On Friday, August 29, at approximately 6:30 a.m., a 15-year-veteran female L.A. City Animal Control Officer (ACO) was working alone on graveyard shift and was seriously injured while responding to a call that two very aggressive Pit Bulls had entered a backyard in Eagle Rock and attacked a Husky. The owner reported he had brought his dog inside but was being "held hostage" by the dogs and could not leave his house to take his injured pet for veterinary care.
Both dogs charged the officer as she arrived and found them entering another yard. She said she was not quite close enough to contain them by closing the open gate before they ran directly toward her. She identified them as American Bulldogs—originally bred to catch and hold wild boars and described by Wikipedia as “capable of jumping in excess of seven feet vertical due to the dense muscle build of the breed.”
The officer described how she managed to secure one dog on a catch pole; then the second, 90-pound dog launched a vicious assault on her, lunging for her leg, but managing only to get her pant leg and inflict a flesh wound. As she struggled to keep her balance and hold the other dog under control, he bit her wrist before sinking his teeth into her hand, which began to bleed profusely.
Not only was there no ACO with her for backup on the night shift, there was also no one at the shelter at that time to answer the phone or come to assist her. She said she didn’t hit the emergency button on her radio, because past experience taught her it goes nowhere! With her injured hand, she tried on her cell phone to reach anyone at LAAS, but no one answered. A terrified witness called 911 for LAPD assistance, at the officer’s request.
The injured officer said she managed to get the dogs confined in adjoining yards and pushed trash cans to cover the opening. Despite increasing pain and continued bleeding, she confined the dogs until LAPD arrived--20 minutes later.
She said her greatest fear was that, if the agitated dogs got loose, they could attack an innocent resident—possibly someone catching a bus to go to work or a child walking to school.
Brenda Barnette, Los Angeles Animal Services General Manager reported on the incident and the injuries to the officer at the Animal Services Commission meeting the following Tuesday but did not indicate that the department would be reviewing its policy of having only one Animal Control Officer covering half of the entire Los Angeles area at night alone. Nor did she mention any intention to explore remedies to the fact that there is an admitted 30-minute gap before the day shift arrives---during which time there is no officer or supervisor to notify or assist in an emergency.
HOW MUCH SAFETY DOES L.A. ANIMAL SERVICES PROVIDE FOR RESIDENTS?
Despite an annual budget of close to $20 million and much boasting about reducing impounds (number of homeless, stray, injured, sick, abandoned or unwanted animals accepted at the City’s shelters), there seems to be a disconnect about the fact that understaffing Animal Control Officers results in more danger to both animals and humans. Not hiring enough officers to pick up menacing or vicious animals may keep down the statistics so that it appears the current management is resolving the pet-overpopulation problem, but it can also result in more attacks on pets and people.
If City residents think they are safe from attack by aggressive dogs, which are traditionally released by some owners to roam at night, here’s the startling reality. There are only two (2) Animal Control Officers covering the entire City on the graveyard shift.
One Officer works out of the North Central (Highland Park) shelter covering all areas south to the Harbor (San Pedro), east to Boyle Heights; west to Universal City, including Beverly Hills, WLA, Mar Vista and Rancho Palos Verdes.
Another night-shift ACO in the Valley covers all of the West Valley, from Calabasas, through cities including Van Nuys, Arleta, Pacoima and Chatsworth, plus the entire East Valley, to Barham Blvd. in Universal City.
Their calls include abused, abandoned, injured, stray, dangerous animals; pets or wildlife hit by cars, and often deer injured crossing freeways or impaled on fences.
With all the recent media hype about the alleged spectacular “No Kill” performance by Brenda Barnette and Best Friends Animal Society, and with 9,000 LAPD officers, why would only two unarmed Animal Control Officers be assigned for all of Los Angeles at night, with no partner to help capture dangerous and injured animals often in crime-plagued communities?
L.A. COUNTY EMPLOYS THREE TIMES AS MANY ANIMAL CONTROL OFFICERS
L.A. City has a total of less than 50 officers on field duty to provide 24-hour, 7-day service from six shelters, covering 469 square miles and 4 million people. L. A. County has over 150 ACO’s to cover the same approximate area and population.
The problem of insufficient officers to protect the residents and animals of Los Angeles City was discussed by Director of Field Operations Mark Salazar at the September 23, 2014, Commission meeting, who ignored a golden opportunity to use the recent injury to the Animal Control Officer to prioritize the need for more officers.
Although Salazar admitted that very often there is only one officer in each of the city’s six districts, and that last year the Department received almost 78,000 requests for service, he did not provide information on the prolonged lengths of time before the single officer per district can respond to calls for assistance for injured animals, humane investigations for abuse and cruelty, or response to dog bites or attacks killing pets or other animals.
To show exactly how little protection/service is provided to the public—not because of a lack of diligence or dedication by officers, but because of lack of staff--on the day Mark Salazar was at the Commission meeting, the LAAS database reportedly showed that the North Central and South L.A. districts each had only one officer—that is a total of TWO officers for 1,763,331 people. At that same time, the West Valley and Harbor Districts also had only one officer each—serving a combined population of 994,806.
