ANIMAL WATCH - The unpardonable, inhumane overcrowding at Los Angeles Animal Services rivals that in third-world countries.”
This was the assessment by a former CA shelter manager who admitted being close to tears during a personal visit to observe the widely publicized horrific and tragic conditions at the facilities Los Angeles officials call “animal shelters.”
“Existing in this torturous and sub-standard situation is far worse than humane euthanasia for the unadoptable, elderly or dangerous animals that are being kept in constant anxiety for months and even years in kennels,” she added.
Pit Bulls with a history of aggression and other known-dangerous dogs are held in kennels for what may be lifetime sentences, while finders of stray animals and owners of unwanted or unmanageable pets report still being told to “make an appointment.”
Animals of all species are increasingly and inexcusably crammed into various containers or caged in multiples and staged in hallways, storage and office spaces, without adequate care, reportedly at the direct order of LAAS management.
And, a close look at the Mayor’s August 23 re-appointment of interim-General Manager Annette Ramirez is causing concern that a clause in City Charter Section 508(c) could make her appointment by the Council permanent by inaction.
SUFFERING FOR THE SAKE OF “NO KILL” DONATIONS
“No Kill” was an ill-advised, impossible concept that Best Friends Animal Society recently admitted has failed across the country.
But it was—and still is—a huge moneymaker for non-profit (tax-exempt) organizations—some of which bring in hundreds of millions of dollars each year—promising that for a certain amount donated each month or sent during campaigns they can all be helped or saved.
A small amount of that trickles down to animal shelters, but it is time for L.A. Animal Services to stop pursuing outside donations under the illusion of maintaining No-Kill “statistics,” rather than doing what is best for the animals and safest for the public.
State laws demand enforcing laws and maintaining humane facilities for animals everywhere in California—not just in homes and businesses. L.A. taxpayers generously fund Animal Services and the salary for a General Manager to assure the shelters are functioning at the highest level of efficiency and service possible for animals and humans.
According to dozens of reports by long-time volunteers—who are vital to maintaining the large number of animals impounded by LAAS--not only are the facilities and animals being neglected, but help by experienced volunteers is being refused by interim-General Manager Annette Ramirez, causing substandard care and conditions. and there is retaliation and dismissal of those who speak out.
COUNCILMAN PAUL KORETZ SAYS IT’S NOT HIS FAULT
In 2010, Councilman Paul Koretz and then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa personally selected Brenda Barnette as GM for Los Angeles Animal Services. Koretz also convinced the City Council to transfer oversight of L.A. Animal Services—a City law-enforcement agency-- to his Personnel Committee and create the “Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee” (PAW).
So, there is no question that whatever has happened at Los Angeles Animal Services since then lies squarely on the desk of Paul Koretz, but now that the disastrous conditions that have developed, he states he has only “limited” oversight.
KORETZ REPORT ON THE 2022 STATE OF LA CITY ANIMAL SHELTERS
Koretz released his “2022 State of City Animal Shelters” report on October 7 to silence the growing outcry for action at L.A. Animal Services and verifiable complaints of the inexcusable neglect of the animals and mistreatment of volunteers at Los Angeles Animal Services.
He excused Interim GM Annette Ramirez and himself and attributed any management problems to LAAS being a victim of the Mayor’s office “chronic budget issue” and being in need of “much more personnel and a drastic increase of its funding.”
He filed a motion seeking $3 million in emergency funding to Animal Services for the current fiscal year, and also pledged to contribute $100,000 from his office to hire staff to improve the dog-walking program.
Other than that, there is no evidence he has made any inquiry into Ramirez’s plan to respond and remedy the situation nor to determine her competence for purposes of his report or otherwise.
He ignored the fact that at the April 21 meeting of the Council Budget Committee, Ramirez and her Chief Financial Officer assured Councilman Paul Krekorian and the Committee that her budget request could adequately fund operation of all six animal shelters.
Apparently, Koretz determined that was not correct. If a GM cannot adequately estimate expenses, does that mean a Councilman just decides to add money?
At the Budget hearing, she blamed the problems on staff not coming to work and the high costs of COVID-related absences due to the City’s policy that employees must be ordered to take off ten days if they have been exposed. There is no testing required during that period. Other employees are asked to work overtime to cover the workload, which has led to excessive additional costs, and shelters and field operations have been chronically understaffed.
