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Bad Move: L.A.'s Brenda Barnette Looks to Raise Dog/Cat Limits

Councilmen Rosendahl, Koretz introduce motion to increase allowable dogs/cats by 66%

Los Angeles may soon be literally going to the dogs….and cats, if City Councilmen Bill Rosendahl and Paul Koretz get their way.  They want to raise the current three cat/dog limit in Los Angeles to “…five dogs and/or five cats per resident,” according to the motion introduced in City Council on June 4, 2010.  And, with only one month on the job, new LA Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette agrees.  This will affect every person who lives, works or owns property in Los Angeles and will change a basic tenet of how animals are protected in Los Angeles.

After it recently became a hot media topic and people started asking questions, Barnette explained that they  really meant to say five dogs and/or five cats per “ household”—a nebulous term which still results in a 66-percent increase in allowed dogs and cats in  Los Angeles . 

Not that we don’t love them dearly (the dogs and cats), but at what point does someone’s right to have multiple cats and dogs in an urban community end, and the neighbors’ rights to peaceful enjoyment of life and safety  begin?  Many responsible, loving owners already have a few extra pets that are well cared for and create no problem. But, at what point does confinement of a large collection of animals in city residential property become inhumane to the animals themselves, regardless of good intentions? 

IF YOU LIVE IN LOS ANGELES and want to express your opinion, you can identify your Councilmember by entering your address in “Neighborhood Resources” at .

The premises of this  proposed ordinance is that it will  empty our shelters of strays and cause scofflaws who don’t pay for three (or fewer) dog licenses to pay for five, although there is no  explanation of what will  compel either to  occur, especially since the City just fired all its animal-licensing canvassers. 

There are some obvious glitches in the plan:

(1)    There is no guarantee that any additional animals will be adopted from shelters.  They can  be puppy-mill pets from pet stores or Internet sources (including smuggled animals), and they may come from backyard breeders.  Therefore, increasing the limit could just add to our pet overpopulation.

(2)    There is no way to restrict these additional pets to “responsible” homes.  Once a  law is changed, it applies to everyone.  The same people who are now neglecting/abusing three dogs and/or cats, leaving unwanted pets  in abandoned houses/apartments or  dumping  them in streets or shelters may soon have five, rather than three.  Changing this law means that dogs chained in junkyards and pit bulls being bred/raised in backyards for fighting can also be increased.  

(3)    Another consideration is that the larger the number of animals, the more dangerous and difficult it is for animal control and other law-enforcement officers to enter for inspections.

(4)    There is no assurance that any of these extra animals will be spayed or neutered.   Any increase in limits may merely stimulate breeding of  more pets to fill the newly created gap.   (All that is required to circumvent the City’s spay/neuter ordinance is to purchase a breeder’s permit and an unaltered dog license.)  

(5)    There is absolutely no indication that those who have three dogs and add two more will license any/all. (It is estimated that only 10 percent of L.A. city dogs are now licensed.)   And there is no registration for cats. 

(6)    Proponents claim the proposal will add $800,000 in licensing revenue  but provide  no indication of how this was calculated or will be enforced.  (On Sept. 15, GM Barnette offered, “…if 1/3 of the current families who license their dogs added one dog and one dog license, the annual revenue for the City at $20 per license would be $792,000 annually…”)   What about those who don’t license and get another dog, or two?


Two California jurisdictions are offered as evidence that increased or no dog/cat limits have NO  negative repercussions:  San Diego City/County (6 dogs/unlimited cats) and Santa Monica (no limits).   

Ms. Barnette stated recently that she has researched these areas and agrees.  However, apparently no one checked the dog bite attorneys’ blogs for California which chronicle media-reported attacks.  One shows that of 19 media-reported attacks statewide from October 2009 through April 2010, four were in San Diego.   Only one occurred in Los Angeles.

Then, on July 31, 2010, a two-year-old toddler was killed in a San Diego home by the family’s dog while his siblings may have watched.   http

Randy Walton, of the Walton Law Firm, which represents San Diego dog bite victims, writes, “Dog Bites a Major Problem in San Diego County.” 

“According to statistics, there were 2,277 dog bites last year in San Diego County, but the actual numbers are more likely twice that amount, as most bites occur on people who know the dog's owner personally and fail to report the event.”

On November 5, 2009, he cited, “ 11-year-old middle school student in Vista, was viciously attacked by two Rottweilers while walking home from school…[he] suffered approximately 40 bites on his arms, chest, hand, and stomach…”  

And, on June 12, 2010, Walton adds, “Mail Carrier Dies after Dog Attack… a postal worker died last week after suffering blunt head trauma while [walking].on his postal route in Oceanside, when he encountered a large dog, possibly a Rottweiler…it appears that in his effort to avoid the dog, Mr. Lin fell and struck his head, causing the fatal head injury.”

