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Is Mayor Villaraigosa 'Sacrificing' an L.A. Animal Shelter?

According to statements by various Los Angeles city officials, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wants the Northeast Valley Animal Shelter in Mission Hills turned over to Best Friends Animal Society because of budget cuts. What happened to his “shared sacrifice” concept that allowed L.A. Police and Fire Departments to keep all stations open merely by slightly lowering staffing and equipment levels? 

Dividing the L.A. Animal Services budget so that all six existing shelters are open a few less hours would provide the funding for the Valley’s “Mission” Animal Care Center--located in one of the most animal-dense and under-served areas of Los Angeles--so it can provide essential public services for local pets and their owners.

Under the Mayor’s current plan for the Mission shelter, the City would turn over this new $19 million state-of-the-art animal shelter to Best Friends for $1 a year.  In return, Best Friends would reportedly conduct from that location adoptions of a small number of desirable pets brought from the other six City shelters.  

There is even further bewildering incongruity in this proposal.  Cash-strapped Los Angeles would reportedly pay for  maintenance, security, and utilities for Best Friends, a non-profit corporation which received over $51 million in income in 2009, according to its IRS report.  This part of the “shared sacrifice” would come directly out of Los Angeles taxpayers’ pockets.

But, wait, there’s more. The Mission animal-care facility is part of the $154-million, Prop. “F” bond funds approved by voters in 2001 for new animal shelters and renovations of existing shelters all over Los Angeles.  This is still being paid by city property owners, many of whom are losing their own homes in a faltering economy.

Prop “F” promised that expanding existing animal shelters and building new facilities in pet-overpopulated, lower-income communities would reduce the danger and menace of stray and packing dog in the streets, lower euthanasia, and provide additional opportunities for adoptions of shelter animals in these areas.

On the surface, the Best Friends’ plan might sound like a warm-and-fuzzy (albeit inequitable) public-private “partnership, but would it really even benefit animal adoptions?

At a recent Best Friends “Super Adoption Event” at the La Brea Tar Pits, on May 21-22, reportedly 18 shelters and 50 rescue groups brought almost 1,300 animals needing homes. But Best Friends’ reports that only 284 animals were adopted to the public.  That factors out at about four per shelter or organization.  This is much lower than a usual weekend at a shelter, where 20+ dogs/cats are easily adopted from most facilities over two days.

There was no shortage of media attention for this event, and the Mayor’s girlfriend, Lu Parker, gave it a nice, long plug on KTLA-5 News. (Best Friends is, coincidentally, the only animal society on the Lu Parker Project website under “Helpful Links.”) 

So, this very low pet-adoption rate could be an indication that people like to adopt at their local shelter--if the right pets are available--and that moving those pets to the remote Northeast Valley might not enhance their chances.

The animals and residents of Pacoima, Arleta, Lakeview Terrace, Sylmar and Mission Hills are among those who would be served by the Mission shelter.  Pacoima and Sylmar were recently designated by the Heigl Foundation for $50,000 in free spay/neuter of pit bulls and pit mixes, based on a survey of which areas should be primary targets to reduce the approximately 60% pit bull impound rate citywide.

Several senior officers estimate that at least 50 percent of the relinquished and stray pets in the overcrowded East Valley and West Valley shelters are from the area that would—and should—be served by the  Mission shelter.  So, not utilizing this shelter for its intended purpose has a negative impact on residents of the entire San Fernando Valley.

Since its completion in 2007, the Mission shelter has never been fully staffed and has been used to house evidence animals confiscated in cruelty and neglect cases and to isolate nursing animal-moms with litters.  It also served as an animal-evacuation refuge during the fierce 2008 fires that engulfed much of the Valley and adjacent forest areas.

In a June 17, 2011, Los Angeles Daily News article entitled, “More blazes are expected this season”, L. A. City Fire Department Deputy Chief Mario Rueda said, “The Valley has had its share of wildfires but remains at risk of experiencing more…In 2008, we had several significant fires across the north face of the San Fernando Valley but we still have quite a few areas that have not burned…” 

Is the Valley agreeable to a “sacrifice” that removes all City staffing from a critical location and gives up a new public facility that can house up to 900 animals in any major disaster?

Councilman Richard Alarcon, who represents most of the Northeast Valley area, has objected to not fully opening, and now “giving away,” the long-awaited animal shelter designed for the special needs of the  rural area of the San Fernando Valley with a large equine population--in other words, a lot of horses!

The Councilman proposes that the budgetary problems can be resolved by applying the same “shared sacrifice” that the Mayor encouraged for other public-safety agencies; i.e., Los Angeles Police and Fire Departments, to apportion their budgets so that there are decreases in some services at each station but all are operating for the protection and convenience of surrounding communities.

Why wasn’t this immediately embraced by the Mayor’s office and City Council as the obvious and practical way for L.A. Animal Services to provide animal and public-safety in an area near the center of most of Los Angeles’ recent, and anticipated, disasters?


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