Council told of poor conditions at L.A. animal shelters

Dogs doubling in city kennels. Kitten abandoned at animal shelter. Hamsters go overnight without food or water.

A Los Angeles City Council hearing on Tuesday unearthed new details and allegations about the dogs, cats, rabbits and other animals in city shelters.

The three-hour meeting brought relief to many volunteers — the unpaid members of the public the city relies on to walk dogs and do other chores at the shelters — who say they have raised concerns with city leaders for years.

Councilor Paul Koretz, chairman of the Animal Affairs Committee, held the hearing after a Times report on overcrowded kennels, staff shortages and dogs not being walked for weeks. Koretz began the meeting by thanking the volunteers and calling them “brave whistleblowers.”

Koretz said he intends to “investigate the intolerable and inexcusable situation of dogs being kept in cages without exercise, sometimes for many months.”

“We will also focus on the other issues in the department and bring transparency to these important issues,” said the councilman, who ran as a candidate for city controller in November’s election.

Staffing issues, disagreements over the care the city should provide the animals, and the loss of two key employees have roiled the Los Angeles Animal Welfare Authority in recent months. The city relies largely on volunteers for a number of tasks – a system that’s coming under pressure as the number of animals increases.

One of the top employees who left Animal Services this year did so out of frustration with the treatment of the animals.

More than 50 people spoke at Tuesday’s hearing; About 140 signed up but were unable to speak due to the deadline set by Koretz.

Some speakers, including a volunteer at the South LA animal shelter, asked city leaders to see the conditions for themselves.

“You will see from that moment where the problems start,” said the volunteer. “The whole system needs to be changed.”

Jill Dyché, executive director of rescue group Outta the Cage, called for “disruptive and systemic changes” in the Animal Services Department and said city leaders should consider privatizing animal shelters.

“Los Angeles taxpayers need experienced outside leaders to take over the protection system and run it like a business,” Dyché said. Other callers also suggested privatization.

This angered Charles Leone, an organizer for the Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents zookeepers and other workers. He told Koretz that there was a “political agenda” behind such proposals.

Some callers raised red flags about the treatment of small animals at shelters.

“They are just as important as the dogs and cats, and the hamsters will go through the night without food or water,” said Sharon Tydell.

Annette Ramirez, interim general manager at Animal Services, did not respond to the comments about small animals, instead spending much of her time speaking out about staffing issues that have pushed the department beyond “capacity.”

Ramirez said the staff shortage was in part a result of a city protocol that allows employees to quarantine for 10 days if exposed to someone with COVID-19. The policy states that employees do not have to be tested during the quarantine period, Ramirez told Koretz.

“We should definitely look at that,” said the councilman.

Those guidelines appear to differ from those of the Los Angeles County Department of Health, which does not recommend isolation if a person has no symptoms after coming into close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Ramirez spoke about how a shortage of veterinarians is affecting operations and causing waiting times for animals at shelters. She also said the city is “struggling” with the cat population.

Ramirez noted that volunteers at the shelters “do a lot of the work.” “But they shouldn’t be the ones we depend on to care for the animals. That’s our responsibility as a city, as a department of animal services,” she said. “We should have enough staff to provide minimal care for the animals in our shelters.”

Koretz said he will hold a second hearing in August and release a report outlining solutions to the shelter issues.

Some callers asked why Koretz was having an “emergency” meeting, saying the problems have been going on for years. Council told of poor conditions at L.A. animal shelters

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