Animal Rights

LA Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette: ‘Neutering’ Shelter Veterinarians?

Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette has just released an announcement of a third position of Director of Field Operations (DFO), with a salary range of $105,381 - $130,917. The position was only posted internally for LAAS employees and not available even for other City employees.

According to the qualifications for the job, this could place a candidate with only a GED and three years as an Animal Care Technician Supervisor (top salary $59,925) or Senior Animal Control Officer (top salary $73,769) over medical operations of six City shelters and supervising a Chief Veterinarian and Assistant Chief Veterinarian with a collective 50 years of education and experience.

In addition, the new DFO position would also oversee and decide on policy for an additional four-full-time veterinarians and 24 (soon to be 28) Registered Veterinary Technicians (RVT's), some of whom were veterinarians in other countries before joining the LA Animal Services staff.

The veterinary staff is the “invisible backbone” of any sheltering system. The evidence of competence, professionalism and sound management of the LA. Animal Services veterinary unit by current Chief Veterinarian Jeremy Prupas is the fact that no major epidemics of disease and no violations of policies or laws have brought negative publicity to the city shelters during his over five-year tenure.

Veterinary examination reports are critical to the successful prosecution of animal-cruelty investigations and to alerting officers regarding neglect or abuse of animals that are brought to a shelter. Every animal that is impounded by LAAS is examined by an RVTbefore being placed in a kennel and referred to a veterinarian if further treatment appears warranted.

Alarmingly, it appears from the City budget that the new DFO position is funded in part by a reduction in Animal Control Officers (again.) At 63 positions, LAAS is back at the staffing level of the ‘80s—before any of the current state legislation (from spay/neuter to humane care of animals) and well before the City's population hit 4 million.

TOP-HEAVY CITY DEPARTMENT

Perhaps the most puzzling question is why this position would even be created with the City supposedly under heavy budget constraints. This top-heavy department, with a total of less than 400 employees already has a General Manager ($211,911); an Assistant GM ($153,739); 2 Directors of Field Operations ($130,917/ea.); a Chief Veterinarian ($144,429) and an Assistant Chief Veterinarian ($122,722). In addition, there are six Captains and four Lieutenants immediately overseeing shelter and kennel operations. Each shelter also has an ACT (kennel) supervisor, who oversees impounding and daily care of animals and manages the kennel staff.

And, yet, with all these highly paid and experienced employees at her disposal, at the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee meeting on September 3, Barnett gave all credit for improved statistics in adoptions and reduced euthanasia to a Best Friends Animal Society program, with barely a mention of LAAS staff.

Barnette states that impounds decreased by over 2,000 from last year, which is a surprisingly small reduction, considering the money that LAAS and Best Friends is purportedly investing in spay/neuter. The County of Los Angeles—serving approximately the same number of residents--shows a reduction of 8,093 impounded dogs and cats from 2011-12 to 2012-13, without the same “ benefit” from Best Friends Animal Society.

DIRECTORS OF FIELD OPERATIONS DO WHAT?

So, what is this third Director of Field Operations (Shelters) expected to contribute according to the job announcement? The top duty description is: “Directs the work of personnel engaged in the operation of City animal care shelters, including medical personnel.” The new DFO then, “Reviews division personnel utilization and directs the assignment and reassignment of employees to meet current operating needs; inspects facilities and equipment and reviews the need for repairs and replacement; makes recommendations to higher management regarding Division personnel, facilities, supplies and equipment requirement…”

This makes us wonder what the other two well-paid Directors are doing. One is supposedly the “activities director” in charge of the animal fostering program and appears to have been at least semi-divested of involvement in the volunteer program.

The other DFO, Mark Salazar, came to the city from Texas with rather questionable credentials, having only a short experience as an animal control officer and more recently being sued by five employees for alleged discrimination and harassment as a code enforcement manager for Riverside County. His accomplishments at L.A. Animal Services appear to be minimal.

WHY HAVE CITY OFFICIALS IGNORED BARNETTE’S POOR JUDGMENT?

Now into her third year as head of Los Angeles City Animal Services (LAAS), Brenda Barnette’s reign of destructive mismanagement has gone unabated and largely unquestioned by city officials, with former Mayor Villaraigosa the prime offender in not demanding a realistic assessment of her dismal performance.

