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Questions Remain: Overturned Animal-Rescue Van Full of Dogs … Just Part of the Story

ANIMAL WATCH-An undated media release e-blasted with the subject line “Tradegy Averted” [sic] by LA Animal Services’ General Manager Brenda Barnette on March 4 is a textbook example of how it is sometimes better to have people speculate that you are inept than to publish a CYA post that proves it! 

 

Viewers watched local TV news broadcasts in horror after an accident on the I-5 freeway, at 10:55 p.m. on February 27, showed a van with a colorful wrap identifying it as “Cathey's K-9 Rescue” overturned near Dodger Stadium while transporting 15 rescue dogs.

Later reports revealed that the animal van was rear ended by a driver allegedly under the influence.

Nancy Cathey, the operator of the rescue and also the driver, was returning home to Kern County after an adoption event in Los Angeles. She later related that she felt the impact and lost control as her van spun and rolled several times and finally stopped -- upside down. 

LA Fire and California High Patrol were the first responders. Firemen extricated Cathey by cutting away part of the van. The video of this tragic event was widely broadcast as firemen and CHP officers (appearing to be assisted by civilian motorists) gathered up the four dogs that were released from carriers by the impact and had run onto the freeway. 

Heartwarming photos focused on firemen administering first aid and affectionate reassurance to the appreciative animals. Fortunately, none of the dogs suffered significant injury.

KTLA footage shows Animal Control Officers on scene after the loose dogs had been captured, which makes perfect sense, because the ACO’s -- with the help of Animal Care Technicians -- had to pack their trucks with carriers and other equipment before driving from the North Central Shelter. 

The fact that ACOs were not dodging traffic and scooping up fleeing dogs does not diminish the heroism and expertise of the Animal Control personnel. This was not a normal, everyday call. The experienced officers evaluated the risks and devised a strategy to efficiently and safely remove the dogs from compressed built-in cages with bent doors and jammed locks inside the overturned van; they had to assure the traumatized animals and stabilize them for safe transport to the shelter. The ACOs then climbed into the cramped, hazardous interior areas and passed the dogs out carefully to waiting fire fighters, according to photos and reports.

If she had wanted to give her field personnel the appreciation due, LA Animal Services chief, Brenda Barnette, could have better described this event-- if she is even aware of exactly how this was done. But the body of the LAAS release (a week after the incident) merely states that ACOs removed the animals from the overturned truck and returned them to the safety of the shelter.   

For most Angelenos, this was the end of the story -- the driver was alive and taken to the hospital, the animals were OK, and the news became old quickly. 

But on March 3, KTLA aired a follow-up, “Animal Rescue Operator Charged $1,100 To Get Dogs Back from LA Shelter After Freeway Crash.” It explained that Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette said that she had no authority to waive fees, and the Commission would be looking at a code change to allow waivers in emergencies. 

The station also referred readers to Cathey's K-9 Rescue Facebook page, where Nancy Cathey graciously posted her appreciation on March 2: 

We picked up all the dogs. They all looked great. The shelter staff was extremely helpful. They took amazing care of our dogs…Very professional and kind hearted people. There was an anonymous donor who paid the fees that totaled $1,095.00 from a rescue in LA. I appreciate all the support and kind words everyone has expressed. This has been an extremely traumatic ordeal for myself and my family. I was released Monday night from the hospital and still have not been able to sleep well.” 

So, a full week after the dogs are rescued, the fees have been paid and the human victim is recovering, Barnette (who is notorious for her bad spelling) chimes in with an email entitled, “Tradegy Averted.” The headline on the actual transmitted release changes to: “Near Tragedy Averted by LA City Animal Control Officers!” 

Was it unintentional that Brenda exploited the Animal Control Officers to attract reader attention and then minimized their technical expertise? What in the world was she thinking? What tragedy or near-tragedy was “averted?” 

Did Barnette fail to see this accident as a terrible tragedy merely because no dogs were injured or killed? 

A young woman could have been crippled for life or died, leaving a toddler without a mother and a husband robbed of his life-companion. Her van which carried homeless dogs to find homes is demolished. 

And we don’t know how badly Nancy Cathey was really hurt -- she won’t know that for months or possibly for years. 

There is another tragedy was also not “averted” -- which is that thousands of dedicated, responsible animal rescuers worldwide are risking their safety and spending irreplaceable hours of their lives trying to help homeless animals because someone who promised to love and care for them abandoned that responsibility. 

Brenda could have told this story. She could have reminded those who have discarded pets (or failed to search for lost pets) that those animals are languishing in shelters, longing for a familiar face, or roaming the streets in search of food, safety and survival. 

She could have called into TV stations when the accident was aired and emphasized to a captive audience of millions of viewers that spaying and neutering pets to decrease overpopulation is the ultimate key to avoid thousands of unwanted animals being transported on dangerous freeways and highways in efforts to rehome them, or to keep them from falling into unscrupulous hands of those who harm them.

Instead, Brenda’s media release states, “My first step was to contact the City Attorney who pointed me to 53.11, (q) in the Los Angeles City Municipal Code which defines my only authority in this situation…I was constrained by Los Angeles City Municipal Code and could not waive the impound and care fees.”

Was this her real underlying purpose -- to divert attention from the fact that, after five and a half years on the job, she is unresourceful in handling an unexpected situation and can only rely on Sec. 53.11 (q) of the LA Municipal Code to provide financial relief in this situation. Does this differ substantively from releasing an impounded pet to a homeless person who has been hospitalized or confined? 

Barnette’s apparent lack of effort to assist is especially concerning because Cathey’s K-9 Rescue is part of the Best Friends Network, according to a 7/29/2015 post with the organization’s logo: 

“Our mission is to save dogs from being euthanized at high kill shelters. In doing so, we will care for them and get them ready to be adopted in their forever home. Spaying and neutering is offered free of charge to low income families for any breed.  Free spay/neuters are offered to any Pit Bull, Chihuahua, or mix of these breeds year round.” 

Was Best Friend LA asked to possibly share a small pittance of the money donated to it by Los Angeles residents? 

Was Best Friends Animal Society (which reported an income of $65,499,218 in 2013) contacted to assist in this unusual, tragic emergency by one of its Network members? 

Fortunately, a Good Samaritan paid the fees for Nancy Cathey to reclaim her dogs. This person, who wished to remain anonymous, is well-known and highly respected in the world of dog training and animal behavior. She said her decision to help was greatly influenced by Cathey’s sincerity and the excellent condition and friendliness of all her dogs. 

She asked that I include a caution to all rescuers who disparagingly refer to public animal-care centers as “kill” and “high-kill” shelters and remind everyone that this incident emphasizes why open-entry, public shelters cannot -- and should not -- be pressured to become “no kill.” 

“If they warehouse animals and fill every kennel, they would not have room to take in animal victims of large-scale tragic situations such as this,” she stated. 

Another concern in degrading or condemning those who work in public animal-shelters and insinuating that humane euthanasia is unnecessary or that they “want to kill” is the tremendous, hurtful injustice often perpetrated on the same caring, dedicated employees Nancy Cathey just praised as being “very professional and kind-hearted.”  

From the lack of activity on her Facebook page, Nancy Cathey may have found the aftermath of this serious accident far more challenging than it first seemed. 

A Go Fund Me page has been set up to replace her van and can be accessed by clicking here.  

Even though her life was spared, the trauma of near-death (her own and/or the animals) can be an overwhelming tragedy. Nancy Cathey and her family still need our support and prayers.  

 

(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty writes for CityWatch and is a contributing writer to opposingviews.com. She lives in Los Angeles.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.