ANIMAL WATCH--Activists’ complaints that dogs were dying in animal rescue trucks during transport to LA city shelters during recent hot weather caused Councilman Paul Koretz to order Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette to provide a response to the accusations at the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee (PAW) meeting on Sept. 16.
Assistant GM Dana Brown testified that animal control officers (ACO’s) provided excellent care for the animals during the heat, and the dire incidents reported were unfounded.
However, Koretz was advised during public testimony that both the officers and animals are endangered by the deterioration and poor mechanical condition of the fleet of collection trucks that had not been replaced since 2000-2003. General Services Fleet Director Richard Coulson confirmed there are repeated breakdowns while officers are driving trucks which are “falling apart.”
The LAAS equipment officer responded that the department lacked funding for vehicles and admitted that ten 2008 animal-rescue vans were not in use because they lacked an alternate air-circulation system to back up the air conditioning.
For approximately $21,000, metal air vents could be installed to resolve the deficiency and put the vans back on the streets for safe animal transport, he said. Field Operations Director Mark Salazar reminded the Committee that the department lacked funding.
Salazar didn’t mention that on August 25, a purchase order (at the request of LAAS) was submitted by General Services for a $31,112.68 off-road John Deere Gator (4-seater UTV) and trailer for the Animal Services SMART team, which Salazar directly supervises.
That is $10,000 more than needed to make the ten vans safe for animals!
LA Animal Services management has refused to respond to a CPRA question about assignment of the Gator, but it is visible and heavily chained in the parking lot at the North Central Shelter with at least 12 stickers that read, “YouTube anmalrescueteamla.”
GM Brenda Barnette said extra MICLA funding left over from last year’s budget was used for the Gator and trailer. (MICLA is money from Commercial Paper bonds sold by the City each year—and later repaid by taxpayers.)
So, while ACO’s are driving trucks with steering wheels falling off In their hands, doors flying open during turns, and taping animal compartments closed, Mark Salazar and GM Brenda Barnette bought a “toy” for the privileged Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team (SMART) which engages in rescues that have traditionally—and still are--competently performed by Animal Control Officers and/or the Fire Department in the normal course of their work.
SMART has its own webpage and “fan club.” It is composed of a veterinary technician and a group of nine Animal Control Officers who call themselves “elite.” Recent YouTube films (which SMART regularly submits to media), show a member rappelling down the steep concrete embankment of the dry LA River bed to pick up a young raccoon, rather than driving down one of the access roads regularly used by ACO’s.
Another shows a cat being removed from a tree using an ACD (animal control device/”catch pole”) around his neck, which is a questionable practice at best.
Recently local media showed a horse lying on his side being up-righted by SMART. A comedic label was placed on their YouTube version. A commenter wrote, “This horse has an arthritic stifle, a condition that is progressive, and if it has progressed to the point where this prey animal (a creature that relies on being able to stand and flee at a moment's notice) is unable to stand of its own free will, it's time to make the responsible decision. It's unbelievably disappointing that LAAS would broadcast this event in a humorous light.”
The SMART unit also has drones---reportedly three. They are touted as enabling discovery of distressed animals, but they are also used in their YouTube films, which capture and post SMART’s efforts.
Some of these drone-recorded rescues also show backyards in residential areas (e.g., the cat in the tree.) We have to wonder if permission is granted by various residents, or are these low-flying City drones potentially trespassing and invading privacy?
Animal Services constantly alleges lack of funds to pay overtime for on-duty ACO’s to complete humane investigations. SMART boasts 24/7 response, meaning nights, holiday and weekends, for which members receive overtime or comp time. It includes a total of five Lieutenants (Senior Animal Control Officers) paid at a range of $53,807-$80,033, base salary.
Recent Lieutenant promotions by DFO Mark Salazar were all from his Special Operations Unit or SMART members, bypassing more experienced field officers with outstanding records and dedication.
Rescuing animals in peril is one of the most important and unique aspects of animal control duties. The intimation that only a few employees of LA Animal Services are “SMART” is insulting and demoralizing to the dozens of ACO’s who risk their own safety daily entering dangerous, crime-ridden neighborhoods to remove abused and/or unwanted animals from a myriad of circumstances so disgusting and appalling that the media covers its eyes.
Animal control officers on the street day and night single-handedly pick up packs of aggressive dogs, suffering animals hit by cars, and pets abandoned by “forever” homes.
Animal rescues are not easy, never predictable, and seldom safe. They require a special innate intelligence that maps a flexible strategy based upon the animals’ reaction and flight/fight instinct. ALL animal control officers must be smart, if they are to escape injury and not become a fatality themselves. Most do not have protective equipment—-relying only on a clipboard, a rope and a radio.
The current SMART unit replaced the highly acclaimed LAAS Department Air Rescue Team (DART), officers of all ranks who did large-animal and disaster rescue and volunteers with expertise in various areas of animal handling and triage. They responded any time they were needed--whether or not there was a camera, without drones to locate the thousands of animals they saved, and with or without overtime pay.
LA Animal Services does not need a SMART team. It needs safe vehicles, and it needs management that provides employees with equal opportunities, dignity and respect.
(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty writes for CityWatch and is a contributing writer to opposingviews.com. She lives in Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 13 Issue 90
Pub: Nov 6, 2015