L.A. Animal Services: Will Chopping Trees and Racial Stereotyping Increase Pet Adoptions?

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

Brenda Barnette, Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager, recently described skyrocketing impounds at the six Los Angeles city shelters as “record.”  Faced with failed programs she promised would resolve the city’s unwanted animal problems, and desperate to increase declining adoptions and curtail a euthanasia rate which has soared over 11 percent in her one-year tenure, Barnette recently turned to outsiders—notably, the Bernheim Animal Foundation and Best Friends’ Animal Society.

As a result, on August 28, 2011, with no announcement to shelter staff or the public, 14 beautiful trees which provided shade and beauty at the four-year-old $23.2 million, bond-funded East Valley Animal Care Center were chopped down to stumps or removed, including roots.

The purpose given by Barnette and Attorney Steven Bernheim was to increase visibility of banners that will be installed on the shelter by the Bernheim Foundation.  (Tree Chopping at East Valley Shelter has some on cutting edge, August 30, 2011)

Gone were the lacey branches which lined the space between the parking lot and the shelter sidewalk to cool pet owners standing in lines during the hot San Fernando Valley summersand keep dogs from burning their pads on the blistering pavement as they waited for low-cost vaccinations and other services offered for residents of the community.  The remaining stumps were less than three feet high.  (See photos below.)


Other trees fared even worse.  An informal typed description of work to be done at East Valley shelter states: “6 trees to be trimmed down to approx. 3’ (the parking lot)…1 Pine tree to be cut down…2 small trees to be completely taken out…4 trees to be cut down to stump…1 tree to be cut down and the stump grinded.  There are also graphics on plans for removal of a tree at the West Los Angeles and 3 (and a possible 4th tree) at the Harbor Animal Shelter in San Pedro.

Big Banners and Racial Stereotyping

The seven $154 million new and expanded L.A. City shelters are strategically placed in highly visible, heavily trafficked locations throughout Los Angeles, and were carefully landscaped, including tree placement, under 2001 Prop. F bond funding being paid by property owners. 

So what motivated the publicly undisclosed agreements between Ms. Barnette and two nonprofit entities to place giant banners which adorn the shelters with prominent logos of either the Bernheim Foundation or Best Friends?  And, worse yet, why did city shelters become the target of a senseless massacre of mature trees?   Ms. Barnette and Beverly Hills Attorney Steven Jay Bernheim seem convinced the supergraphics will cause people to get shelter pets.  

Banners with the Best Friends logo add racial stereotyping and were placed on selected Los Angeles Animal Care Centers. In South Los Angeles, three African American children are pictured with a pit bull and the archaic and disdained words “South Central” Animal Shelter.  (In 2003, the L.A. City Council in an official move replaced the name “South Central” on all documents and city buildings to counteract the stigma of this area as depressed and crime-ridden.)

A block away, another banner with the Best Friends’ logo is bolted high on a non-government warehouse building, displaying a photo of a young Latino girl being kissed near her mouth by a pit bull (photos below).


On the West Los Angeles shelter, surrounded by an area of greater economic affluence, the three photos with the Best Friends logo on giant banners show: (1) A Caucasian girl with a Basset Hound , (2) A Caucasian girl with an older dog, and (3) an Asian boy with a terrier (directly below)



Where are the City Council environmentalists?

Why would the head of the largest city animal care agency in the U.S. have so little regard for the environment and destroy the habitat and an entire ecosystem that harbored nesting birds, insects and scurrying wildlife around the shelter?  Ms. Barnette’s answer to the Daily News was, “the focus of the signs is to promote adoption and getting animals out of the shelters and into loving homes.”

Here’s how it all came about, according to reports.  On Saturday, August  27--a day when no City inspectors are on duty and the first day of the annual City Council recess which results in  many City officials being out of town)--East Valley shelter employees heard chain saws outside.  As trees began falling, the trimmers were ordered by the shelter captain to stop.   Ms. Barnette was called by the tree chopper and she advised that she had “forgotten to send the e-mail” but she had authorized the cutting.  In a KABC Channel 7 news broadcast , Ms. Barnette indicated that this was a volunteer activity that went too far.

Many constituents are wondering what has silenced the voices and indignation of the vocal and animated environmentalists on the City Council now that they are back in session.

Benefactor says he paid for tree desecration

But Attorney Steven Jay Bernheim disputes that this was just good intentions by volunteers gone awry.  The Daily News article states that Bernheim’s Foundation paid to have the trees chopped down because they blocked the giant banners with his logo that would promote pet adoptions and that some banners would be as long as 70 feet.  Dana Bartholomew writes that Bernheim’s newly formed foundation committed up to $7,000 for the banners, and tree trimming and quotes Bernheim as saying, “We’re trying to get animals adopted in the community.  And if pepper trees stand in the way, so be it—they should be trimmed.”

Trimmed maybe, but why cut to stumps? 

ADL-LA head, Pamelyn Ferdin,  credited with “marketing banner strategy”

There is an even more shocking statement in this article, which is, “Bernheim said the marketing banner strategy was hatched by animal welfare activist Pamelyn Ferdin, of Animal Defense League—Los Angeles [ADL-LA], and agreed to by Barnette…”

It is hard for LA Animal Services employees to forget the years of terror from threats toward them and their families by animal activists, including the ADL-LA. which generated the L.A. Times article in September 2006, “Activists Toughen Tactics, Some have moved beyond protesting to vandalism and threats against city officials, ” and states, “Although  her organization does not use illegal tactics, Ferdin said she supports those who do—including the Animal Liberation Front…” 

In fact, it was the ADL-LA Action Alert (Feb. 12, ’04) which provided the ALF communiqué that read: 

“In the early morning hours of February 3rd, the Animal Liberation Front answered the cries of the imprisoned souls inside the death camp walls of the West Los Angeles animal shelter, California, U.S….We slashed all the tires of five Animal Auschwitz prison vans…” (

Pamelyn Ferdin and the ADL-LA have also been staunch supporters of Brenda Barnette.

