Citing an urgent shortage of resources to properly care for animals in the city’s care, Councilman Paul Koretz on Tuesday introduced a motion asking Los Angeles officials to determine budget needs to staff seven animal shelters.
Koretz’s motion — which came as the board committee he chairs received another public ear on the challenges facing shelters — calls on the Department of Animal Services and other relevant departments and stakeholders to city to report in 60 days on the city’s percentage. annual General Fund expenditures required to staff shelters and increase hours of operation.
It would also explore additional financing options such as a possible parcel or sales tax, and options for the use of general obligation bonds.
Koretz said the city only has enough money from the General Fund to operate four shelters, instead of the six it currently runs, plus a seventh operated under contract with a nonprofit group.
“Under municipal law … fundraising and grant-seeking efforts cannot be used to pay staff, so resolving the issue becomes a matter of formal budgeting,” the motion reads.
“The Animal Service is one of the few municipal services whose staff is directly responsible for the care of living beings. As such, while the city has been a national leader in animal welfare policy for the past two decades, a more reliable way to fund DAS should be a priority going forward,” he continues.
The board’s personnel, audits and animal welfare committee has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday to follow up on an emergency session in July, in which the head of animal services in Los Angeles blamed insufficient staffing levels for issues including dogs living in overcrowded conditions while sometimes going weeks or months without being walked.
Callers to both meetings lamented alleged animal neglect and understaffing at city facilities, and accused the department of firing several volunteers for reporting various issues at shelters in a Los Angeles Times article. in July which largely exposed the problems.
A caller on Tuesday said he had recently gone to the West Los Angeles shelter to adopt a guinea pig, had been unable to find a shelter employee to help him, and had observed dirty conditions in guinea pig and rabbit enclosures.
“I left the shelter very concerned about how the animals are surviving in these conditions,” he said.
Some complained the issues were known long before the Times article, and a few said Mayor Eric Garcetti should shoulder some of the blame with the committee.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on shelter staffing. Acting chief executive Annette Ramirez told the committee at last month’s emergency meeting that 58 staff members were absent due to exposure to COVID-19 or testing positive.
At last week’s Los Angeles Animal Services Commission meeting, Ramirez said 42 staff members were on leave due to COVID-19 during the week of July 25-31, up from 48 the previous week.
The problem has been exacerbated by a City of Los Angeles policy that offers city employees exposed to COVID-19 the option of taking 10 days of paid leave even if they don’t have symptoms. This policy goes beyond current recommendations from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. And last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its COVID guidelines and no longer recommends quarantine for people exposed to the virus if they show no symptoms.
Ramirez added last week that the department is currently trying to fill 24 vacancies for veterinary technicians.
The complaints extend beyond the issue of dog walking. Adequate cooling during the hot summer months is a concern, with Ramirez telling the LAAS Commission last week that only the West Valley refuge has air conditioning.
Callers to the August 9 commission meeting described difficult conditions at animal shelters, with insufficient staff to meet demands.
“There was no supervisor, no clerk to process paperwork, there were only four ACTs, two of them on light duty, one ACT was from another shelter and had to help the medical team. This left an ACT to care for over 300 animals,” said a caller of his visit to a shelter on a recent Sunday. “There was only one ACT on the swing. … He’s not all simply not possible to provide basic care and ensure that all of these animals are fed and live in clean environments with numbers like this.
But Commission Chairman Larry Gross refuted those charges, saying he had personally visited five of the city’s six shelters recently, “without notice and without identification.”
“I walked around the kennels, talked to volunteers and staff. I found that in general we have challenges, but overall our kennels and shelters were extremely clean. I didn’t find any animals in distress there,” Gross said.