LA Animal Service’s Illegal “Free Senior-Pets” Giveaway

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

Increasingly desperate to appear “No Kill” and be rehired by new Mayor Eric Garcetti, last week Brenda Barnette announced another irresponsible scheme to empty city shelters—a “Senior-Pet Free Giveaway,” which means that the most vulnerable group of shelter animals (those over five years of age) would be given away with no adoption fee to city or non-city residents who could merely show up at a shelter and demand their “free” pet.

Luckily, someone in city government finally noticed that this is illegal---but only after irate protests by numerous vocal animal activists.

Los Angeles well-paid city officials have shamefully allowed a series of inept managers to play Russian roulette with the welfare of animals and taxpayers’ money. Barnette’s tenure has been a continuous “experiment” in violating or ignoring laws and sound shelter practices. It is time to time say “NO” to Ms. Barnette and to mean it!

Barnette, in the past few months alone, has added with seeming impunity to a long string of embarrassing, well-publicized faux pas starting shortly after she was hired. The two latest decisions where she figuratively thumbed her nose at the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee stating that she did not need Council approval, should have been enough for her to be immediately fired.

In case anyone who cares about the unwanted animals entrusted to the City of Los Angeles could possibly have forgotten, in March, Barnette arranged to remove vital animal care employees from city shelters at night. In June. she pushed for a policy to allow pregnant impounded dogs to have puppies that could be sold by LAAS to pet stores---after prohibiting such stores from obtaining any commercially bred puppies.

Barnette has not been alone in these exercises of poor judgment. The LA Animal Services Board of Commissioners under President Lisa McCurdy and including two attorneys, made no effort to deter Ms. Barnette’s reckless and inhumane plans. The exception was Kathleen Riordan, daughter of former Mayor Richard Riordan, who was removed by Villaraigosa Deputy Jim Bickhart for her propensity to question Barnette closely and oppose many of her proposals. (Note: Recently appointed Commissioner David Zaft was not on the Commission during that time.)

City Council and members of the Mayor’s staff could not have totally missed Ms. Barnette’s announcement of the ‘Free Giveaway of Senior Pets’ (which is a violation of city ordinance and laws regarding gifts of public property.) It was sent to all those on her mailing list and permeated the media. NBC joined in advertising the event, posting it on September 18:

Los Angeles Animal Services is hosting its first Senior Saturday on Saturday, September 28, 2013

“All cats and dogs 5 years and older are free of charge to adopt. The adoption includes spaying?/neutering, if required, all vaccinations and a microchip. Los Angeles residents do have to pay a dog license fee of $20, which is not included.” (NBC)

Interestingly, the proposed “Free Senior Pet” plan devised by the $208,000-a-year manager of Los Angeles Animal Services actually penalizes city residents in that they are required to pay $20 for a license, while non-city residents can just walk out the door with their new pet and a “promise” to register it with their local agency.

Animal advocates immediately denounced a plan that is little better than a Craigslist “free” ad, considering that a municipal shelter has no right to refuse any adopter who has not been listed as convicted of animal cruelty on a “do not adopt” list. (These lists are of minimal protection to animals because there is no required posting of such offenders on an area-wide or national basis.)

Barnette was so confident that she could sell her idea that she posted a Facebook comment on the NBC announcement:

“People often say that older pets come home and seem as if they have always been there. The early training has been done and the pet companion seems grateful to be in a home again. Visit the LA City shelters on September 28 and see if you meet your new family member! Brenda Barnette · General Manager at Los Angeles City Animal Services - September 19 at 7:40am”

Quickly shifting to “damage control” later that day, Barnette sent out a tepid excuse in an e-blast to show those with years of experience in the rescue and adoption in Los Angeles that Best Friends says it is OK to giveaway free pets: She wrote:

“We have had a few inquiries about the free adoption for seniors Saturday. This was put in the budget and approved.

“With many years of tracking low cost and free adoption promotions, I have a different experience than what the concerns predict. I'm attaching a report that may be of interest to you that gives a more national perspective. We will ask that our staff and volunteers take extra care in talking with potential adopters.”

Lest we forget, Brenda Barnette was the head of the very small Seattle Humane Society and had NO public sheltering experience prior to coming to Los Angeles in June of 2010, where the only qualification she had to meet for the job was a valid California driver’s license (which she did not have at that time.)

The person who took the most time to refute the claims by Barnette and her reliance on a one-time “study” in 2006 of (only) cats given away free at a small Maine humane society is Anne B. Diamond (possibly a pseudonym). There is no use to try to improve on this detailed explanation of why animals should not be given away free:

“Barnette received what she called "inquiries" about the upcoming "Senior Saturday" with LAAS handing out free senior animals (five years and above). She responded by sending Best Friends' discussion on reduced adoption fees. It relies primarily on a 2006 ASPCA survey…The study compared attachment levels of cat adopters who paid a fee for their cat and those who did not pay a fee. The study is cited to show that we should not worry about shelters giving away free animals.

