NC BUDGET ADVOCATES-Our first article, published on April 25, 2019, discussed the role of the Los Angeles Animal Services Department (LAAS) and the status of its No-Kill goal for dogs in the City animal shelters. The second article, dated May 2, 2019, dealt with the No-Kill goal for cats and the role of the Budget Advocates in the City budget process.
The third article, posted on May 13, 2019, gave specific budget proposals to achieve and maintain No-Kill in the City animal shelters. This article discusses the specific budget proposals made by the Budget Advocates to increase volunteer support for the City animal shelters and provide adequate staffing.
In order to achieve and maintain the City’s No-Kill goal, provide humane treatment for the animals in the City shelters, and adequately provide for public safety and services, the LAAS budget should be modestly increased to include the following:
Increase Volunteer Support for the Shelters
- LAAS Volunteer Liaisons. LAAS volunteers provide tens thousands of hours of free work for the Department. In 2018, LAAS Volunteers worked 91,857 hours. Without volunteers, it would cost the City significant additional funds to run the shelters. Volunteers greatly improve the quality of life of the animals in the shelters, taking them for walks, providing training, bringing dogs into play groups where they learn to get along with other dogs, caring for the animals, and assisting with adoptions. Because of the shortage of Animal Care Technicians (ACTs), the animals would receive very little of this care if it were not for the volunteers. Increased numbers of volunteers and efficient utilization of their time has markedly improved over the last year, with the hiring of the Director of Volunteer Programs and the temporary assignment of an Animal Care Technician (ACT) to serve as a Volunteer Liaison at each Shelter. However, there are still many people who would like to become volunteers and volunteers who are dropping out and/or not completing training. The City and the animals are still losing out on thousands of free volunteer hours.
LAAS has requested funding for six new Animal Care Technician (ACT) positions, to replace the six ACTs who are currently acting as Volunteer Liaisons at each shelter. The Volunteer Program has grown tremendously since LAAS instituted the Volunteer Liaisons. But this leaves a void in the completion of regular ACT duties in each of the shelters. It would be a tremendous loss to the volunteer program and to the shelters if the ACTs serving as Volunteer Liaisons could not continue to do so, because of the shortage of ACTs. At the City Council Budget Committee hearing on May 6, the Volunteer Liaison for the West Valley Shelter, Charla Fales, related her own personal experience when, in the past, she was taken away from performing duties as a Volunteer Liaison at the West LA Shelter, and had to go back to performing regular ACT duties. The number of volunteers at that shelter dropped from 177 to 51. Think of the loss to the City this entailed, and the much greater loss that will result if the Volunteer Liaisons at all six shelters have to go back to performing ACT duties.
The Volunteer Liaisons also perform an essential safety function. As well as providing safety training for the volunteers, one of the tasks of the Volunteer Liaisons is to level (rate) the dogs on the difficulty of handling them, to match the levels of the volunteers. There are Level 1, 2, and 3 dogs and volunteers. Especially for new volunteers, it is important that they not try to take a dog out of the kennel that is above their level. I’ve been a volunteer at the West Valley Shelter for almost 7 years, and on occasion I still ask the Volunteer Liaison for help in getting a new Level 3 dog or un-leveled dog out of its kennel the first time. The Volunteer Liaison positions are essential to attracting, maintaining, and training volunteers, and to increasing volunteer safety; these positions should be made permanent full-time positions. Six additional ACTs should be hired to replace the ACTs currently serving as Volunteer Liaisons. As noted in the previous article, there is a shortage of ACTs at all of the shelters. Please click here for further information regarding the importance of hiring these six new ACTs to replace the Volunteer Liaisons.
Improved volunteer retention and increased hours could also be achieved by better treatment of the volunteers by some of the regular employees. While this has markedly improved over the past few years, there are still a few employees who are rude or verbally abusive to volunteers. Department management should make clear to all employees that this behavior is unacceptable and impose punishment where appropriate.
- Director of Volunteer Programs. The position of Director of Volunteer Programs, who oversees all six City shelters, should be changed from Resolution Position Authority (a position funded in the budget and approved for filling by a Council resolution; the need for the position is expected to be temporary) to Regular Position Authority (a position funded in the budget and approved for filling by ordinance; the need for this position is permanent), to make the position permanent. The Director of Volunteer Programs has done a good job of supervising the Volunteer Liaisons, helping to digitize data about the animals coming from the volunteers, and working to recruit and maintain more volunteers; the Director position should be made permanent.
Provide Adequate Staffing
- Control Officers. Funding should be provided for the eight currently unfunded Animal Control Officer (ACO) positions. The County of Los Angeles has more than twice as many ACOs as the City, even though County Animal Control serves fewer people than LAAS. The shortage of City ACOs greatly affects dealing with stray animals, injured animals, wildlife, animal abusers, dog fighters, and other matters. This is a public safety matter.
- Data Analyst and Public Information Director. A Data Analyst and Public Information Director are positions that would benefit the City’s No-Kill goal and general LAAS operations. In particular, a Public Information Director should be hired to increase spay/neuter, adoptions, and donations to the Department. A Data Analyst should be hired to support statistics for No-Kill, WoofStat (the LAAS database that shows the fate of animals taken in by the shelters), and other statistics and shelter services. The costs associated with the hiring of a Public Information Director can be offset by increases in donations to LAAS.
- Canvasser Positions. Ten full-time canvasser positions should be funded by the budget. Canvassers go out into the neighborhoods to make sure dogs are licensed and spayed/neutered. When non-licensed animals are found, the owners are required to purchase a license. Therefore, in addition to contributing to No-Kill (by enforcing spay/neuter requirements) and public safety, these Canvassers will also be a revenue producer for the City.
- Expedited Hiring. The Personnel Department should give priority to and expedite hiring for LAAS positions. LAAS has been unable to fill some authorized positions.
The above items, as well as the items discussed in the third article, are necessary to achieve and maintain No-Kill, to humanely and properly care for the animals of our City, and to provide better services and increased public safety for the residents of the City. The recommendations above will result in only a slight increase to next year’s budget for LAAS, a budget that is less than half a percent of the overall City Budget, about a quarter percent of the appropriated City budget, and will result in significant, tangible benefits to the services LAAS provides. In the long run, these recommendations will actually save the City millions of dollars.
Jeffrey Mausner (see https://mausnerlaw.com/) is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate, 2nd Vice President of the Tarzana Neighborhood Council and Chair of its Animal Welfare Committee, Neighborhood Councils Liaison to the LA Animal Services Department, and a Volunteer at the West Valley Animal Shelter. He is a retired attorney and law school professor and was formerly a Federal Prosecutor for the U.S. Justice Department.