the entire system. 

It is too late for Paul Koretz to salvage this situation with one meeting, generated only because Dakota Smith of the L.A. Times exposed his (and the L.A. Animal Services  Commission’s) true lack of interest—other than for political issues which brought him or the Mayor publicity and photo-ops and the homage paid by large humane organizations (Best Friends, ASPCA and HSUS) which donated money for LAAS programs through his committee—and, now, the deliberate failure to the volunteers, employees and animals. 

And, to add insult to injury, Annette Ramirez, whose name was only known for her time on SMART (Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team), and with no educational or administrative background commensurate with managing a $62-million budget has been placed in charge as interim-General Manager of the Department of Animal Services.  

Paul Koretz and Los Angeles Animal Services Commission President Larry Gross, Interim-GM Annette Ramirez and ex-GM Dana Brown, cannot avoid personal responsibility by playing political football with the tragedy of overcrowded City animal shelters and the failure to provide staffing at all times to care for EVERY animal that enters the doors.  

These are the experts that submit a budget request each year to the Mayor, which they assure will cover the agency’s projected needs. Annette Ramirez sent her revised budget proposal to the Council on April 21, 2022—three months ago—and did not request additional staffing to provide just basic care such as cleaning kennels, providing food and water for small animals and that many dogs have not been out of their kennels for exercise, enrichment and play for months.  

In fact, she stated that, “The Department is proud of our extraordinary efforts and resilience during a year of continued pandemic-related, unexpected, and financial challenges.” However, at the meeting there was a recitation of bleak attendance by employees, creating the understaffing that caused the very complaints brought by the volunteers. 

She did not state that increased kennel staff (even if on a temporary basis) is critical to provide and/or supervise activities of experienced volunteers who have taken on these responsibilities willingly as “unpaid staff members” for years. 

She did not state that COVID-19 (long after most debilitating work absences were experienced nationwide) is still causing such significant reduction in staffing at LAAS that the animals are suffering and literally crazed by the inhumaneness of constant confinement and deprivation of enrichment or just basic essentials for their mental and physical health.  

But when interviewed at the “emergency” meeting held by Koretz, she admitted that experienced volunteers are being denied the opportunity to help, that the shelter is overcrowded, and that she is keeping dogs that are too dangerous to be walked (with no indication these were “evidence” in criminal cases). Why is she keeping dogs that will never be safe for adoption? 

She assured, in the letter, that, with minor changes, the amount of money allocated in the budget proposed for 2022-23 was adequate. Her focus was not on hiring new shelter employees, but “to fill two positions for the Community Cat Program.  However, at the meeting she stated she only has sufficient staffing for four shelters. 

Was she deliberately covering up inadequacies within the shelters or did she not care this was happening, until it became public knowledge? 

Ramirez responded to the scripted questions as if it were a performance. Her feigned emotion and cracking voice bemoaned how much she cares for the employees and protecting them did not fool listeners, they say. 

Ramirez has held many low-level management positions over her years with LAAS. If she cares so much that she almost broke into tears at this public meeting, where was she when Animal Care Technician Priscilla Romero was brutally attacked by a known-dangerous Pit Bull at the North Central shelter and her co-workers bravely saved her life? Romero said no one, including then GM Brenda Barnette contacted her or came to the hospital.  

Where was Ramirez when a dog’s throat was cut by the owner in front of the SLA shelter in the presence of employees last year because the shelter would not take the animal and told him he needed an appointment (which is part of the “lifesaving” program at L.A. Animal Services.)  There was no debriefing and traumatic-incident counseling offered. 

Neither the Commission nor Koretz’ Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee has even acknowledged injuries to employees or volunteers.

WARNINGS CANNOT BE DENIED

The conditions for the animals—lack of proper care about which volunteers are currently complaining—have been brought to the attention of the Commission at every RECORDED meeting for over a year, with increasing passion as the situation became critical. The shame of this tragedy and the lack of care rests equally on every political figure in Los Angeles who has ignored the pleas. 