“The study results are based entirely on a survey of 322 adopters who paid no fee for a cat, and 228 adopters who paid a fee for a cat. (The study is only about cats.) Of those, less than one-third (29.5%) of those paying no fee responded. And just barely over 1/3 of those paying a fee (34%) responded, for a total response rate of only 31.4% (173 responding out of 550 surveys sent). This extremely low response rate means the conclusions have a high risk of sample size bias, and low statistical conclusion validity. That is, with less than 1/3 responding, the survey results are less than reliable. Even the study admits this. (In typical form, Brenda does not disclose this crucial fact.)

“We have no idea what the other 70.5% of no-fee adopters would have said about their attachment to their cats, or whether a bad outcome for their cat is the reason they did not respond. We do know that the views of those 70.5% no-fee adopters who did not respond are not factored into the survey conclusions It is therefore illogical to presume that the views of those who responded are the same as the views of those who for some reason failed to respond, or that the outcomes for their cats are the same . The survey simply ignores the very large and important category of no-fee adopters who did not respond to the survey.”

“What's worse, measuring “attachment” does not necessarily say whether a home is good or bad. Many hoarders will say they are attached to their animals and yet neglect and abuse them. Attachment also does not reflect levels of commitment. We see animals dumped daily in the shelter by adopters who are crying and, if asked, would say they are attached.

“Barnette tries to placate us. Don't worry! She "will ask that our staff and volunteers take extra care in talking with potential adopters." Who is Barnette kidding?

“The Emily Weiss study, shaky as its conclusions are, is based on free cat adoptions at an Animal Refuge League in Westbrook, Maine. Of course that sounds comparable to Los Angeles and LAAS, right?

“Let’s also keep in mind an important fact. Private non-profit adoption agencies (like the one in the Emily Weiss/ASPCA study), have applications, screening, and the ability to deny applications when a home seems wrong. These are all things that LAAS does not have.”

Anne B. Diamond goes on to discuss the various things that have been repeatedly experienced in giving away “free” animals. They often are taken by hoarders (especially older animals) and by dog fighters to use as “bait” animals, and by those with a criminal background which precludes them from obtaining pets legitimately from a shelter.


On September 26, the Los Angeles Daily Breeze posted the following:

“Los Angeles officials say pet adoptions this weekend can’t be free after all

“After announcing free adoptions this Saturday for dogs and cats 5 years and older, the city of Los Angeles has pulled back the offer, saying a city ordinance prohibits the practice.

“The free “Senior Saturday Adoptions,” mentioned Wednesday in the Daily Breeze, now will be discounted adoptions — $83.50 for dogs and $50.50 for cats.

“A memorandum sent to shelters on Thursday from Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette said the 2009 ordinance had been “overlooked for a number of years.”

“We plan to take community input on the issue of free adoption to decide whether to recommend to City Council that the ordinance be amended to allow us to do free adoptions in the future,” she wrote. “The free adoption program has been tested nationally and has been a successful way to save animals’ lives.” (L.A. Daily Breeze)

This ordinance was NOT “overlooked for a number of years.” It was enacted one year before Barnette arrived to stop former LAAS GM Ed Boks from giving away “free” animals. The only person who “overlooked” it was Barnette.

And, does she apologize and express her intent to abide by the ordinance of the City, which is predicated upon the basic governmental requirements that impounded property may not be given away free for personal use? NO, MS. BARNETTE MERELY INTENDS TO CONDUCT A “POPULARIIY CONTEST” TO SEE IF THE PUBLIC WANTS THE LAW CHANGED SO THEY CAN HAVE FREE ANIMALS!!

It is time for Mayor Eric Garetti to take action. No official of the City of Los Angeles should be allowed to blatantly ignore or intentionally violate laws. Both Ms. Barnette and the members of the Los Angeles Animal Services Commission who have failed in due diligence after being notified of GM Barnette’s indiscretions must be replaced. The animals, the staff, the City and the taxpayers have suffered enough under this incompetent regime. Our new Mayor must take steps to protect all who depend upon him.

Read also:

Animal Control Warns About Dangers of 'Craigslist Ads' and 'Pet Flippers'

Animal Shelter Giving Away “Free” Pets Finds Them Being Sold on Craigslist

Los Angeles Animal Services “No-Kill” December: Precedent or Deception?

LA Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette Says Shelters Need Puppies to Increase Revenue

Los Angeles Animal Services' Brenda Barnette: 'No Night Care for Animals in City Shelters'...

Sources: NBC LA, Daily Breeze