San Diego is also grappling with animal hoarding according to a July 7, 2010, news report

A heartbreaking  slideshow was put together by San Diego animal control from photos of various cases,  with the caption:  “WARNING: DISTURBING IMAGES -- San Diego County Animal Services releases photos from ‘animal hoarding’ cases.”  Animal Hoarding Cases | NBC San Diego

 The other city cited as a comparison for “no limits” is Santa Monica, an affluent coastal area  with an estimated population of around 87,000, median income per family approximately $100,000, and reported as one of the most educated cities in the nation, with 23.8 percent of all residents holding graduate degrees. magazines/moneymag/ bplive/2006/top25s/educated.html

This may not be the best benchmark for Los Angeles, which has an estimated population of approximately  4,000,000 and a median family income of around $39,000.   The Santa Monica City Manager’s office stated by phone that the Police Dept./Animal Control Division will be issuing a  report around the end of the year on a current review of their animal limits.  There was no indication of what it contains.


It may have just been another oversight that the animal-increase proposal by Rosendahl/Koretz  neglected to request an Environmental Impact Report  regarding  effects on the community, wildlife, and the additional canine and feline bio-products  that will either enter our storm drains or end up in landfills, largely packaged in those offensive non-green plastic bags Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa abhors!  

It also overlooked notification to homeowners, apartment owners, businesses,  neighborhood councils and  other city stakeholders.  Nor did it seek  input from Planning/Zoning, Public Works/Sanitation,  L.A. Police and Fire departments, and emergency medical response,  or other agencies whose employees enter private property where  increased dogs might be kept; such as, meter readers and mail carriers.   It appears even L.A. Animal Services wasn’t asked for a preliminary report.

Los Angeles currently has one of the most generous pet-limit allowances in the area at three dogs and/or three cats.  For protection of residential communities, city zoning code requires anyone with over three dogs/three cats  to obtain a kennel permit.and specifies a kennel must be located at least 500 feet  from residential property.  Thus the proposed animal-limit change by Rosendahl and Koretz would require an entire revision of how private homes are protected from commercial animal enterprises in Los Angeles. You’d have thought that warranted at least a heads up to the Planning Department!


This brings up other practical issues.  I know money should not raise its ugly head in a discussion of   “saving animals’ lives,” but if this motion is adopted and you own property of any kind in Los Angeles, you could find the value and/or your ability to rent or sell determined or severely  impacted  by your neighbors’ decisions  on  how many dogs and cats they want and how they care for them.  

If barking dogs keep you (or your tenants) awake or the neighbors’ cats use your front yard as their litter box, you might not be able to complain that they “have too many,” which currently can generate at least a cursory investigation and maybe a warning to the offending petowner by L.A. Animal Services.  There are  strong  indications that such issues as barking and other nuisances would instead increasingly need to be handled by civil actions. 

Ms. Barnette writes on Sept. 15:

“We are working on strengthening and clarifying the “terms and conditions” that our hearing officer can impose if there are problems with barking dogs such as reducing the number of dogs allowed in a home up to and including ruling that no dogs can be in the home.”

This is how LAAS has traditionally handled barking issues.  However, when you’re talking about confiscating someone’s dog and taking  it to the shelter, it isn’t going to happen.  Plus, the legal appeals process can take years.  That is why, where animals are concerned,  laws must be written and maintained to AVOID the problem as much as possible. 


Increasing pet limits as proposed can have a profound effect on the health and safety of humans and other animals in a community.  Here are a few of the issues that can go wrong for both pets and people:

  • Many who get extra pets may be totally unprepared for the changes in dynamics that can occur in their home.  They may endanger themselves, their families, and/ or existing pets by their lack of experience  in selecting, introducing, and integrating a new pet.
  • Many who get an extra pet will not be aware that the real display of temperament and rivalry among animals may not be apparent for at least several weeks after introduction.  They also may not realize that their own pet(s)  may react in an unexpected manner to a newcomer, often not immediately.
  • Many may not be able to afford the care of additional pets and may end up neglecting medical or other important care issues.
  • Many people have sensitivities or allergies to dogs/cats that are only triggered by higher exposure levels.  
  • Confining a large number of animals together increases their stress level--often weakening their immune systems and exacerbating  the spread of airborne and other diseases.  
  • Canine (or feline) rivalry commonly escalates with a larger  number of pets and results in frequent fights and injuries—often in death of one or more of the animals.
  • Pets in multiples frequently find a ways to escape from yards and roam as a pack within and   beyond their own community, which creates a greater likelihood  they may be hurt or killed in traffic, or pedestrians may be menaced or attacked.   This is a more serious issue today, considering the current passion to own large numbers of aggressive-breed dogs.
  •  What will happen if police/fire/emergency medical units respond to calls for assistance and are endangered by five aggressive-breed dogs in a yard?  (Three dogs are usually—not always--more manageable.  It is almost impossible to get the attention or stop the actions of five dogs, even if you are an experienced dog handler.)
  • If you are thinking of adding to your pet family, be sure to check with your insurance company because several of them have already expressed some reservations.  If they continue your coverage, they may include pet exclusion clauses such as that just upheld by the appellate court.
  • Even if you are a professional and/or very experienced, it requires a full-time superperson to control and adequately care for ten animals, or a lot of crating (which is questionably humane to the pet).


