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Brenda Barnette: L.A. Animal Shelter Giveaway to Best Friends a Gift of Public Funds?

On August 4, 2011, Los Angeles Police Department officers conducted an unannounced early-morning weapons raid on all six L.A. City animal shelters, initiated by Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette, who sent a note with the police telling her employees, “Please give LAPD any and all hand guns, rifles, shotguns and ammunition that are at your shelter.”

Was this shocking LAPD removal of all LAAS’ weapons just an “inventory,” as Ms. Barnette later told reporters in the resulting media frenzy? Or was it a ploy by Barnette to erode public and officials’ confidence in LAAS employees and cover up her own inability to effectively manage this City department?

Impounds are at “record rates” according to Barnette—who has not promoted the City’s spay/neuter laws or licensing. Euthanasia rates are climbing. Ms. Barnette admitted at the last Commission meeting that she now must euthanize for time and space. Adoptions are plummeting. One Councilman recently stated that all he saw at the prestigious West Valley shelter were pit bulls when he went to adopt a dog. And, it is almost impossible to search for a lost dog on Barnette’s new LAAS website,

Barnette Backs Off

At 2:30 a.m. on August 5, less than 24 hours after the police “raid,” Ms. Barnette posted an employee bulletin regarding her afternoon meeting with SEIU union and City personnel officials. “They ask [sic] me to make it clear to everyone that this is an inventory and not an investigation...If there are deficiencies, they will be deemed the fault of management and we will work to make any necessary correction.”

Was “Weapons Raid” A Smokescreen To Cover Best Friends’ Takeover?

Was this full-blown “weapons raid” also a smokescreen to divert taxpayers' attention from the City’s proposed rent-free/utilities-paid, three-year gift of use of the $19-million bond-funded Northeast Valley shelter as a private adoption center by Best Friends Animal Society--an organization with which Barnette has had a long association, and an item scheduled for City Council vote on August 12 and continued to August 16?

While Animal Services officers struggled to minimize the suffering of severely injured wildlife without the firearms required for humane field euthanasia, Best Friends—which reported a 2009 income of $51 million--held an August 6 event in West Hollywood for “No More Homeless Pets.” GM Barnette and Animal Services Commissioner Terri Macellaro are listed on the Steering Committee, along with others who testified for this proposal at the August 12 meeting.

The invitation was sent to a select group of L.A. animal-rescuers and proclaims, “We have come together to give you funding incentives…” Reportedly this includes $100 per animal a rescuer takes from an L.A. City shelter and adopts to a home, above the rescuer's prior-year adoption total.

Then on August 10 a Best Friends’ e-mail was sent, entitled, “Contact your city council member and ask them to support Best Friends.” It reads, “Please take a moment to contact your city council member and ask him or her to support Best Friends’ proposal to operate the North East Valley shelter…”

Why Would Barnette Want to Give Away Our Shelter?

At the August 12 hearing, the City Council considered the Best Friends takeover of the Northeast Valley shelter to create an adoption center for about 50 of the most desirable pets selected from other City animal shelters. The Council wanted to postpone the item to September. Ms. Barnette told them that without Best Friends, animals will die. She estimated in a “the-sky-is-falling” presentation that at least 240 animals would be euthanized during a 30-day continuation of this item.

She failed to mention that up to 15,000 animals, or about 50% of the impounds per year which overcrowd the East and West Valley shelters, are from the Northeast Valley service area. This expedites euthanasia of thousands of animals because of limited shelter capacity. These pets could be held longer and have a much better chance for adoption if the Northeast Valley shelter is opened by the City even at reduced hours.

This is not necessarily just an animal issue; it is a management issue. Giving away a shelter will only make it worse. Moving the most desirable pets to the proposed Best Friends adoption center will discourage adopters from visiting their local shelter.

Barnette also ignored that the Northeast Valley shelter was constructed with equine and livestock-keeping capabilities specifically to meet the needs of a uniquely rural area. These facilities were intentionally NOT incorporated into the East or West Valley shelters construction, because these shelters were never intended to operate without each other.

The Northeast Valley animal shelter has the potential to hold up to 900 animals of all species. It serves a large low-income area with a huge and dangerous problem created by stray and packing dogs, especially pit bulls. Increased animal control in the community and a closer location for relinquishments, stray-animal acceptance and redemption of lost pets is critical to residents and animals.

Why Is Northeast Valley Being Treated Differently?

The Northeast Valley should NOT be treated differently from any other area of Los Angeles. Much of its population is hard-working, lower-income families who do not have the time nor resources to attend meetings and organizing efforts to save their shelter. They should not be punished for this. NO other area of the City faces a give-away of its animal shelter.

The limited adoptions and education programs proposed by Best Friends Animal Society do NOT constitute the full public services badly needed and provide NO additional animal control field services to this under-served community which is, and will continue, paying its share of the Prop. F $154 milllion, bonded indebtedness for many years.

Gift of Public Funds?

In the opinion of an increasing number of Los Angeles taxpayers, the proposed contract with Best Friends Animal Sanctuary constitutes a gift of public funds and possibly indicates that Proposition F was a misrepresentation to the voters.

The 2000 Prop. F. Ballot clearly states: “The number of animal shelters—6 for the entire City—does not meet the health care requirements set by the State.”

If this is not true--if the Northeast Valley shelter, which is shelter #7-- is NOT needed to meet State health requirements by housing stray animals from that community, then the $19 million paid by property owners for this shelter should be refunded.

A member of the legal community questioned whether this is a misrepresentation of law or a misuse of resources by the City—or both.

Keeping Our Shelter

Because at least 50% (about 15,000 per year) of the animals at the East and West Valley shelters come from the service area of the Northeast Valley, opening this shelter at least four days a week would decrease the need for staffing and resources at both those shelters and also reduce their budgets. The combined savings, plus an effective licensing program, would support services at the Northeast shelter (both dogs and horses are licensed by LA City.)

By equitably dividing shelter budgets, the Northeast Valley shelter could enable thousands of animals to be saved by a longer hold period, rather than being euthanized for time and space.

Hopefully, the Los Angeles City Council has the clarity to see through the media drama and remember that Los Angeles MUST provide ALL care needed and promised for homeless animals.

And, hopefully, more Los Angeles City and Valley residents will contact their representatives by August 16, 2011, and demand what they are paying for.

Animal care and control by the City is not an option but a State mandate. We must pick up stray animals and provide rabies control. This is a core service!

L.A. Animals Services' staff has continued to provide these core services through disasters, budget cuts, activist attacks and a series of incompetent managers.

Brenda Barnette was hired to run all the City shelters, including the Northeast Valley. It appears she is not considering options to fulfill her employment obligation.

Why is Barnette so determined to give away our shelter to Best Friends?


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