Sadly, reports indicate that staff is not showing up as scheduled, and we must assume many of these would be on overtime. The West Valley shelter reportedly had no kennel employees come to work for a week, and staff at the East Valley shelter was sent to feed the animals and clean cages/kennels.
Koretz did not explain how merely adding money and staffing would guarantee that any additional staff would not be subject to the same conditions and ask how she plans to avoid just expanding an existent deficiency.
Nor was Ramirez’ management technique questioned by Koretz in regard to not utilizing volunteers—an important passionate, unpaid asset to any shelter--and why they are allegedly being dismissed for making public complaints of mismanagement.
WHY DIDN’T HE DO MORE?
Koretz has not heard any Animal Services item nor called LAAS management to appear before the PAW Committee since Brenda Barnette left.
It has been months since his committee considered anything regarding LAAS other than approving large donations to LAAS Trust Funds from major non-profit organizations and setting up the initial structure and two administrative employees for his Community Cat Program.
However, Koretz defended his role in not acting regarding complaints during a news briefing at City Hall, calling it a “false narrative” that he could “make all the decisions to fix every perceived problem.”
Koretz claimed he has” limited oversight” over the department and also claimed that he suspected that some of the complaints were genuine but that others were “politically motivated,” referring to Kenneth Mejia, his opponent in the race.
It was disappointing and disturbing to hear Koretz—a highly paid elected official—also express that holding two public (electronic) meetings was an “unusual” action for a committee chair, as if he is too busy for constituents of this City—all of which are potential voters.
See: Los Angeles Citywide Feral Cat Trap/Neuter/Release Plan – a Fix or a Fraud?
If Koretz had been listening to the complaints and taking any action—or even making inquiries--he might have retained much more favor from the “animal vote,” which he has coveted in past elections.
KORETZ BLAMES GARCETTI
Now, he suddenly claims that a desirable amount for funding LAAS would be almost twice its current $27-million and blames Mayor Eric Garcetti—who nominates the LAAS GM for approval by the Council—stating that the Mayor has not been “hands-on” in overseeing Animal Services and should have provided the necessary funding.
The Mayor’s office responded to the 2022 State of the City Animal Shelters by saying that it is aware of the deficiencies in staffing and will address the concerns.
WILL ANNETTE RAMIREZ BECOME PERMANENT LAAS GM BY DEFAULT?
According to City Charter Section 508(c) under which Annette Ramirez was appointed, if she is not replaced by February 2023--the end of her second 6-month-period extension – it will automatically become a permanent appointment.
Annette Ramirez’ initial appointment as interim-General Manager (General Managers are considered Chief Administrative Officers of a department) and her reappointment by Mayor Eric Garcetti on August 23, were both done “Pursuant to City Charter Section 508(c), which states:
(c) The mayor must fill any vacancy in the position of chief administrative officer within ten days of the vacancy. The mayor may appoint a temporary chief administrative officer for six months, which period may be extended with the consent of Council for an additional six months
If no permanent appointment has been submitted to the Council during the initial or extended period, the temporary appointment shall be deemed submitted as a permanent appointment, and the time period for Council approval or disapproval shall commence as of that date.
DOES THIS PASS THE “SMELL” TEST?
Have the Mayor and Koretz intentionally delayed addressing volunteer and other issues at LAAS, hoping that this deadline would come and go quietly, and Annette Ramirez would become the permanent LAAS General Manager?
This latest appointment was on August 28, 2022—which leaves Ramirez with four more months of tenure. There has been no discussion or announcement of a nationwide search by L.A. for the most-qualified candidates for the LAAS GM position.
Councilman Bob Bluefield stated, before voting to approve Ramirez’ re-appointment, that he was concerned the City was not getting the strong leadership it needs for LAAS.
What do you think? It is time to make your opinion heard and organize an effort to have a voice in that decision and let your local Council person know that this is of prime importance to the residents of this City and to their next election. And I would suggest making Councilman Blumenfield (3rd District) --aware of your concerns.
(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a contributor to CityWatchLA and a former Los Angeles City employee.)