Brenda Barnette  was able to accomplish one remarkable task within her first month in Los Angeles.  At the  September 16 Town Hall meeting, the attending rescuers and  breeders were  pulling  in a double harness  (figuratively speaking, of course). 

These were the two groups that filled the East Valley Animal Shelter community room in seemingly equal proportion and engaged in several hours of mutual adulation, sounding Ms. Barnette’s  praises and cheering  for “NO limits.”  Only a handful identified themselves  as living in the city of Los Angeles.  

One  local  homeowner opposed  the idea, calling it “hairbrained.”  The general tenor of the responses was that neighbors would just have to live with any  increased barking and, since there could be a lot more cats roaming around, if you don’t like them in your garden, you’ll just get used to it—because this is coming, whether you like it or not! 

It is important, regardless of differences in opinion, to commend the very hard and sad work done by responsible rescuers who dedicate their lives and resources  to animals.  And, because there will always be a demand for purebred animals, we must appreciate the commitment of truly responsible local breeders who only breed  occasional and well-planned  litters with prior reservations by approved homes, require spay/neuter for all non-show-quality pets, and take back any animal that is unwanted  so that it will not be dumped in the shelter.  

But, if someone is operating a  puppy mill from a residence, the laws of the city should not be changed to make it legal any more than any other business that must be conducted in proper, non-residential zoning.


So who—besides breeders and rescuers—is in support and who’s opposed so far?   A local blogger who wants more cats appeared in the Daily News article on Sept 16, “Number of Dogs and Cats in Homes may Increase,” in strong support.

Most  local news sources seem to be taking a “wait and see” approach.  However, the Valley-based Los Angeles Daily News started getting the word out by first proposing a Question of the Week, “Should the city increase amount of allowable pets per household from three to five?” which did not receive a resounding endorsement from readers for an across-the-board increase (August 1,2010).   On August 5, 2010, the L.A. Daily News also ran a guest editorial entitled “More Isn’t Better for House Pets.”

One Los Angeles Neighborhood Council and the Filipinotown Chamber of Commerce, in addition to the Apartment Association of Los Angeles, have filed opposition letters to such a potentially large number of animals being added to the pet population in low-income areas and the possible impact of greater numbers of stray animals and dog packs on residents and businesses.

Councilmen Bill Rosendahl, who claims he was a dog breeder and now wants two more cats, and Paul Koretz, who presents shelter cats for adoption on televised Council programs, have been uncustomarily  silent.  Neither responded  to requests for comments to the Daily News, according to reporter Dana Bartholomew;  and Koretz skipped a one-on-one debate with an animal advocate with an opposing view on KTTV-Fox News on Saturday, September 18, 2010.


 Last year L.A. Animal Services had one of the lowest euthanasia rates in California, according to Animal People, a worldwide publication which charts shelter statistics.   And, dog/cat adoptions have increased almost 60 percent from 2005 to 2009.

So what is the compelling reason for this rush?   Shouldn’t we wait until we are sure new GM Brenda Barnette can do this job?  She just moved to Los Angeles and she has never worked for an animal-control agency.  The transition from an AKC Legislative Representative and Humane Society Director to an animal control manager is a culture shock.   Shouldn’t she take some time to acclimate before deciding what is good policy for Los Angeles and its pets?


On September 15, 2010, Ms. Barnette e-mailed a page of points for those who attended her Town Hall Meeting on September 16 (the meeting packed with breeders and rescuers).  One statement was, “Selling additional dog licenses because of an increased pet limit could provide significant annual income for the Department.”

She also contends:

“There are philosophical elements that some may want to consider such as how much control the government should have over citizens’ personal lives.  For example, we do not mandate how many children a family can have even though they may not be able to afford to give their children what they need and deserve.”

Ms. Barnette needs to understand that she now is “government.” It is her job as the head of one of the nation’s largest public animal-protection agencies to assure that we do not endanger pets just to generate more licensing revenue.  Maintaining control over the number of pets someone has in Los Angeles is not ‘an invasion of their person lives,’ but the most effective tool we have to assure they can give their pets “what they need and deserve.”

What would you tell Ms. Barnette or the City Council about raising pet limits now?


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