L.A. Animal Services employees are among the most dedicated in the City, but many of them have left due to mismanagement and inability to protect and serve the animals of the City. Brenda Barnette’s insisted that owned animals need not be taken to shelters but left in the streets for the owners to find. She and Koretz destroyed animal-limit laws which controlled public nuisance and breeding operations. 

The City’s licensing program and protection laws are not being enforced.  A call for animal control officers to respond to a location where a French Bulldog was being beaten was not investigated for two weeks, until another beating occurred and a witness was shot.

Koretz claims he meets once a month with L.A. Animal Services management to review issues and concerns. If that is true, then he certainly more than shares the responsibility for its failure. 

If he is referring to the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee, few items have been agendized for L.A. Animal Services since GM Brenda Barnette left other than related to the Community Cat Program or money from major donors. 

He also stated that the Commission does not report to him. However, all meetings of the Commission are broadcast in some manner, and it has always been the custom for a representative of the Mayor and of the Councilman who chairs a committee to attend or listen, and volunteers are repeating valid concerns and complaints at EVERY meeting. 

GARCETTI, KORETZ, GROSS ALL AT FAULT

Koretz states that he did not know about the circumstances at LAAS, although the volunteers are repeating valid concerns and complaints at EVERY meeting.  These are not ignorant people who are just standing by the sidelines—they are people who have volunteered their time for years, some through many changes of management. 

Are Mayor Eric Garcetti, Koretz, and Commission head Larry Gross denying they saw the following letter voicing the concerns of desperate Los Angeles Animal Services’ employees and widely circulated (quoted in part)? 

LA Animal Services is completely being mismanaged by the interim Annette Ramirez who was appointed emergency- and DFO Jennifer Curiel [and] DS Gerald Hill — all these positions that were filled by emergency.

The appointed leaders that were not qualified /no proper training and skills and education are leading the department to fail. 

We have no help we have no one to rescue the whole department and we are sinking together with all the animals with us. 

Who will help us? 

Please audit/ investigate and restructure this department —-starting from the very top position. Please do background checks - most credible hardworking people who once believe in this department left for the past months because no one believes that management will change- no one believes in management at all - manipulated by the acting GM / DFO and DS who are getting paid hiding in their office and have no clue of what the whole department all shelters are experiencing- filthy /unkempt overcrowded animals / short staffing overwhelmed staff/ —animals getting fostered unaltered —changes policies every 10 minutes- 

—we can’t keep our eyes close—not anymore and not for the animals - we are the voice for all these pets and if you can hear us —please do something. 

We are sinking… we need new strong leaders who are experienced eloquent educated good public servants and who can lead us to the right direction for the animals and for the community. If this department sink, your office fails as well. 

Please hear us. 

Below is a short video of Los Angeles shelters after the first “No Kill” failure (the Hayden Law) and this engendered the building of new shelters for the City of L.A.  Within a short time, our beautiful, new modern shelters have turned into the same despicable conditions we sought to eliminate forever. 

THROWING MONEY AT THIS PROBLEM WILL NOT WORK WITHOUT A PLAN 

The charade of “No Kill” or “Life-Saving” must stop!  It is inhumane to the animals, and a lie to the public and volunteers.  Animals that L.A. is now shipping to Idaho, Washington and New Mexico are out of sight but their fate in these states is unknown and ignored. Will they even stay in the U.S. once taken to states on our borders? This charade of “forever homes” is little more than a fundraising exploitation for agencies and politicians.  

Volunteers are one of the most valuable assets of any animal shelter. The programs need professional development and supervision so that the good-hearted people do not become overwhelmed, but their work for animals is essential to getting them adopted. If L.A. Animal Services feels its volunteer program has failed, it is not the fault of those who were invited to participate, but those who have failed to manage. 

This City must move forward for animals with new ideas, enforcement of laws and protection, and a reality check on leadership. 

HAVE WE PROGRESSED SINCE THE LAST FAILURE OF “NO KILL”? 

This short video depicts the conditions in Los Angeles city shelters (with permission to film) prior to the building of new structures.  Has it really changed?  Overcrowding CA Animal Shelters  (WARNING: GRAPHIC)

 

(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a contributor to CityWatch and a former Los Angeles City employee.)