Steven Jay (“Bernie”) Bernheim’s activism

Aside from stating that he has adopted four purebred Miniature Pinschers from shelters, there is little on public record for the Bernheim Foundation’s involvement in animal and shelter activism.

According to the California Secretary of State, the Bernheim Foundation filed for incorporation on December 30, 2010.  It does not appear to have a website other than a page on the Bernheim Law Firm site.  It states: 

“Mr. Bernheim is also the founder of a non-profit public charity whose mission is to ease animal and human suffering through the direct action of people who care.”

On the law firm’s “Photo” page, there is a picture with Brenda Barnette, and another with WLA Councilman Paul Koretz, who was instrumental in Barnette being selected for the LA Animal Services GM position.  Another event-photo shows Mr. Bernheim with Valley Councilman Tony Cardenas.

A business search for Steven Jay Bernheim (aka Bernie Bernheim) indicates his law office is not far from the East Valley Animal Care Center, where the banners with his logo displaced the trees.  (Google maps it at 5.9 miles and 13 minutes away.)

Bernheim, Bernie, Law Offices Of
4725 Rubio Avenue
Encino, CA 91436-1908

Mr. Bernheim states on his website and in a YouTube video that he is a supporter of Good Dog Animal Rescue and urges visitors to go to their website.  However, efforts to access  were unsuccessful.

Bernheim Logo

The Bernheim Foundation logo--an elongated left triangle surrounding a “B”— seems to serve, with merely wording and color changes, for many Bernheim enterprises.

Mr. Bernheim proudly introduces his music production company on MySpace and it shares the triangular logo design in yellow. It is seen in black for his foundation, and in red for his production company.

Filmmaker turned Activist  

Steven Jay Bernhein has his own page on The Internet Movies Data Base.   

His Bernheim Production Company introduces us to a series of his films from 2000 to 2005; such as, “Point Doom,”  “The Backlot Murders,” “Redemption”   and “Chaos.”

Bernheim’s “Chaos” Review by Roger Ebert

A link provided by Mr. Bernheim invite us to reviews of “Chaos” and some rather surprising words by well-known movie critics.

The first reviewer is the highly respected Roger Ebert, who asks,

Evil in film:  To what end?  BY ROGER EBERT/August 19, 2005

"'Chaos' is ugly, nihilistic, and cruel -- a film I regret having seen. I urge you to avoid it. Don't make the mistake of thinking it's 'only' a horror film, or a slasher film. It is an exercise in heartless cruelty and it ends with careless brutality. The movie denies not only the value of life, but the possibility of hope." (more….)

Steven Jay Bernheim, Producer, and David Defalco, Director, “Chaos,” respond at:

A synopsis of the film on reads, “Two girls, looking to score some ecstasy at a rave, follow a young man to a house where terror awaits. There a gang of felons capture and torment the girls drawing them into a nightmare of violence.” is also among the first in the list of reviewers, and Rob Gonsalves tells us, “Chaos” is: “Billed as ‘the most brutal film ever made...”  He then describes in vivid terms what occurs in some of the torture scenes of the girls in the movie.  If you go to this link, be sure you are prepared for a graphic depiction of mutilation.

Models and Music

Mr. Bernheim’s Model Mayhem link:

Bernheim is seen with friends and associates at social and musical events on his MySpace page and obviously loves being surrounded by beautiful women.

L.A. Animal Services & Best Friends

Best Friends Animal Society was just awarded a contract to take over the $19,000,000 Northeast Valley (Mission) Shelter at the insistence of GM Brenda Barnette, who stated that 10,000 animals would die if the sweetheart deal were not approved by the City Council.

Best Friends, which reported a total income of $51 million in 2009, will not pay rent, utilities or maintenance of the new Valley facility for the three-year (extendable) contract and will only be obligated to keep between 50 and 100 adoptable dogs or cats, selected from other L.A. city shelters.

Best Friends’ banners “Demographically Coded”?

The insensitivity of the  banners with the Best Friends' logo in stereotyping communities, ethnic groups and their pets is particularly surprising since the organization provides on its website a history as a religious organization and involvement with The Process Church of the Final Judgment prior to becoming an animal sanctuary.

The cost of a banner on a City building?

There are many wondering why only two entities were selectively allowed to place banners advertising their organizations on City shelters and how much of a donation was made by each for this privilege.

Is  Chopping the Los Angeles Animal Shelter Trees Justified and Who Pays?

In a Daily News sequel, reporter Dana Bartholomew announced that the Mayor’s “ Million Trees L.A. program will replace the mature pepper trees…” for a cost to the City.  Ms. Barnette states that L.A. Animal Services will pay to have the remaining stumps removed.    (Pet shelter to get back its shade, 9/3/11)

Brenda Barnette has recently subjected her staff to repeated embarrassment by public allegations of alleged wrong doing, but so far there seems to be no evidence to back her charges. Now she’s the one who must answer.  Destruction of City property, including trees, by anyone is a criminal act with legal ramifications, fines and restoration charges. 

Will those responsible for the devastation of the trees at the East Valley animal shelter be allowed to merely pass on the financial costs to taxpayers and face no consequences?

The irony is that on the following Saturday, when huge supergraphic banners were bolted onto the East Valley shelter buildings, the trees would not have been a barrier to their visibility.

Will cutting down these trees be justified by increased pet adoptions from Los Angeles animal shelters?