DOES CITY MANAGEMENT CARE ABOUT THE SAFETY OF ANIMAL CONTROL OFFICERS AND CITY RESIDENTS?
How much concern did L.A. Animal Services management, the Mayor and the City Council express about the injured Animal Control Officer? I decided to do a personal survey of responses to an incident that could easily have been a line-of-duty fatality.
At the Commission meeting following the attack, General Manager Brenda Barnette did not deny or respond to my announcement that, according to the injured officer, the General Manager had made no personal call nor had anyone from her immediate staff inquire about her.
The officer also said that Director of Field Operations, Mark Salazar--directly responsible for Animal Control Officers--did not call her for seven days after she was attacked to ask how she was doing. Nor did her plight spur GM Barnette or DFO Salazar to appear in City Council to demand more officers to safely run this important public-safety department.
I then decided to take the issue directly to the City Council at their meeting on September 16, thinking they would be dismayed at the attack on the officer and be shocked at the lack of staffing. I spoke at “general public comment” at the end of a long meeting. A few Council members paid begrudging or tacit attention during the two minutes I was allotted to speak about the alarming injury to the officer and the enlightenment this brings to the dangers to City residents and their pets.
Other Council members continued their personal or phone conversations, although I had advised them during the first five seconds that a serious incident had occurred to a city employee--something which could happen to their constituents or their children. Afterward not one elected official sent a deputy to ask any questions on how they could follow up or to inquire about the recovery of the officer.
FOUR SERIOUS DOG ATTACKS SHOULD BE ENOUGH WARNING FOR CITY OFFICIALS
In addition to the attack on the Los Angeles City Animal Control Officer (whose name is being withheld for her privacy, although she was willing to be identified), there are many reports of dog bites and almost daily reports of dog-on-dog or dog-on-cat attacks in which beloved pets are badly injured or killed before their owner’s eyes.
Here are a few serious incidents have received public attention in Los Angeles in the past year:
On June 23, 2013, two pit bulls were impounded at the L.A. Harbor Animal Shelter after attacking and killing two dogs—one was a Chihuahua—in two separate incidents while each was being walked on leash by its owner.
On March 11, 2014, a 29-year-old man appeared before the Board of Animal Services Commissioners, pleading for them to uphold the Dangerous Animal License Revocation decision for a pit bull that had attacked him while he was jogging in the East Valley. Among the severe injuries from which he said he was recovering was the loss of a testicle, ripped off by the dog as he was mauled on the street in a daytime attack. He described the trauma of not knowing if he would ever be able to have children and told how the incident had affected him, both physically and emotionally.
On February 16, 2014, Stephen Elliott and Howard Fox were walking with their adorable six-month-old Yorkshire terrier, Vargas, on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City. Suddenly, out of a shop a few doors away, a large pit bull bolted in their direction. Howard saw the dog racing toward them and tried to shout a warning to protect his partner and their pet. But he was recovering from serious back surgery just six weeks earlier and was in a brace. The pit bull lunged for Vargas and grabbed the helpless puppy.
Stephen's was bitten as he reached down to try to save Vargas. Rusty was knocked to the ground when he tried to poke the pit bull in the face with his cane--in an effort to rescue Vargas, who had to be put down on the advice of the veterinarian because of the extent of his injuries. “I saw my dog Vargas mauled in front of us and heard his screams of terror and pain as he was crushed in the dog's jaws,” Howard told me.
L.A. ANIMAL SERVICES COMMISSION OFFERS HOPE
To their credit, the Animal Services Commissioners seem sincerely concerned. But, since they serve at the pleasure of Mayor Garcetti, will they be strong enough to demand that the Mayor and Council immediately address the lack of Animal Control Officers, the endangerment to existing personnel and L.A. animals and residents? Or will we have to wait until more animal lives are lost and possibly a human or two before the issue is taken seriously?
A speaker at the September 23 Commission meeting stated that, at an annual salary of $211,000 per year, General Manager Brenda Barnett is paid more than members of Congress and roughly half the salary of the President of the United States. Yet, the City department she heads has less than 400 employees. It is time for her to stand up for her employees who risk their lives for animals and public safety daily and not passively whine about her budget as an excuse to endanger them.
The City can obviously afford Ms. Barnette’s salary because the Mayor recently re-hired her under his new administration. Los Angeles can also afford enough Animal Control Officers to fulfill the City’s obligation to taxpayers and its two- and four-legged constituents.
But Los Angeles cannot afford to wait until a human life is lost to bring Animal Services’ field staffing up to a safe level. The only unanswered question is--does anyone in City management really care?
Sources: LA Animal Services, Wikipedia, OV, and a personal Interview with L.A. Services Animal Control Officer (name withheld but release approved by officer) Injured by Dog Attack and review with permission to publish (9/18/2014)