11L.A. Animal Services, Mayor and Council Set To Give Feral Cats Property Rights in Los Angeles (Part 1)
A “Cat Program” developed by L.A. Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette is awaiting the green light to spread over the city of Los Angeles, ravage private-property rights, ignore health and safety issues for people and animals, and establish Los Angeles as a Sanctuary City for Feral Cats.
While a property owner or renter may, under local and State trespass/nuisance laws, remove (or have removed) a human or other animal who enters, urinates, defecates or otherwise damages his/her property, that will no longer be true of cats. Under the proposed L.A. City Feral Cat Program, felines will gain an inherent right to be on your residential or commercial property and conduct themselves, well, like cats.
TAKING FERAL CATS TO SHELTERS BECAUSE THEY ARE A NUISANCE WILL BE PROHIBITED
This is not a scare tactic — it is a reality. And it will apparently be voted into law soon, unless constituents demand that their city council representatives back off the emotional hype and pressure from feral/stray/community/“feral freedom” cat groups who want us to believe merely sterilizing and re-abandoning stray cats into the street (which is a violation of state law) is a humane solution to homelessness for unowned felines.
I, like thousands of Angelenos, am willingly ruled by the whims and demands of a very vocal, irresistible rescued kitty whose former owner put her outside and left to enter drug rehab. I live in a mid-city Los Angeles area where life is filled with daily reminders of the brutal realities of the streets, where outdoor cats — fed, sterilized, or not — do not do well.
Abandoned and feral cats sit under greasy cars and peer out, terrified of the unnatural enemies who stalk, chase and throw objects at them, accelerate vehicles to try to hit them, or place toxic substances in food to sicken or kill them. Somehow I can’t wrap my head or my heart around what part of this proposal is “humane.”
THE TRAP-NEUTER-RELEASE TAKEOVER
On Oct. 3, 2013, the L.A. City Bureau of Engineering released a “Notice of Intent to Adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration” on a project identified as, Citywide Cat Program (W.O. E1907610). This was the result of a required California Environmental Quality Act analysis which they conducted specifically to enable Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR).
The goal is to rid the city of a pesky injunction that resulted from a lawsuit by the Urban Wildlands Group regarding the negative effects of feral cats on the environment, including the impact on birds and wildlife, in an earlier TNR program. The injunction also stopped the misuse of city spay/neuter money designated for owned animals but being used to perform sterilization of stray cats and then dump them back into the streets.
Much of the concern by the Urban Wildlands Group was the fact that Los Angeles has never been interested in nor attempted to enact a program that addresses owner responsibility to not allow cats to roam and to require microchips so they cannot be abandoned without penalty. No such mitigating measure exists under the currently proposed “Cat Program” either. Merely trapping some of the abandoned animals and then abandoning them again after they are altered is proposed as a satisfactory solution.
In simplistic terms, the Bureau of Engineering, a city department and de facto defendant to that lawsuit, was paid through a city charitable fund (which we will discuss in Part 2) to develop a Mitigated Negative Declaration saying that it is now OK to do what the judge said the city cannot do.
The mitigation measure offered by the report is merely to exclude the formation of cat colonies on “environmentally sensitive areas or parks.” The rest of the city, including right next to your private yard, is open to feral cat colonies and their caretakers or feeders. There is no mitigation of the impact on the property owner or residents.
PROPOSED ‘FERAL CAT PROGRAM’ ELIMINATES CAT LIMITS FOR OUTDOOR CATS
The Project Description includes the establishment of a “Cat Program involving the citywide coordination of actions and activities that will accomplish increased spay/neuter of cats.” The proposed program also includes “increasing the number of cats that may be kept [per property] without a kennel permit to five cats; allowing the feeding of free-roaming cats in colonies, and exempting cat colony operators from cat kennel permit requirements.” (Thus feral cats and cat-colony operators do not need permission.)
If the “Cat Program” proposed by Los Angeles Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette is approved by city council and the mayor, feral cats can be established in a cat colony of dozens or even hundreds on any public property adjacent to your home or business, and you will have no right to remove them when they invade your nearby property. There will be a feral cat feeder who comes regularly to dump food at the “feeding” location to assure that the colony remains your close neighbor.
CATS BECOME VICTIMS OF COYOTES AND OTHER PREDATORS, INCLUDING HUMANS
Another sad consequence of feeding cats outdoors is that the food attracts other predators to whom the cats themselves become victims. These predators may include raccoons, birds of prey and — especially — coyotes. Anyone who has ever called the city’s Wildlife Specialist to complain about neighborhood pets being attacked and/or consumed by coyotes is told the number one deterrent is to not leave food outside. The “Cat Program,” therefore, violates the City’s own prohibition.
IS IT KIND TO TEACH FERAL CATS TO TRUST HUMANS?
Cats can increasingly become victims of those who do not want them in the community. By making stray animals dependent upon humans for food, we also remove their fear of humans who may harm them. Few communities would say that stray cats are “welcomed,” and because there are still carryovers of taboos about cats, unfortunately there are still those who wish to hurt them — just because they are cats. Thus, retaining their innate fear of other species (especially humans) is a self-preservation tool that is absolutely essential to homeless outdoor cats.
HOW HAS TRAP-NEUTER-RELEASE WORKED IN OTHER AREAS?
The feline group dwelling on Harding Blvd. is one of over 300 registered TNR cat colonies in the city, some of which exist on residential streets.
“The devastation and damage [the cats have] caused is incredible,” says long-time Harding Blvd. resident Jane Flanders. “I have to clean out half a recycling bag full of feces from my front lawn all the time. … They’re killing all the songbirds in my backyard.”
“About 13 feral cats that have been trapped and spayed or neutered were reportedly released to occupy the quaint boulevard near Kingston and Birchmount Roads. They use backyards as living rooms and front porches as urinals, residents report.”
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 , 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.