The recent (and loudly applauded) exception since Brenda Barnette began embarrassing the city on the front pages of newspapers across the country was opposition by Councilmember Paul Koretz in July, when he took a strong and unequivocal position against former-dog breeder Barnette’s plan to stop spaying pregnant dogs in the shelters and thus produce puppies to be sold to the pet shops the city legislatively forbade from obtaining through breeders or puppy mills.

Koretz was also tentative about Barnette’s fait accompli plan to shut down all city shelters at night and replace employees who care for the thousands of impounded animals with contracted unarmed security guards sitting outside the building. But it was actually then-Councilman Richard Alarcon who insisted the Council provide funding for additional kennel staffing to keep the shelters open. (This was a good thing on its face but many experienced employees within the department assert that the need for over 20 additional Animal Care Technicians was unnecessary and ignored the more pressing need for additional animal control officers.)

Koretz’ trust in Barnette (promoted by former Mayoral Deputy Jim Bickhart) appeared to severely diminish in May 2013 when she advised him publicly that she did not need to inform the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee—which he chairs and which was created ostensibly to assure that any of Barnette’s programs were not blocked in the political maze of city hall bureaucracy—nor did she need to get permission to arrange for night closure of the shelters.

In fact, that is exactly what had been going on behind Koretz’ and the City Council’s back. According to documents provided by Los Angeles Police Department under a public records request, Ms. Barnette had been in full negotiation with LAPD to provide 6 hours of security at six city animal shelters through North American Security, Inc, since January 11, 2013, and plans were already devised by LAAS internally prior to that time.

What Councilmember Koretz and other elected officials may not know also is that this same company has provided continuous private security services to the North East Valley shelter building, which Barnette arranged to be given to Best Friends Animal Society for $1 per year. According to an LAPD email dated March 11, 2013, “In 2011, Animal Services agreed to compensate GSD for security at NE Shelter…Up-to-date, as of the end of February [2013], we spent approx. $250,000 on security for the Northeast Animal Shelter.”

According to verbal reports, such security services are still being provided at the NE shelter, although Best Friends has occupied the building since January 2012. When questioned by a member of the PAW committee on Tuesday, August 27, about physical operations at what has ostensibly become the Los Angeles marketing center for Best Friends, Barnette responded that she has not been to the facility since Best Friends took over. This revelation appeared to surprise Chairman Koretz, because the contract provisions provide that the Department of Animal Services will evaluate Best Friends’ performance and level of compliance with the contract by performing on-site inspections to determine any deficiencies. Barnette also did not indicate that any such inspections have been conducted by her staff.

Compounding the evidence of poor judgment, was Barnette ordering publicized raids on her own shelters by LAPD to remove firearms essential to perform the field dispatch of critically wounded and suffering wildlife. This costly investigation found absolutely no misuse of weapons or ammunition by officers. Next was the placement of six long-time Captains on administrative leave for almost a year for “pizzagate,” in which they were falsely accused of personally benefiting from contracts for shelter vending machines. This cost the city $500,000 in administrative leave payments.

WHAT HAS BARNETTE ACCOMPLISHED WITHIN LAAS?

It should concern every person who pays taxes in the city of Los Angeles that the second largest animal control department in the country does not have an emergency response plan—no backup plan for water/food supplies for shelters which impound over 60,000 animals per year in the event of a major earthquake. The training unit has been disbanded.

The animal-cruelty taskforce has always been dysfunctional but increasingly so under Barnette. Licensing (which guarantees current rabies vaccinations) has decreased according to the latest report; spay/neuters of owned animals under the city’s voucher system are lagging, and preparation for implementation of administrative citations to control off-leash dogs and other violations of local ordinances, as well as bring in badly needed income, is seemingly non-existent.

While Barnette touts the success of her partnership with Best Friends, which includes transporting/transferring thousands of animals out of the area and payments of $150 per animal by Best Friends to rescuers to increase adoptions, this is not a sustainable plan that addresses the real supply/demand problem of the local community. "

MAYOR AND COUNCIL CANNOT RISK THE HEALTH OF ANIMALS AND HUMANS

There is absolutely no indication that a new Director of Field Operations will provide any benefit to the Department of Animal Services. It is time for Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council to intercede in this ill-advised decision to shift the responsibility for the health and safety of impounded animals to a potentially unqualified candidate.

One more in a series of poor decisions by General Manager Barnette could endanger the lives not only of animals who enter city shelters but also pets throughout the city through the spread of epidemic diseases, some of which are zoonotic and can also affect humans. It is time to finally say “no” to Brenda Barnette, until a complete audit of the operations of Los Angeles Animal Services can be performed.

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